By Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has sent his resignation — first by email and a hard copy flown in from Singapore. The authenticity of the resignation has been verified and it has been accepted as authentic. The Parliament Speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, officially announced the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday. And, he has promised a new President in a week. Meanwhile, the opposition parties have called a meeting on July 20 to work out a consensus to choose a new president.
Aside from some stray speculations, the involvement of any foreign power in the people’s struggle leading to the fall of the Rajapaksa clan from power has not been prominently discussed. Among the speculations, reports suggested that India had sent its troops to Sri Lanka to maintain peace and order. But the claim was never accepted by the Sri Lankan authorities. And, the Indian High Commission in Colombo also refuted the suggestions as rumours.
Another interesting claim that emerged was about President Rajapaksa’s exit from Colombo past midnight on Wednesday in a military airplane. Reports suggested that India which has so far extended $3.5 billion of support to the crisis-hit Sri Lanka in the last six months, facilitated a safe exit for the embattled President. If the Indian assistance is purely humanitarian and there is no clandestine return gift for India is anybody’s guess!
If India had any role in Gotabaya’s safe exist, China had a role in receiving him in a safe country. Social media reports suggested that Speaker of Maldives Parliament (People’s Majlis) Mohamed Nasheed tweeted about the resignation of the Sri Lankan President before Gotabaya Rajapaksa did. Interestingly, Nasheed received Gotabaya at the Male airport in the wee hours. Nasheed has a similar reputation of approving useless Chinese projects at exorbitant costs and unfair terms during his Presidency as the Rajapaksas.
The US embassy has been among the most active diplomatic missions in Colombo throughout the unrest, with its ambassador Julie Chung regularly releasing official statements on the developments.
Now, a new president is going to be chosen through consensus as the ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is extremely unpopular. The Sri Lankan Parliament with its 225 members will most likely choose the new president next week when it convenes a special session. Among the front-runners for the top executive post are Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa. Seventy-three-year-old Wickremesinghe became the prime minister of Sri Lanka for the sixth time in June this year while 55-year-old Sajith Premadasa is the leader of the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Ranil Wickremesinghe is the lone parliament member of his party — the United National Party while Sajith Premadasa’s SJB has 54 members.
Besides being an old war horse and one of the Presidential candidates that India won’t mind working with, Ranil Wickremesinghe has the support of SLPP, particularly that of Basil Rajapaksa. But, the support of SLPP, which is crucial for any government to survive, is the reason why Wickremesinghe has come to become extremely unpopular.
After Gotabaya made him Acting President before leaving Sri Lanka, the unrest on Colombo’s streets intensified and the irate mob entered and ransacked the Parliament on Thursday. A major highlight of this protest was the now viral picture of a couple in a lip-lock, with the agitating crowd in the backdrop.
Earlier, Wickremesinghe’s private home was burnt down by the angry mob. In Contrast, Sajith Premadasa who has a degree from the London School of Economics is considered to be a practical person who can handle the pressure that a new President in Sri Lanka would face at this moment. But his candidature needs to be endorsed by SLPP, a proposition that no one is sure how it will pat out.
Another name that’s doing the round as a Presidential candidate is from SLPP – Dallas Alahapperuma. A 63-year-old former journalist, Alahapperuma is both a senior lawmaker and a popular leader among SLPP lawmakers. If there is a consensus on his name, the ruling party would not need support from other parties as it has 117 seats in parliament.
Will the world power stay neutral as Sri Lanka chooses a new President? To bring Sri Lanka back to economic normalcy, it needs roughly $10 billion in the current fiscal and it’s beyond the means of the island nation’s limited economic resources. India, China, and the US will have a key role to play if Sri Lanka ever becomes a peaceful and prosperous nation. If the world powers want to see the country back on its feet, they would want a President who can navigate the complex path and often conflicting interests of the world powers. (IPA Service)