Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka has finally found its new president in their prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. After following due procedure, he was sworn in as the new president, but this has done little to calm core protest groups.
Although Wickremesinghe is supposed to unite the country and lead them out of economic collapse, there are some who doubt he can. Protests continued after he was announced as the new president because he is seen as part of the establishment politics which the youth want out, explained Raisa Wickrematunge, Deputy Editor at Himal Southasia based in Sri Lanka.
“This protest, which is being led by the youth, is rejecting what they see are the actions of the establishment including corruption. Since he’s seen as a continuum of that, there is still anger because of that.”
Track record of Wickremesinghe
Wickremesinghe has been prime minister six times but has never served a full term. His latest stint as prime minister began in May when Gotabaya Rajapaksa unsuccessfully tried to cling to office. There are those who have faith in him to successfully lead the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to his good standing with the international community, said Wickrematunge.
“Some people have faith in him because he has a good standing in the international community. He’s considered to be key in helping to lead our IMF negotiations. We’re trying to negotiate a deal right now due to the ongoing economic crisis. He has a good track record in terms of that.”
Concerns on how protestors will be handled under his leadership
There are some concerns regarding Wickremesinghe and how he handles things. He once led a commission that carried out human rights violations under his watch. He also declared a nationwide state of emergency when he took office which did nothing but escalate protests. Thousands stormed his office in the capital, Colombo after it was declared.
“His first as acting president was to crack down on the protesters. To give police and military a blank slate to go in and control the situation. He has introduced a state of emergency right now which has given police and military heightened powers. For that reason, there are also concerns that he will violently crackdown on protesters. Last night one of the protest sites was also attacked and dismantled. These are some of the immediate concerns right now.”
There are no calls for the former president to face justice currently
Protestors were made up of different groups who demanded different things from the government. However, Wickrematunge explained they all wanted one thing, for Rajapaksa to step down. Now that he has left the country, there aren’t calls for him to return to face justice, said Wickrematunge.
“There is uncertainty about what his next move will be. I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily calls for him to come back but there is speculation that he may return. However, that is as yet unconfirmed. His movements are kind of unknown. All that’s known and confirmed is that he entered Singapore a while ago and was given passage. We were told that he hasn’t asked for asylum there.”
The immediate priorities of the protestors and Wickremesinghe
Protestors are calling for an alleviation of basic necessities. Already people are having to skip meals due to high inflation. With daily power cuts and lack of supplies, people are looking for a way out, said Wickrematunge.
“What most people are calling for is an alleviation of the economic situation and the crises they’re facing. We have a severe shortage of foreign currency. We’re also facing a shortage of multiple essentials. Everything from medicine to fuel to some food items as well as power cuts daily. People really want to see that alleviated.”
While protestors want that, the president will most likely be focused on restoring order in parliament and getting the IMF loan sorted out.
“Most likely his [Wickremesinghe] immediate steps will have to be to try to build consensus across an all-party interim government which will be challenging. Then try to move forward with these IMF negotiations which are still some months away from being finalised.”
The president has indicated that he will reach out to neighbouring countries for support. India has already extended several credit lines on fuel to Sri Lanka. However, Wickrematunge believes these are only short-term strategies. For the country to get up and running the IMF loan must be secured.