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Sri Lanka: Victory Elusive, Mr. President

Striking an emotional tone, President Ranil Wickremesinghehe highlighted what he has achieved.

5 mins read
President Ranil Wickremesinghe [ File Photo ]

President Wickremesinghe announced his entry into the presidential fray in a meticulously orchestrated a TV address hoping to cash in on the successful conclusion of talks with international debtors, what’s the prognosis – Col Hariharan Explains

The month of June was a busy one for President Ranil Wickremesinghe. He announced his candidacy for the presidential election, cashing on his success with the restructuring of debtors achieved in the Paris Club meeting that satisfies the International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt relief package. President Wickremesinghe announced his entry into the presidential fray in a meticulously orchestrated a TV address. He said, “Today makes a significant milestone in the recent history of our country….Our country is now reaping the positive results of our persistent endeavours over the past years.  This morning in Paris, Sri Lanka reached a final agreement with our official bilateral creditors. Similarly, we signed another agreement with China’s Exim Bank today in Beijing.” He was announcing the successful clinching of a deal with key bilateral lenders including China and India covering up to $10 billion in debt. This was a critical step towards recovery after Sri Lanka’s 2022 financial crash.

“Sri Lanka won” Wickremesinghe said after saying, “Sri Lanka concluded negotiations with the Official Creditor Committee (OCC) and the Exim Bank of China.”  The President was referring to the agreement Sri Lanka had signed in Paris on June 26 with the OCC co-chaired by Japan, India and France that have lent a combined $5.8 billion. A separate agreement was signed with China’s EXIM Bank in Beijing to rework $4.2 billion to ensure compatibility between debtors. Th IMF had laid restructuring of bilateral debt agreements as one of the key conditions for its US$ $2.9 billion bailout program to improve Government finances. Sri Lanka’s total external debt is US$ 37 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on June 27 that Sri Lanka’s agreements with China and other creditor nations to restructure about US$ 10 billion in bilateral debt took the island nation a step closer towards restoring debt sustainability. Welcoming the news, IMF’s Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka Peter Breuer said “We hope that there will be swift progress on reaching agreements with external private creditors in the near future.”

The parliament is set to meet on July 2 and 3 to debate the implementation of foreign debt restructuring agreements and vote on proposals contained in the Resolution for the Implementation of External Debt Restructuring Agreements bill. Opposition parties and section of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are getting ready to question some of the tough measures taken by the President to conform to IMF conditions. He has doubled taxes, removed energy subsidies and is set to sell off loss-making state enterprises to shore up state revenue under that deal. The President in his speech focused on the positive aspects of his approach. He said the debt restructuring is a condition of the IMF bailout. “Sri Lanka has sought IMF assistance on 16 previous occasions, each ending in failure. Why? We consistently failed to meet the conditions set, neglected our commitments, and lacked financial discipline.”

Reminding that this was the first instance in Sri Lanka’s history where an IMF program has been successfully implemented. He hoped the IMF bailout of $2.9 billion he secured last year would be the country’s last. He emphasized “unlike the earlier16 instances, we approached the IMF…. as a country facing bankruptcy. Given this context, I pose a crucial question: Will you move forward with me, who comprehended the problem from its inception, offered practical solutions, and delivered results?” In a snide reference to his detractors, he asked “Or will you align with those grappling in the dark, still struggling to grasp the issues? Will you stay the course towards a brighter future for yourself and the nation? Or will you opt for a different path?” Wickremesinghe cautioned the people against the perils of veering off course or choosing the wrong path, he appealed to the people to make the right decision.

Striking an emotional tone, he highlighted what he has achieved. He said, “The future does not merely belong to Ranil Wickremesinghe; it pertains to the country, to your future, and the future of our children. In just two years, without a parliamentary majority, without my appointed Government officials or ministers, I successfully elevated our country from bankruptcy and economic turmoil to a position that astonished the world.” Even as he spoke, his supporters in Colombo celebrated by setting off firecrackers. On June 30, Wickremesinghe held his first Ekva Jayagamu (Victory through unity) rally at Mattara. The core theme of his speech was the need for the unity of a coalition committed to the nation’s interest regardless of political affiliation for the collective effort for the country’s success. The President also went on to explain some of the welfare measures to help marginalised people like the ‘Awesuma’ programme for free distribution of rice and ‘Urumaya’ programme for giving deeds for freehold lands.

He extended an invitation to the opposition, urging them to prioritise national interest over partisan politics. Present on the stage were some MPs who belonged to SLPP and SLFP-New Alliance. Practitioners of political shenanigans were equally busy as debate over the presidential poll hotted up.

Illegal fishing in Sri Lanka waters

India’s woes on fishermen from Tamil Nadu poaching in Sri Lanka waters went a notch up with the tragic loss of life of a Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) senior sailor due to critical injuries on night June 25. The incident occurred when the SLN craft patrolling off Kankesanthurai chased an Indian trawler poaching in Sri Lankan waters. It is a timely reminder to both countries to resolve the long pending dispute over traditional fishing areas against maritime boundaries. The issue has been aggravated by use of illegal trawl nets by fishermen banned by Sri Lanka. According to The Morning, in March, President Wickremesinghe instructed authorities to urgently find a definitive solution to the recurring issue of Indian fishermen encroaching into Sri Lankan waters. In order to find a permanent solution to this issue, President Wickremesinghe sent a delegation under his Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka to New Delhi in March to discuss this issue with his counterparts. However, so far, the poaching issue continues to remain elusive.

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in power for the third time, anti-Indian elements in Sri Lanka are back in play. Sri Lanka government’s discussion with India on increasing energy and land communication linkages are already on the card of anti-India lobby. They are likely to increase their decibel levels when presidential electioneering gets under way. Indian fisherman poaching in Sri Lanka waters is already a major issue in Northern province. This is likely to provide additional fodder to flog India during the run up to the presidential election.

Obituary R Sampanthan

It is a sad moment for Sri Lankan politics. One of the veteran Tamil  leaders Rajavarotham, who fought for a just solution for the equitable treatment of Tamils all his life, passed away in Colombo late on Sunday (June 30). A veteran Tamil politician and long time leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), his political career spanned six decades. His first stint in the Sri Lankan parliament starting in 1977. Sampanthan was the incumbent MP for Trincomalee District and has served in five parliaments since 1977. His speeches in parliament were known for his incisive analyses and eloquence.

R Hariharan

Col. R Hariharan is a retired military intelligence specialist on South Asia associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies

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