Sri Lankan President says will continue with unpopular decisions amid crisis
The President of Sri Lanka has said that people will continue to make unpleasant decisions in the midst of crises
President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Wednesday that he would push forward with power-sharing within a united Sri Lanka and continue his unpopular decisions to help the bankrupt country recover from its economic crisis.
In a major policy speech, Wickremesinghe also told Parliament that talks with the IMF to unlock a US$2.9 billion bailout package were in the final stages.
“We expect power sharing within a unitary government. However, I want to reiterate a fact that has been emphasized on many occasions. There will be no division in the country,” Wickremesinghe told lawmakers.
His comments came days after powerful Buddhist clerics voiced strong opposition to the move, saying it would challenge the country’s unitary nature.
President Wickremesinghe has underlined the need for full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to grant political autonomy to the Tamil minority in the country.
India has been pressuring Sri Lanka to implement Article 13A, which was introduced after the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Treaty.
Sinhalese make up 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population, mostly Buddhists, and Tamils make up 15 percent.
Speaking about the economic crisis, Wickramasinghe said that he expects Sri Lanka to recover from bankruptcy by 2026.
“Let us not be prisoners of the past and think of the future. Let us move forward democratically, united with consensus in support of the nation’s recovery from the current crisis,” he said.
He said his unpopular decisions would have positive consequences for years to come.
“Remember, I am not here to be popular. I want to rebuild this nation from the crisis it has fallen into. Yes, I am ready to take decisions that people don’t like for the sake of the nation. People will feel their importance. The decision will be taken in two or three years,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government has introduced painful economic measures such as tax hikes and utility bill hikes. Trade unions and opposition parties have organized protests against such measures.
Wickramasinghe said negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are in the final stages and talks are underway with China and other lenders to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt.
Sri Lanka was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022 due to the worst foreign exchange reserves since independence from Britain in 1948, fueling political turmoil in the country. .
In September last year, the IMF approved a US$2.9 billion bailout package for Sri Lanka over four years — pending Sri Lanka’s ability to restructure debt with bilateral and sovereign bondholders.
According to figures released by the Treasury, by the end of June 2022, Sri Lanka will owe almost US$40 billion in bilateral, multilateral and commercial loans.
With guarantees from creditors, the US$2.9 billion facility could receive IMF board approval in March, officials said.
The IMF facility will help island countries access bridging finance from markets and other lending institutions such as the ADB and the World Bank.