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Opinion: There is no development in Sri Lanka without total adjustment of the political system | Opinion | DW

It was turbulent time in Sri Lanka, where the country had fallen into economic and political chaos.

Despite the dramatic events, the type of politics did not rise to the challenge. No politician seems to be in a position to come up with concrete solutions and end the crisis.

Ever since the news broke that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday as a result of the people’s uprising against his government, there has been a race to decide who will be the next president.

Political parties dominated by the country’s ethnic Sinhala majority are also fighting over who will be the new prime minister.

Political bickering over who should take over

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party, who took over as prime minister after the president’s older sister Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down in May following violent protests, has tried to resolve economic problems.

Amirthanayagam Nixon

Sri Lankan journalist Amirthanayagam Nixon

Wickremesinghe, who served as PM several times before his most recent tenure, has the political experience and necessary connections around the world to obtain foreign financial assistance for Sri Lanka and lift the country out of economic hardship.

According to the Sri Lankan constitution, if the president resigns, the prime minister will be the acting president, until parliament meets and elects a new president.

So if Gotabaya steps down as promised, Wickremesinghe will automatically be the interim president until parliament elects an MP to serve the term of the presidency, which ends in November 2024.

But Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the main opposition party, is demanding that its leader Sajith Premadasa be made president.

Sri Lanka’s Podujana Peramuna party, led by the Rajapaksa family, continues to enjoy a majority in parliament and wants the next president to come from its ranks.

Another opposition party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, is seeking the prime ministerial position.

As political parties argue, the general public, hit hard by rising inflation and shortages of essential items, including food, fuel and medicine, is angry and frustrated at the rhetoric and actions of self -serving politicians.

Ethnic conflict and military budget

Meanwhile, industrial production collapsed, export earnings dried up and the government coffers were empty. The country is bankrupt and the fuel supply is almost depleted.

The causes of Sri Lanka’s current economic turmoil stem from the country’s nearly three -decade civil war. It was a clash between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insurgent group, which hoped to establish a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority, who make up about 15% of 22 million people in the country.

Although the fighting, which began in 1983, ended in 2009, successive governments continued to allocate more and more resources for the military at the expense of other development projects.

Despite economic problems, Colombo has allocated 373 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($ 1.86 billion, € 1.8 billion) for the 2022 defense budget, a 14% increase in allocation in 2021.

In the 13 years since the end of the fighting, the Ministry of Defense has received the highest share of government spending.

Ethnic tensions have prevented the country from developing Tamil-populated northern and eastern regions, which are rich in marine resources. The development of those regions could boost the economy, particularly seafood exports, wealth creation and foreign income.

Also, the Kankesanthurai natural harbor in Jaffna, in the Northern Province, remains undeveloped while the Trincomalee harbor on the east coast is used only by the Sri Lankan navy for military purposes.

This imposes huge economic costs on Sri Lanka because ships carrying goods from India have to sail as far as the port of Colombo, on the southern coast, which incurs huge costs.

Needs a total overhaul

Ethnic polarization, discrimination and lack of meaningful power sharing in the minority Tamil and Muslim communities are at the root of the current political and economic turmoil.

To prevent such crises in the future, ethnic tensions, corruption and abuse of power must be completely eradicated. That will require a complete overhaul of the Sri Lankan state and power structure.

But Sinhalese-majority dominated political parties and the Buddhist clergy are not yet ready for such changes.

Steps are now being taken to pass the 21st amendment to the country’s constitution which aims to empower parliament and curb the unimpeded power of the president.

But simply passing such an amendment without a complete overhaul of the political system will not eliminate the abuse of power and corruption that has plagued Sri Lanka in such an emergency.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

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