Sri Lanka in a political vacuum as talks continue

STAYING PUT Protesters look around at the official residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a day after it was attacked in the capital Colombo on Sunday, July 10, 2022. AP PHOTO

STAYING PUT Protesters look around at the official residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a day after it was attacked in the capital Colombo on Sunday, July 10, 2022. AP PHOTO

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka was in a political vacuum for a second day on Monday, with opposition leaders yet to agree on who should replace its leaders who were almost denied, whose residences are occupied by protesters who anger at the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

The protesters remained at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s beach residence and office, as well as at the official residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which they hijacked on Saturday. It was the biggest and most important day of protests in the past three months surrounding the administrative district in the capital Colombo.

They said they will stay there until the resignations become official.

Wickremesinghe said on Saturday that he would step down when there is a new government, and hours later, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament, said Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday.

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The president’s whereabouts were still unknown Monday, though a statement from his office said Sunday that he had ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting he was still at work.

Pressure on both men grew when the collapse of Sri Lanka’s economy resulted in a severe shortage of essential items, leaving people struggling to get food, fuel and other necessities.

Opposition party leaders are in discussions to form an alternative all-party government, an urgent need that the South Asian island nation needs to meet in the resumption of discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.

Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the Washington, DC -based multilateral lender are complicated because Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt state.

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front and lawmakers who defected from the Rajapaksa ruling coalition had discussions and agreed to work together. Leading opposition leaders Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, former ministers under Rajapaksa, were nominated for president and prime minister, respectively, and they were asked to decide how to share positions before meeting with Abeywardena. later on Monday.

“We can’t be in an anarchical condition. We have to somehow reach a consensus today,” Gammanpila said.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it had suspended repayment of foreign loans due to lack of foreign currency. Its total overseas debt stands at $ 51 billion, of which it must repay $ 28 billion by the end of 2027.

Months of demonstrations have erupted in the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for nearly the past two decades, but has been accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption. That dynasty included Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda, who resigned as premier in May due to the crisis.