Sri Lanka’s political turmoil sows worries for recovery

Jul 18, 2022, 6:10 PM | Updated: Jul 19, 2022, 7:48 pm

Police officers stand guard as people wait in queue to buy petrol at a fuel station, in Colombo, Sr...

Police officers stand guard as people wait in queue to buy petrol at a fuel station, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 17, 2022. Bankruptcy has forced the island nation's government to a near standstill. Parliament is expected to elect a new leader Wednesday, paving the way for a fresh government, but it is unclear if that's enough to fix a shattered economy and placate a furious nation of 22 million that has grown disillusioned with politicians of all stripes. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A day after Sri Lanka’s president fled, Mohamed Ishad waited outside an immigration office near the capital, clutching a file of documents that he hopes will get his passport renewed so he can leave, too.

With the nation in the throes of its worst economic crisis, Ishad has no job, relies on relatives for financial help and sells vegetables to feed his wife and three children. He wants to go to Japan and find work there so he can send money back home.

Ishad is devastated to leave his family behind, but feels there is no choice — and no opportunity — in his country. “Living in Sri Lanka right now is not good — if you want a good life, you need to leave,” he said. Not only has the economy collapsed, but “there’s hardly a government functioning right now.”

Bankruptcy has forced the island nation’s government to a near standstill. Its once-beloved and now reviled former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore before resigning last week. The acting president and prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is seen as his proxy and opposed by angry crowds.

Parliament is expected to elect a new president Wednesday, paving the way for a fresh government, but it is unclear if that’s enough to fix a shattered economy and placate a furious nation of 22 million that has grown disillusioned with politicians of all stripes.

The political ruckus has deepened worries that solutions to the crisis, including a crucial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, may be delayed.

“Right now, the eye is off the ball,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, a former diplomat and political analyst. “It’s like in the middle of a serious surgery, everybody from the top surgeon to the anesthesiologist, ran out of the operation room to start a revolution — but they need to come back and finish the surgery before the patient is dead.”

The IMF is monitoring the situation closely, but any bailout package will be contingent on Sri Lanka’s debt-restructuring strategy and political stability. “People are probably thinking, who do we talk to? Don’t you guys care about the economy? Will the real president please stand up?” Jayatilleka said.

For months, the country has been on edge, triggered by a foreign exchange crisis that has crippled imports of essentials like fuel, food and medicine. Doctors are warning people to not get sick while families are struggling to eat three meals a day in a country that was once an inspiration across South Asia for its expanding middle class and high per capita income.

Now, the government owes $51 billion in debt and is unable to make payments on its loans. Its currency has collapsed by 80%, making imports more expensive and worsening inflation. Sri Lanka has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves and needs $6 billion to stay afloat over the next few months.

“Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — there are so many more. They will continue if we don’t make the right choice in choosing our leaders,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old maritime engineering student.

The most contentious candidate for president is Wickremesinghe, who can count on support of the governing party. Protesters have rallied for weeks to kick him out of office, accusing him of protecting the Rajapaksa dynasty. If he is nominated and chosen, it will be a “powder keg,” said Jayatilleka.

The six-time prime minister, who is also the finance minister, was appointed by Rajapaksa in May to begin difficult negotiations with lenders and financial institutions. He has also promised to overhaul the political system to clip presidential powers. But his unpopularity grew as lines for fuel got longer, food prices surged and power cuts continued.

He recently called the protesters “fascists” and imposed a state of emergency after his office was seized and his private residence torched.

Other candidates are Dullas Alahapperuma, a former minister under Rajapaksa who is backed by some members of the ruling coalition, and Anura Dissanayake, a Marxist leader whose public support has grown during the crisis. One expected candidate, Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the main opposition party, has thrown his support behind Alahapperuma.

Wickremesinghe is the only lawmaker from his party to hold a seat in Parliament after it suffered a humiliating defeat in 2020, limiting his public support and political heft. Many don’t see him as a legitimate leader despite his seasoned political career and expertise, said Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives.

“This political uncertainty is a killer of the economy — that has to be resolved fast and in a way that satisfies the people of the country,” said W.A. Wijewardena, a former deputy governor of the Sri Lankan central bank. An immediate roadmap is needed, focused on boosting exports, increasing revenue through new taxes and slashing expenditure, but none of this can be achieved if there is no stable government in place, he added.

Many people are aching for a tangible change in their lives right now, Fonseka said, and don’t care about the complex negotiations. “For them, it’s the basics of fuel and food — are they getting it or not?”

She said that whoever forms the government “cannot rule the way it was before, they will need to engage better with the public and protesters to show they are different.”

“But if it is someone who does not have the confidence or trust of the people, then the tumultuous protests will continue, and there won’t be any stability or solutions in near sight.”


Follow AP’s Sri Lanka coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/sri-lanka

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

3 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

4 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

11 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

12 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

14 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Sri Lanka’s political turmoil sows worries for recovery