No gas, debts overdue . . .
According to Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country ran out of gasoline today. For the island home to almost 22 million, the lack of vehicle fuel means that its ongoing food shortages will be exacerbated and the strapped health-care system will plunge into deeper crisis. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka is about to default on two unpaid foreign bonds as their 30-day grace periods end tomorrow. In an address delivered on Monday, the Prime Minister said that the country needed to secure C$97.6 million in foreign exchange over the next few days to pay for essential imports.
Sixth time’s the charm?
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week, with the latter taking on the position for the sixth time in his political career. The appointment followed the removal of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President’s brother. The new Prime Minister has already presented proposals to the public, with some observers praising his speech as a demonstration of his public transparency and honesty. Included among the solutions Wickremesinghe put forth are privatizing Sri Lankan Airlines (which operates at a loss) and printing more money to allow the government to continue to pay state sector salaries and for essential goods and services. However, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe continue to lack a cabinet and have no ministers, including in the critical role of finance minister.
The challenge continues . . .
Despite recent changes, the President’s appointment of Wickremesinghe remains a temporary solution. As protesters call for the President's resignation, PM Wickremesinghe is widely blamed for the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 260 people, and his last stint as PM ended when he was voted out of power in an election. President Rajapaksa, meanwhile, survived an opposition no-confidence motion on Tuesday by a margin of 119 to 68. But until he is unseated, the President has reiterated his intention to stay during these turbulent times. As Wickremesinghe warned in his address yesterday, “the next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives.”