ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe criticized the opposition parties for propagating misinformation about a $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal and their actions in a way to delay the bailout package from the global lender.
Wickremesinghe’s criticism came a day after the island nation secured the $3 billion IMF loan after a brief delay amid implementation of some hard structural reforms.
“Some tried to make the country totally dysfunctional before the IMF took the decision regarding our country,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament in a speech on the IMF deal.
“There were plans to create a continuous wave of strikes, to destroy the economy and create anarchy in the country. They expected to prevent the receipt of IMF assistance through such sabotage,” he said.
A local government election was postponed by more than a month as Wickremesinghe government failed to provide funds to hold the polls. Originally it was to be held on March 9 before being postponed to April 25. However, the Election Commission has said it is yet to receive funds from the government to hold the polls.
“Certain political parties, some trade unions and some media labored to cause disruption. They claimed that we will not receive IMF support because the country was unstable. They said IMF support will not be forthcoming because local government elections are not being held,” Wickremesinghe said.
“They tried their best to make the people of the country take to the streets with various false propaganda of this nature.”
Sajith Premadasa, the leader of main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has criticized Wickremesinghe administration for meekly surrendering to the IMF and agreeing to implement reforms citing they would cause enormous hardships for the public.
Marxists-led National People’s Power (NPP) led street protests against the government over increasing personal income tax. State-sector trade unions of the oppositions also have staged a series of strikes to cripple the economic activities of Sri Lanka which is struggling to recover from an unprecedented crisis after it declared sovereign debt default last year.
Wickremesinghe said the majority of the public was not willing to disrupt the progress of the country for “misplaced initiatives of various power hungry political parties”.
From Zero to Hero
Wickremesinghe, 73 became the president in an unprecedented way from the center-right United National Party (UNP) led by him after it secured only one seat in the 2020 parliamentary election through a wildcard system.
The six-time prime minister of the country was just a parliamentarian until May last year, but was appointed as the prime minister by former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa following the resignation of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The resignation followed violent protests triggered by pro-Rajapaksa supporters attacking unarmed protesters who demanded the resignation of Rajapaksas after their failed economic policies.
Wickremesinghe said he sought the support of the opposition parties repeatedly since he became the prime minister before the president last year.
“They refused to extend their support citing various reasons. They said that my appointment was unconstitutional,” Wickremesinghe said.
“They even went to the extent of saying that my ambition was not to salvage the country from the economic crisis but to save the Rajapakses. They said that it was not Sri Lanka that I was trying to take across the obstacle course, but Namal Rajapaksa,” he said referring to the legislator son of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“However, now the international community has endorsed that I strove to reconstruct the Sri Lankan economy. It has now been proved beyond doubt that accusations of the Opposition are baseless.”
“I do not intend to respond to those unfounded accusations. My task is not to criticize the past. My task is to build the future of the country. I am committed to building the nation by formulating laws to ensure that past errors would not recur. Even today, I request the Opposition to join this effort of building the country. Leave your personal political aspirations aside.”
Strong Anti-Rajapaksa sentiment
The oppositions’ stance against Wickremesinghe comes amid strong resistance against Rajapaksas among the majority of Sri Lankan voters.
At the peak of Rajapaksas, the family controlled more than 50 percent of the budget with four Rajapaksas handled cabinet minister portfolio.
Many people are of the view that past corruption under Rajapaksas along with their wrong economic policies are the key reason for the current economic crisis.
Wickremesinghe urged the opposition legislators to think of empowering the country before gaining power.
“You can follow your own agenda on other political matters. However, it is imperative that you act out of the box politically with regard to building the economy of the country. Help me in the process of strengthening the economy,” he said.
“I make that request again, and seek your valuable support in the implementation of the IMF Agreement, and building the economy of our motherland.” (Colombo/March22/2023)