Ahead of Wednesday’s presidential election, Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe distanced himself from the disgraced Rajapaksa government, saying he was not in “the same administration” and was appointed to “handle the economy” of the bankrupt country. was.
Wickremesinghe, 73, was among three candidates proposed by lawmakers for Wednesday’s presidential election to choose Rajapaksa’s successor.
The 225-member parliament will elect the next president who will serve the remainder of the term of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who resigned last week.
There is growing public discontent over the presidential nomination of Wickremesinghe, whom many consider to be “more than him”, as he was part of the previous Rajapaksa administration.
Wickremesinghe said in an interview to CNN on Monday, “I am not the same, people know that… I am here to handle the economy.” Months to save the beleaguered Sri Lankan economy
Wickremesinghe said the then Rajapaksa regime was “hiding the facts” about the country’s dire financial crisis, and assured that the island nation’s beleaguered economy would stabilize by the end of next year.
Rajapaksa was sworn in as acting president on Friday after he fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore, from where he resigned to face a public revolt against his government’s mishandling of the country’s economy.
Wickremesinghe said during the interview, “The previous government was lying… hiding facts about the fact that Sri Lanka was bankrupt and we need to go to the IMF (for the bailout package).”
In March 2022, Sri Lanka had to repay a debt of USD 7 billion, when it had a little over USD 1 billion in foreign exchange reserves.
On 12 April, the island nation defaulted on loan repayment and sought a restructuring of its debt.
Worried by the strict conditions of the International Monetary Fund, the Rajapaksa administration continued to appeal to the international lender for a bailout package, surviving on a lifeline of close to the USD 4 billion handed over by India.
The IMF, which is in talks with the previous Rajapaksa government for a possible $3 billion bailout package, said it was closely monitoring the developments in Sri Lanka.
In the interview, Wickremesinghe said, “He wants to let people know what they are suffering,” and expressed confidence that the cash-starved economy will stabilize by the end of next year.
“We’ve gone back. We’ve got to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We don’t need five years or 10 years. By the end of next year let’s start to stabilize, and certainly by 2024 to have a functioning economy that will grow. Will do,” he said.
Petrol has been severely rationed and long, long queues were a common sight in front of filling stations, often leading to clashes.
The government has asked people to work from home and close schools in an effort to save fuel.
The country’s central bank has warned it could rise to 70 per cent in the near future, with the country’s headline inflation of 22 million hitting 54.6 per cent last month.
Wickremesinghe said he had spoken to Rajapaksa after fleeing to the Maldives and then traveled to Singapore, but denied having any knowledge of the former leader’s current whereabouts.