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Sri Lanka searches for Prime Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has promised a Prime Minister within a week with several alternative contenders being put forward if the opposition leader does not take up the post, as the country suffers high inflation and a currency collapse.

Sri Lanka is suffering from the worst currency crisis triggered by the central bank in its 72-year history. Economists in the country by targeting an output gap with the aid of the central bank and its Latin American style intermediate regime, have pushed the island to its first sovereign default.

Ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met President Rajapaksa on Wednesday, firing expectations that he would take up the post for the time being.

In a dramatic move, firebrand Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya legislator Harin Fernando said he would become independent, after insisting internally that Sajith Premadasa should take up the premiership fast.

“I think already there is too much of a delay,” Fernando told reporters. “It may not be the stance of the party. I thought I would act according to my conscience.”

There was speculation that he would back Wickremesinghe as an interim Prime Minister along with some SJB members.

Newly appointed central bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe who had already hiked rates to slow credit and limited money printing to stabilize the broken soft-peg, warned he would resign if a government was not formed quickly to provide political stability.

Premadasa had insisted that the President resign to take over the government.

SJB officials say the bitter experience of the United National Party in trying to work with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Maithripala Sirisena where reforms were blocked, has made them wary of doing it a third time.

However, a senior official said earlier in the week that a deal may be possible if specific timelines were given and there could be exit clauses if the undertakings were not carried out.

President Rajapaksa said in a televised address that he will bring constitutional amendments to go back to the 19th amendment and will also work to end and abolish the executive presidency after stability is restored.

Earlier on Wednesday, Dayasiri Jayasekera, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party said they would back Premadasa for the PM’s post.

However, ex-President Maithripala Sirisena said later in the evening after meeting other independent party leaders that they had put forward three candidates for the post, with the SJB seen as setting conditions which may be insurmountable.

“When we talked with the opposition (SJB) in their conditions, there was no clear message given to us that they would take over the government,” Sirisena said.

“So we will send names from our group of 53. Actually, we are doing this because the opposition seems not to be taking it up. We are sending three names.”

Reports said Dullas Alahapperuma, Wijedasa Rajapaksa and Nimal Siripala de Silva could be the three nominees.

Another report said the President had also approached Sarath Fonseka. (Colombo/May10/2022)

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