A monumental task ahead | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

A monumental task ahead

23 July, 2023

Just one year ago, the country’s economy had hit the nadir and the future looked very bleak. The then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a few weeks before his resignation, urged the two main Opposition leaders – Sajith Premadasa of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the National People’s Power (NPP) to take over the premiership, which fell vacant following the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

However, both of them declined the offer, laying down various conditions. But one astute political leader came forward and accepted the challenge, knowing the gravity of the situation very well. Indeed, when Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership, even some seasoned political analysts thought of it as political suicide. They were perhaps not incorrect in their assessment, as the country was in such a bad shape that recovery was seemingly impossible.

But Wickremesinghe, a veteran Statesman who had been Prime Minister five times previously, took it in his stride. He told the bitter truth about the economy to the people and implemented many measures to stabilise the country, even with the limited powers and resources at his command. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent his resignation from overseas, it was apparent to all that Wickremesinghe should be the first choice for the Presidency.

It has now been one year since the historic election in Parliament that elected Ranil Wickremesinghe as the country’s eighth Executive President. In hindsight, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) made the correct call in backing President Wickremesinghe, whom the party once considered as their nemesis. Even the President’s bitterest critics will admit that there has been a remarkable transformation in the country since his ascension to the Presidency. The fuel and gas queues are gone, essentials are freely available, inflation has come down and there is a general air of stability.

Of course, the President was the first to admit that there is a long way to go before we reach the level the country was in before the pandemic and the economic crisis. He has also made it clear that some sacrifices and painful decisions have to be made to recover from the economic quagmire. International assistance will be a vital component of this recovery strategy. In this respect, having President Ranil Wickremesinghe with his international connections and reputation at the helm has certainly helped. He was instrumental in getting the International Monetary Fund’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and Sri Lanka’s creditor nations to work out a debt restructuring mechanism.

This week, he undertook a very important visit to India, which has extended more than US$ 4 billion in bilateral assistance to ride out the economic storm. This visit helped to reinforce the age-old bonds between the two nations. The proposals on cross connectivity of the two electricity grids and an oil pipeline were long overdue. Both countries should again explore the possibility of building a road and rail link, now that the ferry link is also about to be restarted.

President Wickremesinghe will also be visiting China later in the year. Sri Lanka is a partner of China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI), formerly known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is also an important partner in the debt restructuring process. It is very important to balance our relationship with the regional powers as Sri Lanka should not and cannot get involved in any geopolitical rivalries in the region.

Before leaving for India, President Wickremesinghe made two key policy pronouncements that no other Sri Lankan leader had the courage to put forward before the public. The first one is the plan to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), taking a leaf out of the one by the same name that healed the wounds of apartheid in South Africa. This is a very significant move, given that Sri Lanka is under scrutiny by the international community at the UN and other forums vis-à-vis human rights concerns pertaining to the 30-year conflict. A genuine reconciliation mechanism is essential to address these concerns that can hinder the country’s progress in the global arena.

The other one, somewhat connected to the first one, is the pledge to implement the 13th Amendment in full with the exception of Police powers. The President must go ahead with this in spite of attempts by communal-minded elements on all sides to scuttle any moves that can bring lasting peace to the country. It might not be a panacea for all ills, but could be the right prescription for the nation’s maladies.

The President has achieved a lot during his first year in office, but this is only the beginning as the challenges facing the country are far from over. Rebuilding the nation must take precedence at this crucial time. There is no time for conventional opportunistic politics. The President has rightly appealed to the Opposition to join in the recovery effort putting politics aside at least for the moment. The Opposition must heed this call for the sake of the nation.