The Financial Express

What's next for Sri Lanka? 

Supporters welcome ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa back to Sri Lanka at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo early Saturday. (Reuters)  Supporters welcome ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa back to Sri Lanka at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo early Saturday. (Reuters) 

After 51 days' self-exile, the ousted president of Sri Lanka has returned home. He is learnt to have received warm welcome at the Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport on Friday (Sept 02). 

Evidently, the incumbent president Ranil Wickremesinghe has overseen Gotabaya's safe return.  It may be recalled that Wickremesinghe took over as president after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on July 13, first to Maldives and from there to Singapore, from where he announced his resignation as president on July 14. And two weeks later Gotabaya took refuge in Thailand. While in Thailand where he had been living in a Bangkok hotel with his wife and two bodyguards under tight security, he was trying to regain his US citizenship which he renounced before  contesting the presidential election held in November 2019.   

Now the question is, has he changed his previous plan to obtain US Green Card? Maybe he has other plans. 

He returned to Sri Lanka after the general secretary of SLPP, the party that Rajapaksa family leads, had reportedly urged the incumbent president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a close ally of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on August 19, to allow the former president to return home and provide him the security and facilities he needed. Accordingly, he has been  allotted a state-owned house to live in as a former president. 

Many who believe in people's power may have been shocked at  Gotabaya's  victorious return home under state protection.  

But one should not be surprised. For the popular unrest over the Gotabaya government's utter failure to protect his country from its economic meltdown was a spontaneous one without leadership.  

But Gotabaya, who had to flee in the face of the fury of the mob that stormed his presidential palace, did still have strong support base in the country as the SLPP which his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa controls is still the majority in Sri Lankan parliament.  

So, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister following the latter's resignation amid violent public protests and deepening economic crisis, remains a Rajapaksa loyalist. Though Wickremesinghe performed very badly in 2020's parliamentary election (in fact, his party was wiped out as it could not win a single seat) could still assume the office of prime minister, thanks to the support of Mahinda Rajapaksa's SLPP lawmakers in parliament.  

Mahinda Rajapaksa's political clout was evident from his supporters' attacks on  anti-government protesters following his address to a rally of party supporters before  he quit office. 

Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe has handled public protests with an iron fist. 

The mob, it may be recalled, on July 09 set Wickremesinghe's private residence on fire a few hours after they attacked then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa's presidential house.  

Later, referring to that incident, Wickremesinghe, at a programme in July in the city of Kandy, even mocked some protesters who threatened to stage protests asking him to  'go home' saying that they should not do that (stage the protest) as he had no home to go.   

Unfortunately, though the protesters against the incumbent government have huge popular support, they have not been able to come up with an alternative leadership so far.  

The administration and the military have in consequence remained firmly behind the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, a shrewd politician, at least until  November 24 when its (the government's) tenure comes to an end.   

So, what next?  

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to extend a US$2.9 billion loan to bail out the bankrupt Sri Lankan economy. 

This indicates the international community's support for the government in office.  

One should not also be surprised if the Rajapaksas stage a comeback in the next polls. 

If history is any guide, popular unrests including violent ones usually peter out into a political cul-de-sac in absence of leadership. It happened in 2011 to the Egypt's Tahrir Square revolt or to the Syrian civil uprising. 

Sri Lanka's seems to be yet another in line. 


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