Sri Lanka President vows to Finish Term, won’t run for Re-Election
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed to finish the remaining two years in his term despite monthslong street protests calling for his ouster, but won’t stand for re-election as he focuses on fixing a financial mess that tipped Sri Lanka into its worst-ever economic crisis.
“I can’t go as a failed president,” Rajapaksa said Monday in a wide-ranging interview at his official residence in Colombo, his first with a foreign media organization since the crisis unfolded. “I have been given a mandate for five years. I will not contest again.”
The defiance comes in the face of slogans of “Gota Go Home,” with protesters blaming Rajapaksa and his family for decisions that led to severe shortages of everything from fuel to medicine, stoking inflation to 40% and forcing a historic debt default. Thousands of demonstrators have camped outside the president’s seaside office since mid-March, forcing him to retreat to his barricaded official residence about a kilometer away.
The economic tailspin spiraled into political turmoil with the resignation of the president’s old brother – Mahinda Rajapaksa – as the nation’s prime minister, after clashes between government supporters and the protesters turned bloody in May.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are now seeking about $4 billion in aid this year from the International Monetary Fund and countries including India and China. Sri Lanka’s rupee has lost about 82% over the past year and the central bank on Monday flagged the possibility of a further correction. While the nation’s debt trades deep in distressed territory, the bonds were quoted slightly higher on Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“This is unlikely to placate protesters who are calling for his immediate resignation,” said Patrick Curran, an economist at Tellimer. “With presidential elections more than two years away, Rajapaksa’s decision to see his term through will contribute to heightened political uncertainty over the next couple years and could hamper reform efforts.”
The president said he wanted to replicate his previous successful stints serving the nation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa oversaw the urban development authority and was Sri Lanka’s defense secretary under then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when they crushed a 30-year civil war in 2009.
The president reiterated his controversial goal to push through “natural agriculture,” a short-lived move to ban chemical fertilizers that caused crop output to slump.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also skeptical about the success of a planned amendment to the constitution, which seeks to contain the executive presidency. Cabinet is due to approve the proposals as early as Monday, which would rollback wide-ranging powers Gotabaya Rajapaksa pushed through parliament shortly after he was elected president in 2019.
A draft of the so-called 21st amendment gives some powers back to the parliament and restores independence to commissions in key decision making.
Either the presidency should be abolished or the parliament is kept out of governing, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.
“You can’t have a mixed system,” he said. “I experienced this and now know. People may blame me when I tell this but that’s the truth.”
Here are some other highlights from the interview. Rajapaksa’s comments are edited lightly for clarity:
- “We waited too long (to seek help from the International Monetary Fund). If we had gone at least six months or a year earlier, it would not have come to this state.”
- “We have appointed financial and legal advisers (for a debt restructure) but that is for the capital markets. Bilaterals we have to go to individually; our major loans are from China, Japan, India and the Paris Club.”
- “I have requested help from India and China. I personally spoke to the leaders and wrote to them. Then I have spoken to Middle Eastern leaders personally like Qatar, UAE especially, and want to speak to Saudi and Oman to get help for long term contracts for supply of crude oil.”
- “The subsidy system will have to go. We cannot cut down on public servants or the military, we can decrease by cutting down on recruitment.”
- “It is political as a president. You know, I am not a politician. Fortunately or unfortunately people when they are in politics for so long you can have so much baggage, you have lot of friends. Lot of people who want help are your supporters. When you go against this – I tried to go against this – you don’t get their help.”
- “What is this executive (powers) of the president? My personal opinion is that if you have a presidency he must have full powers. Otherwise abolish executive presidency and go for full Westminster-style parliament.”
I think I fully agree. Don’t give into the mob and run away. Finish the term. Also, it is not a country and a population anybody can pull out of the cesspit. I have seen twice now in my lifetime when brought all the way through so much hardship, the people throw all that away before the last yard to cover. Great thing is, those who brought about this mayhem, will live to see the result, thinking what it should have been if Sira and Jahapalanaya that wasted 5 years was not voted into power, where the country economically would have been. Then the country facing now would never have happened. For all the fault, bad, silly decisions, had the mob not allowed to wreak havoc during the last 2 months, we still would have in a relatively better place today. Just go and do something enjoyable with the rest of your life, with your family in the US. A nation both arrogant and stupid at the same time will never get anywhere but bickering with itself and being exploited by the outsiders.
One cannot live on past glories alone.
Eg: I routed the terrorists ; I gained 6.9m votes.
Failure was openly admitted and a courageous person will walk away and pursue something else that is beneficial to others.
Cowards, driven by their ego, stay to fight.
At last you accept defeat but you let the pride counteract the your failure in all aspects. Who on earth appoint a useless defeated senile man who could not even a win a single seat as a prime minster and the finance minister. Bonkers. For the sake of the country and Rajapaksa clan ” Go Gota Go with all your crocked brothers.
Good news is GR is not going to contest for a second term. Rajapakses should disappear from the political arena in Sri Lanka. In GR’s part, appointing RW is a smart move and now most of the attacks are leveled at RW and he is carrying the beggars-bawl. People gave a mandate for five years and GR wants to stay in power for the remaining years. If we can read GR’s mindset this is the best punishment, he can be given to the people shouting ‘Gota-Go’ in Gita-go-gama. Are they going to continue their struggle through out the remaining time of GR’s term yet to be seen.
It is not good news but terrifying news that the leader who is living in the Janadhipathi Bunker (which was built to protect leaders against the Sun God’s aerial attacks) is going to continue for two years.
What a coward he is, in all his glory.
Sir, if you are brave, come out of the Bunker and take a walk down GotaGoGama and feel the pulse of the millennial.
Dear Ms. R de Abrew, Pl. read my post carefully and try to digest. I said Good News because GR is not running for a 2nd term. It is GR’sstrategy to stay in the office for the remaining 2 years and show is run by RW (Duk Ganna Raala). Long live ‘Aragalaya for Gota-go-home’ wichis gonna continue for the remaining 2 years.