Cardinal Ranjith reiterates call for Sri Lankan president's resignation
By Lisa Zengarini
As Sri Lanka reels from its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, amidst accusations of widespread corruption and financial mismanagement, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has once again reiterated his call for the immediate resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and for the establishment of an interim government.
Loss of credibility
At a press conference held on Tuesday in his residence in the Srilankan capital, Cardinal Ranjith said the credibility of the Rajapaksa family has dropped to such a level that all attempts to achieve financial, political or constitutional changes have been rejected by public opinion.
New elections needed
The Archbishop of Colombo, therefore, asked for the immediate formation of an interim government to tackle the most urgent problems of the country, with the assistance of competent experts, and leading to general elections as soon as possible. He also asked the opposition leaders to work together and with “transparency”, putting aside their “petty political and ideological” differences.
According to Asianews agency, his words were echoed by the Maha Sangha, an important body of the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, which sent a letter to the president on Tuesday inviting him to work for the creation of a government in which all parties are represented.
Cardinal Ranjith has repeatedly voiced criticism of Rajapaksa’s leadership, also in reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, in which nearly 277 people were killed and about 500 injured as 3 churches and 3 hotels were hit in a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist suicide attacks.
Since then, investigations have faltered, and the outspoken leading prelate of the Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has insistently accused the Government of covering up the truth and the real culprits for political gain.
Economic crisis in Sri Lanka
The younger brother of former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ruled the country for a decade until his defeat in 2015, Gotabaya Rajapaksa overwhelmigly won the last presidential elections in 2019, vowing to restore “discipline” and strengthen security. However, his popularity took a serious hit over the gross mismanagement of the economy, amid allegations of corruption.
The economic and financial difficulties began in 2019, with growing public debt, aggravated by the collapse of tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The rise in food and energy prices - exacerbated in 2022 by the war in Ukraine – has further increased the severe debt and worsened the balance-of-payments crisis.
The resulting shortage of foreign currency has left Rajapaksa's Government unable to pay for essential imports, including medicine, food and fuel, leading in recent weeks to debilitating power cuts.
Early in June, the United Nations launched an appeal for $47.2 million to provide life-saving assistance to some 1.7 million citizens of the Asian nation, saying that the shortage of medicines should ease in the medium term thanks to a credit line from India and other partners.
Rajapaksa asking Russia to help import fuel
Meanwhile, in his latest move to thwart the crisis, President Rajapaksa has announced that he is negotiating with Russia to import more discounted Russian crude oil, despite international sanctions on Moscow’s exports following its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. “I had a very productive telecon with the Russia President, Vladimir Putin,” the President wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
“We unanimously agreed that strengthening bilateral relations in sectors such as tourism, trade & culture was paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share,” Rajapaksa added.
Sri Lanka has already bought oil from Russia during the crisis, and the Government has indicated it is willing to make further purchases. The Sri Lankan government also intends to attract more visitors from India to bring in more foreign currency, its tourism minister said.
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