Bankruptcy has forced the island nation's government to a near standstill. Parliament is expected to elect a new leader Wednesday, paving the way for a fresh government, but it is unclear if that's enough to fix a shattered economy and placate a furious nation of 22 million that has grown disillusioned with politicians of all stripes.
A day after Sri Lanka’s president fled, Mohamed Ishad waited outside an immigration office near the capital, clutching a file of documents that he hopes will get his passport renewed so he can leave, too.
With the nation in the throes of its worst economic crisis, Ishad has no job, relies on relatives for financial help and sells vegetables to feed his wife and three children. He wants to go to Japan and find work there so he can send money back home.
Ishad is devastated to leave his family behind, but feels there is no choice — and no opportunity — in his country. “Living in Sri Lanka right now is not good — if you want a good life, you need to leave,” he said. Not only has the economy collapsed, but “there’s hardly a government functioning right now.”
Bankruptcy has forced the island nation’s government to a near standstill. Its once-beloved and now reviled former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore before resigning last week. The acting president and prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is seen as his proxy and opposed by angry crowds.
The political ruckus has deepened worries that solutions to the crisis, including a crucial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, may be delayed.
“Right now, the eye is off the ball,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, a former diplomat and political analyst. “It’s like in the middle of a serious surgery, everybody from the top surgeon to the anesthesiologist, ran out of the operation room to start a revolution — but they need to come back and finish the surgery before the patient is dead.”
The IMF is monitoring the situation closely, but any bailout package will be contingent on Sri Lanka’s debt-restructuring strategy and political stability. “People are probably thinking, who do we talk to? Don’t you guys care about the economy? Will the real president please stand up?” Jayatilleka said.
For months, the country has been on edge, triggered by a foreign exchange crisis that has crippled imports of essentials like fuel, food and medicine. Doctors are warning people to not get sick while families are struggling to eat three meals a day in a country that was once an inspiration across South Asia for its expanding middle class and high per capita income.
Now, the government owes $51 billion in debt and is unable to make payments on its loans. Its currency has collapsed by 80%, making imports more expensive and worsening inflation. Sri Lanka has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves and needs $6 billion to stay afloat over the next few months.
“Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — there are so many more. They will continue if we don’t make the right choice in choosing our leaders,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old maritime engineering student.
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