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Thursday August 18th, 2022

Sri Lanka ex-strongman Rajapakse looking for shock comeback

(AFP) – Sri Lanka’s beleaguered former leader Mahinda Rajapakse will try to pull off a shock political comeback in elections Monday that he hopes will propel him to the premiership, months after being toppled as president.

His successor as president, Maithripala Sirisena, has vowed to thwart his one-time mentor’s ambitions while many of Rajapakse’s closest relatives are facing corruption allegations, including his wife.

But the charismatic former strongman has been drawing massive crowds on the election trail across the island, looking to build unstoppable momentum in his quest for an unlikely return to power.

"I would have retired if they were doing a good job," the 69-year-old said in one of his last addresses before Monday’s elections to the 225-seat national parliament.

"I was forced to return to politics because the government is messing things up."

Rajapakse governed Sri Lanka for nearly a decade and was South Asia’s longest-serving ruler before his surprise defeat to Sirisena in a January 8 presidential election.

Sirisena had been the general secretary of Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), main constituent Sri Lanka Freedom Party as well as being health minister before he split to run for the presidency.

Rajapakse is hugely popular among big sections of the ethnic majority Sinhalese community for presiding over the crushing defeat of Tamil guerrillas in 2009 after their 37-year campaign for a separate homeland.

But he is also reviled by many Tamils who voted en masse for Sirisena in January after boycotting previous elections.

Observers say Rajapakse’s polarising personality will undermine his chances of forming a coalition, especially as any potential prime minister would likely need the backing of minority groups.

Although there are no reliable opinion polls, no single party is expected to win a majority.

Charu Lata Hogg of the London-based Chatham House think-tank said Rajapakse’s entry into the fray has "definitely complicated the complex political scene" but said he would struggle to find allies.

"He is anathema to Tamils and Muslims as he is the personification of state terror," Hogg told AFP.

                                – Veto threat –

Although Sirisena is now UPFA leader, his reluctant agreement to Rajapakse’s candidacy highlighted his shaky hold on the party.

Sirisena is thought to prefer outgoing premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) to form the next government with backing from Tamil and Muslim parties.

His recent call on voters to "protect the January 8 silent revolution" was widely interpreted as a call to vote for the UNP.

In a letter to Rajapakse on Thursday, Sirisena wrote that "even if I have to intervene to form a coalition, you will not be the prime minister" — ironically using powers Rajapakse awarded himself during his presidency.

Wickremesinghe has said Rajapakse’s decision to stand has overshadowed other more pressing issues.

"Do you want a new country and a government that thinks of your future, or do you want to go back to building up the Rajapakses and their future?" Wickremesinghe told one of his last rallies.

Opponents say Rajapakse’s main objective is to secure parliamentary immunity against possible future prosecutions.

Since his defeat in January, Rajapakse has seen his wife and two of his brothers accused of corruption. One of his sons has also been implicated in the alleged murder of a former rugby star.

"He has entered the race to protect himself," Hogg said.

"If he is in a position of power, he can better defend himself and his family against corruption charges."

Rajapakse was shunned by Western governments over the brutal end to the island’s ethnic conflict which prompted calls for international investigators to carry out a war crimes probe.

The UN says that some 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, one of the bloodiest in Asia in the post-colonial era.

Rajapakse’s campaign speeches have been peppered with claims that Sirisena is "selling out" to Tamils and Muslims who together account for about a quarter of the population.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a new report that the election had major implications for post-war reconciliation efforts and a strong showing for Rajapakse would "place obstacles to further progress on much-needed governance reforms and reconciliation".

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Sri Lanka rupee, yields in govt securities slightly changed

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened on Thursday (18) and yields in Treasury bonds picked up slightly while in T-bill edged down in dull trade after the central bank kept key monetary policy rates steady, dealers said.

On Thursday, before the market opened, the central bank held its key policy rates steady at 15.50 percent, while data showed market interest rates are close to twice the rate of them while private credit and imports falling as a consequence.

The central bank is injecting 740 billion rupees of overnight money to banks at 15.50 percent, which were originally injected mostly after reserves were sold for imports (or debt repayments) to artificially keep down rates (sterilized interventions), effectively engaging in monetary financing of imports.

The injections (sterilizing outflows) prevent the credit system from adjusting to the outflows and encourage unsustainable credit without deposits, which is the core problem with soft-pegged central banks, triggering a high rate and an economic slowdown later.

A bond maturing on 01. 06. 2025 closed at 27.90/28.00 percent, slightly up from 27.75/90 percent on Wednesday.

The three-months bill closed at 28.30/29.25 percent, down from 29.25/30 percent on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka’s central bank announced a guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened by one cent to 360.97 rupees against the US dollar on Thursday from 360.96 rupees.

Data showed that commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 367.97 and 370.00 for small transactions.  (Colombo/ Aug 18/2022)

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Japan grants medical equipment worth 500-mn yen to Sri Lanka govt hospital

ECONOMYNEXT –  The  Japanese government has granted medical equipment worth 500 million Japanese yen to the Sri Jayawardenepura government hospital to improve the hospital’s treatment facilities under Japan’s Non-Project Grant Aid Programme.

A statement by the Department of External Resources said the grant was given in response to a request by Sri Lanka’s government.

Under the 500 million Japanese yen (approximately 1,265 million rupees) grant assistance, angio-CT machine, other radiology equipment, ophthalmic instruments, surgical instrument sets (stainless steel with satin finish), 15 dental units with accessories, liver transplant instrument sets, and a cardiac catheterization laboratory will be provided, a statement said on Thursday August 18.

Sri Lanka due to its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history is currently facing shortages of essential medicine, non-essential and lifesaving medicines pressuring the health sector to only attend to emergency cases to preserve available limited medicine stocks.

On Thursday at the policy rate announcement media briefing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, with the strict measures taken in the recent past, Sri Lanka is currently managing the limited forex income coming into the country to purchase essential goods such as fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka has received various grants from several countries including China and India which gave a 200 million US dollar credit line to purchase medicine from India.

In June, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said there is no shortage of vital medicines in the country and all medicines will be restocked by August 2022. However, shortages of medicine aer still being reported in various hospitals islandwide.

“This improvement at the hospital will facilitate the enhancement of the quality of the care provided especially to the patients with non-communicable diseases while enabling high quality medical professional training to medical undergraduates and postgraduates from the National School of Nursing at the aculty of Medical Sciences of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura,” the External Resources Department statement said.

“This project will eventually assist the development of human resources of the health sector in Sri Lanka,” it said. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

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Sri Lanka immigration on the hunt for Scotswoman who documented protests

Kayleigh Fraser via @kayzfraser Instagram

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Department is attempting to track down Kayleigh Fraser, the Scotswoman who documented the country’s anti government protests.

Fraser was ordered to leave the island on or before Monday August 15 after officials cancelled her visa. She and her lawyer had filed a writ petition against her deportation with the Supreme Court, which was dismissed on the grounds that she was not being deported deported, only had her visa cancelled.

“The learned State Council submits that the impugned document ‘X4’ is not a deportation order as claimed by the petitioner and she confirmed that no deportation order has been made up to date by the authorities against the petitioner,” a court document shared by Fraser said.

Immigration officials stated that the police and SSD were on the lookout for Fraser.

“Her visa was cancelled on August 15, so we are looking to put her in a detention camp until she can get a ticket to leave the country,” the official told EconomyNext, confirming that Fraser was not getting deported but that her visa was cancelled.

“Legally we cannot give her a grace period, but on a humanitarian basis, we can give her the time to get a ticket,” the official said.

Fraser had used her social media to share pictures and videos of the anti-government protests in front of the Presidential Secretariat, and has been vocal against state sanctioned violence against protestors.

“Given what I have witnessed here in Colombo – the chemical weapons attacks on protestors, the government instructing the military to beat and torture protestors, the arbitrary arrests and blackmailing of prominent faces from the protests, intimidation tactics and threats etc – I should not be surprised at what has happened today,” she said, speaking to the Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid.

There were no reports of chemical weapons being used against any protestors in Sri Lanka, and it is unclear whether Fraser was erroneously referring to tear gas which was used to disperse crowds.

Fraser also called out media channels who she claimed had attempted to misrepresent peaceful protests as violent.

“It became very clear to me early on that this was not being reported. There was no international coverage on what was happening, and the media here were very much trying to say that it was violent, but that is the absolute opposite of what I saw,” she said over social media.

“What I saw was a beautiful union [of people] coming together in absolute unity. It was a beautiful movement and I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and that kept me coming back.”

However, Sri Lanka’s authorities maintain that the arrests so far have been legal and that violence did occur on the part of some protestors, though activists and some civil society groups disagree. On May 09, after supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors in Colombo, a wave of retaliatory mob-violence erupted across the country which saw the residences of some parliamentarians torched to the ground. One government MP was killed.

Authorities say many of the arrests so far have been of protestors who had violated court orders or had illegally occupied government buildings.

Fraser continues to post on her social media. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

 

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