Sri Lanka’s prime minister said on Sunday that under political reforms he is proposing to solve the country’s political crisis created by an economic collapse, protesting youth organizations will be encouraged to participate in governance.
According to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the president’s powers will be curtailed while Parliament’s will be increased under planned constitutional revisions. In a televised address to the nation, he stated that governance will be broad-based, with politicians, youth, and professionals working together in legislative committees.
“The youth are demanding that the current system be changed. They also want to be informed about current events. As a result, I suggest that each of these 15 committees have four young representatives,” Wickremesinghe stated.
For more than 50 days, protesters, mostly young people, have camped out outside the president’s office. They want President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign, accusing him and his family of being responsible for the country’s greatest economic catastrophe. They also want a system of governance overhauled, claiming that successive administrations have mismanaged the country since independence from Britain in 1948, resulting in economic and social catastrophes.
As Sri Lanka teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, students have staged practically daily protests in the city, Colombo, and elsewhere. It has already defaulted on its international loans, and vital products such as cooking gas, fuel, and medications are in limited supply. People have been forced to stand in enormous lines for hours in order to purchase things, and many have gone home empty-handed.
The country’s foreign currency reserves have depleted to the point where they can only buy two weeks’ worth of essential goods.
Last month, authorities declared that they would postpone the repayment of over $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. Sri Lanka must pay a total of $25 billion between now and 2026. The island nation in the Indian Ocean owes $51 billion in international debt.
One of the youth MPs will be nominated by the so-called “youth parliament,” while the other three will come from protesting groups and other activist organizations, according to Wickremesinghe’s proposal. “The youth organizations themselves can decide on the methods used to choose these persons,” he stated.
His plan has elicited no instant response from youth organizations. Under the current constitution, new broad-based parliamentary committees appear to be possible, but wider modifications, such as limiting presidential powers, would require Supreme Court permission and a two-thirds legislative majority. When the bill will be introduced for debate is unknown.
On May 9, Rajapaksa supporters attacked nonviolent protestors, resulting in violence. Nine people were slain, including a lawmaker from the ruling party, and the homes of Cabinet officials were set on fire. After the president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister, the turmoil threatened to destabilize the Rajapaksa dynasty. Three of the president’s siblings and a nephew had previously resigned from their positions in the Cabinet.
Sri Lanka has been ruled by a powerful executive presidential system for nearly 45 years, and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa strengthened it even further after winning a landslide victory in 2019.
Wickremesinghe has stated that he will have an economic reform plan ready in two weeks in order to seek approval for a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.