Former Sri Lanka PM Ranil Wickremesinghe returns to Parliament

Slams Rajapaksa government’s economic policy, ‘militarisation’

Updated - June 24, 2021 09:14 am IST

Published - June 23, 2021 07:21 pm IST - COLOMBO

Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe. File

Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe. File

Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday returned to Parliament, ten months after his United National Party (UNP) suffered its biggest electoral defeat in history .

In the first intervention by his party in the current legislature, Mr. Wickremesinghe slammed the Rajapaksa government on its economic policy that, he said, lacked a plan amid a crisis, and growing militarisation of civil services.

Though the UNP didn’t win a single seat in the 2020 general election, it had enough cumulative votes to nominate one member under its ‘national list’, a system in which a party can win seats proportionate to its share of total votes polled.

“I am happy to be able to come to Parliament and resume my parliamentary political life,” said Mr. Wickremesinghe, who was first elected as an MP in 1977. He was in all parliaments since, except after he lost the election last year, when the Rajapaksas rose to power, with a thumping majority.

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB, or United People’s Front), formed by those who broke away from the UNP, is Sri Lanka’s main Opposition party, led by Sajith Premadasa.

Pointing to Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the balance had fallen from $7 billion, when his government was in power [2015-2019], to $ 4 billion at present. “By the end of this month, Sri Lanka has a debt of US $1 billion to repay. We have to repay another loan of around US $ 2 billion this year. We have no plan on how to pay for these,” he said, urging the government to sign up for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

Mr. Wickremesinghe accused the government of giving tax relief “to big people” while “starving small people”.

Highlighting political authority, vested in the Cabinet and Parliament; civil power or the bureaucracy, and military power as the “three aspects” of a democratic government, the former PM said: “What is happening now is that civilian power is being handed to the military and the country is governed that way. That is wrong.”

The military was roped in not only for pandemic response but also for economic activity, he added, as he sought a parliamentary debate to discuss the transfer of powers vested in Parliament to the Army.

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