Concerned about 22 million suffering Lankans: Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa | Exclusive

Sri Lanka is grappling with a massive and unprecedented uprising. People, angry with the leadership’s failure to arrest the surging inflation, are out on the streets. Their demand: the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Since Saturday, the island nation has been on the boil. A deluge of protesters, fed up with the rising prices of essential and daily items, stormed the president and the prime minister’s homes and offices. By evening, the PM’s home was on fire.

As the chorus demanding resignations of the top leaders grew, President Gotabaya went into hiding and, earlier today, fled to the Maldives with his wife and bodyguards. Although he was to resign today, Rajapaksa flew out without stepping down.

Amid this spiraling crisis and chaos, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s name is doing the rounds as the country’s next premier once the current dispensation resigns.

Sajith Premadasa, the son of Lanka’s former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, spoke exclusively to India Today TV on the way forward, the massive trust deficit of the people in the nation’s political leadership, what went wrong and several other issues.


“Constitutionally, when both the prime minister and the president resign, it is the Speaker who becomes the acting president. There is constitutional provision for both these people to resign and the country to go ahead with the processes which will decide the destiny of the country,” Premadasa said.

Also Read: | Will Sajith Premadasa be the next leader of Sri Lanka?

“What is actually happening right now, as far as we know at this moment, the president says he is resigning but he hasn’t done so and has gone abroad. The PM is claiming to be the acting president on the basis of a statement made by the Speaker. I myself have not seen the written letter of the president appointing the prime minister as acting president. So, what you have is virtual anarchy. Anarchy is reigning.

“In this particular situation, it is important for constitutionality to prevail. Constitutional procedures should be enacted. But, what we are seeing is a group of leaders implementing arbitrary methodology for their own political survival,” he said.


“People don’t trust the political leadership,” Premadasa told India Today TV.

“The present parliamentary composition is a reflection of people’s opinion of August 2020 when the elections were held. The executive presidency reflects the opinion of the people in 2019. Right now, the executive president and the parliament do not reflect the opinions and the aspirations of the people. This is where the problem is.”

So, how does he propose to get the numbers in parliament?

“We will be putting ourselves forward to take things forward. Modalities need to be discussed with partners. We will have to work with some of the very people who were a part of the team that led Sri Lanka to this disaster,” he said.

Also Read: | How Sri Lanka spiraled into crisis | Explained

“There is an inhibition on the part of most not to dissolve parliament because that would be to the disadvantage to the huge majority that came in August 2020. The situation is that there has to be some sort of a political coming togetherness of all parties, not based on disparities but based on approaches, on a common national agenda. That would be the unifying process, not politics.”


“Basically, I did not refuse the premiership. I based my acceptance of the premiership on a few conditions that would dilute the powers of the executive presidency – greater transparency, greater democracy, greater accountability, greater democratisation of the process, to which the President/ex-President did not agree,” he argued.

“The most important aspect right now is that I would not be functioning under a government and presidency that has been completely rejected by the people. The president cannot walk towards the people, he cannot face the people. He totally distanced himself from the 6.9 million people to such an extent that he had to leave the country. In fact, he has been forced to leave the country.”


“Soon after the Presidential elections, the administration of Gotabaya Rajapaksa decided to give tremendous tax cuts to the super rich to the tune of Rs 600 billion. This resulted in a decline of state income from 12% of GDP to an abysmal 4%. Consequently, the international financial rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka’s ratings. This resulted in Sri Lanka not being able to enter the international capital markets to raise re-financing loans,” Premadasa explained.

“Previous political hierarchy and the colonic leadership used the scarce foreign reserves needed to purchase fuel, energy, gas, food items, medicines, raw material inputs, etc. They used those scarce resources to pay off our debts. Moronic economic decisions have led Sri Lanka to this state of economic degradation.

Also Read: | Lessons for India from Sri Lanka economic crisis

“Covid-19 was a signal to all governments to be economically prudent, conservative, pragmatic and practical. But, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government’s tactics and loony economics led to bad economic policies. Corruption was on the rise. We lost a lot because of that. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) needs a fair playground. If you have corruption, provide commissions, pay kickbacks to middlemen and parties when your rank in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Anti-Corruption’ indices are very low, it is very difficult to attract FDI.”


“Sri Lanka should have a neutral external policy. They should work with everyone. We should not marginalise China. We should not marginalise India. We should not marginalise Japan, the US or the European Union or Russia or even the Middle East nations just because they are Muslim countries. It has happened before. We should work with all for the betterment of our nation,” Premadasa said.

“We must articulate our economic policies in a coherent manner, focus on national objectives and national interest, establish objectives, tasks and timelines and device policies for evaluation and assessment. Our policies should be national interest oriented and not for country A, B or C.”


“The future administration, led by an all-party opposition, will ensure that we will work with all our friends and all members of the international community. We are extremely grateful to India for having shown such generosity in terms of providing assistance and support. That is undoubted. That is a fact,” he said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government of India, the Finance Minister of India and the people of India for the huge financial support they have been providing to the people even to this limited extent. However, I would like to reiterate the fact that relationships between the governments of nations and the people of their respective governments; if the trust bestowed upon them by the people is treated as though they have a free hold over the country, hold the country to ransom and behave as if it is their own backyard, then certainly the country is imperiled.

“We will establish balanced relations with all countries, all democratic nation states. And we will have amicable relationships. We will not be pro this country/bloc or anti this country/bloc. Not at all. We will redefine our national interest. We will make sure that our external policy is articulated in a manner to suit all those objectives.”


“Right now, as an opposition, there are limitations because of our locus standi, in terms of our positions. Since we are still members of the opposition, we have limited access. But, we have always tried to reach out to all International Financial Institutions (IFISBs) and multilateral institutions, encouraging more maneuverability and flexibility in bilateral and multilateral issues – with institutions and also with countries.

Also Read: | Watch: Protesters take over Sri Lankan PM’s office

“We will have a flexible approach of response with all of them. There are no quick fixes. We have not hidden the fact that the process of recovery will be full of hate, pain, suffering, and sacrifices. It will be a long haul. If we are to return to our earlier days of 2019 in terms of per capita incomes, it will take four to five years to achieve those goals,” Premadasa said.


“I don’t want to speculate or predict too much about the future. Let’s see how it comes. It is a very arduous process. We will strive to be very transparent with the electorate, especially with the constituents and the citizenry of the country. Social contracts with the people of our motherland is paramount and we hope to make sure that we work with the highest principles of ethics and morality in mind and we keep intact the trust of the people and our credibility and integrity as people’s representatives,” he said.


“To be very honest with you, we are concentrating on rebuilding Sri Lanka, our economy, bringing back prosperity, bringing back the lost jobs, improving our employment figures, reducing inflation, increasing growth, ensuring the deficits are in the green and not in the red. We have a lot of things to be concerned about. We have suffered because of the malpractices of the Rajapaksa administration. We will ensure that strong institutions are in place to prevent corruption. We will have strong mechanisms devoid of political interference so that they get on with their tasks with greater autonomy. We will ensure that institution building will lead to an anti-corruption drive instead of politicians deciding on who should be prosecuted and who should not. That is not the job of the politicians,” Premadasa concluded.

“As far as the whereabouts of the Rajapaksas, I want to humbly say that those are the least of my concerns. My concern is for the 22 million people in Sri Lanka who are suffering, who are in hunger, who don’t have proper wages, whose livelihood has been destroyed. I feel sorry for them. But, with the correct politics and economic plan, we will overcome all these obstacles which I believe are surmountable, not insurmountable. They can be overcome.”

Also Read : | Not just economy, democratic values have also been collapsing in Sri Lanka

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