India, US must 'encourage' Sri Lanka's current rulers to quit to resolve political crisis: Tamil MP

Colombo: India, the US and other friendly nations must "encourage" those in power in Sri Lanka to step down to end the protracted political crisis and help in the formation of an acceptable government in the country, a prominent leader of Sri Lanka's main Tamil party TNA has said.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP for the Jaffna district M A Sumanthiran blamed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for Sri Lanka's current economic calamity and said the TNA advocates that the current rulers must step down totally and hand it over to the Opposition to run the government.

"The current government has failed. The 40 MPs who crossed the floor also have accepted that this government failed. They were part of the government. They must step aside and give it to the opposition to run the government, he told the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.

Despite mounting pressure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have refused to quit.

Responding to a question on how India and the US can help Sri Lanka, Sumanthiran said, They must encourage the government to step down. India, the US and all the friendly countries must encourage those in power now to step down. I do not see any change for the country without that happening, he said, referring to the powerful Rajapaksa clan's dominance in the island nation's political scene.

He said Sri Lanka was grateful to India for its assistance.

For that assistance, we are very thankful. That assistance is what keeps the country alive. But we cannot go on and on like that. If the friendly countries are to help, they must also encourage the current rulers to step down and enable an acceptable government to be formed thereafter, he said.

India has agreed to extend an additional USD 500 million credit line to help Sri Lanka import fuel. New Delhi has also already agreed to defer USD 1.5 billion in import payments that Sri Lanka needs to make to the Asian Clearing Union.

Sri Lanka needs at least USD 4 billion to tide over its mounting economic woes, and talks with international institutions such as the World Bank as well as countries like China and Japan for financial assistance have been going on.

The country has run out of foreign currency to import badly-needed essential goods.

Last month, the Sri Lankan government said it would temporarily default on USD 35.5 billion in foreign debt as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it impossible to make payments to overseas creditors.

Debt-ridden Sri Lanka has asked for an International Monetary Fund bailout, which could take up to three months to arrive.

On the realisation of political aspirations of Tamil people, Sumanthiran said India and the western countries have expressly articulated that the political aspirations of the minority Tamil community must be met with equality and dignity and power sharing must be done.

India has said all that. Similar sentiments have been expressed by other friendly countries too. I don't think there is any change in that. They will assist if moves are undertaken in that direction. If that is settled properly now, that will give the country a different image. There will be renewed hope for the country from around the world, he said.

The TNA wants full devolution under the 13th Amendment as the central governments have over the years shown reluctance to meet the demand for police and land powers to the provinces.

The 13th Amendment provides for devolution of power to the Tamil community. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.

Sumanthiran said there will be an avalanche of investments in foreign currency from the diaspora community if this issue is resolved justly.

When asked who are those prospective investors in the diaspora community, he replied: there is a larger section of people who have done well. The president is also quite aware of that.

On India's concerns over China's investments in Sri Lanka, the Tamil lawmaker said, We are not enemies of anybody. It is alright for anybody to come. There are geopolitical realities. China is not a friendly country to India. Naturally, India will have defence concerns. This is in the backyard of India.

Sri Lanka is just 30 kilometers off India. If we were close to China physically and India came in there, China would have concerns. Those realities must be looked at. That is for this reason that we said we don't want China coming in'. That is making India nervous. We don't want our areas to be used for proxy wars. Other than that, we have nothing against the Chinese, he said.

China in the last few years has courted Sri Lanka with billions of dollars of investments looking for a firm foothold in its Indian Ocean outreach. But the island nation currently faced a dire economic situation as it struggled to repay the expensive loans.

It is estimated that Sri Lanka owes debt payments to China in the region of USD 1.5 to 2 billion this year.

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