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Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks at the COP27 Climate Summit in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt, on November 8, 2022. Image Credit: AP

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s president suspended Parliament until February 8, when he said he would announced a new set of long-term policies to address a range of issues including an unprecedented economic crisis that has engulfed the Indian Ocean nation for months.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe issued an extraordinary decree suspending Parliament from midnight Friday.

The government did not give a clear reason for the move, but Wickremesinghe’ s office in a statement said his address to lawmakers on February 8 will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048.

It is also widely expected that Wickremesinghe would announce his policies on sharing power with ethnic minority Tamils. A civil war between the majority Sinhala-controlled Sri Lankan government and ethnic Tamil rebels killed at least 100,000 people, according to UN conservative calculations, before it ended with the rebels’ defeat in 2009.

Political analyst Jehan Perera said the president’s move to suspend Parliament is “to show that he is the authority.”

He said that the suspension also “symbolises a fresh start” as the president gets the opportunity “to announce all the new things that are going to be done.”

Unsustainable debt, a severe balance of payment crisis on top of lingering scars of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a severe shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food. The soaring prices triggered massive protests last year that ousted Wickremesinghe’s predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Although there are some signs of progress, daily power cuts have continued due to fuel shortages and the government is struggling to find money to pay its employees and conduct other administrative functions.

There’s been a growing public displeasure over the government’s recent move to increase taxes and electricity bills in an apparent bid to obtain a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt and has suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year pending the outcome of talks with the IMF. The country’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027.

The government announced 6% cuts in the budgets of each ministry this year and plans to nearly half the size of the military, which had swelled to more than 200,000 personnel due to a long civil war.

During the suspension of Parliament, the speaker continues to function and lawmakers keep their seats even though they do not attend any sessions.