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Economic crisis: Who can save Sri Lanka?

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Former Central Bank of Sri Lanka governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. Photo: Getty Images

As the economy lands with a thud, there’s a dearth of talent in Colombo’s official ranks. Pragmatic diplomacy might now be a better option for the embattled Rajapaksa clan.

A handful of people will decide Sri Lanka’s economic fate over the coming months.

Two are brothers, senior members of the divisive Rajapaksa clan who have long ruled the country: the president, 72-year-old Gotabaya; and Mahinda, 76, the former president who is now prime minister.

Neither of the two brothers is an economist. Nor was a third brother Basil, who was the finance minister overseeing the country’s economic mess – many say he helped create it – until that mess caught up with the family on April 4 when the cabinet resigned en masse. Basil’s formal education didn’t progress beyond high school, Gotabaya became a soldier and ranking officer and Mahinda qualified as a lawyer after becoming a member of parliament in the country’s strongly Buddhist Sinhalese south.

Basil was replaced as finance minister by justice minister Ali Sabry, a Muslim lawyer who had also resigned on April 4 with the rest of the cabinet only to be sworn back in hours later in the finance portfolio.

But less than 24 hours after his appointment to finance, Sabry resigned, apparently after coming under pressure from his community supporters concerned he had been appointed to help rescue Rajapaksa's Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist government that’s often accused of directing enmity against Sri Lanka's business-oriented Muslim community.

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Eric Ellis
Eric Ellis has covered Asia for Euromoney since 2006. He is a former southeast Asia-correspondent for Fortune Magazine and Time, and an ex-Asia correspondent for Australia’s economic and business newspaper the Australian Financial Review.