What We're Watching: Sri Lanka swears in new leader, Bolsonaro spends big, Biden to kiss the ring

What We're Watching: Rajapaksa quits, Bolsonaro spends big, Biden to kiss the ring

Sri Lankans celebrate the resignation President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Sri Lanka has a new acting president

Gotabaya Rajapaksa finally resigned — by email — on Thursday as president of Sri Lanka, a country rocked by months-long mass protests, economic collapse, and political turmoil over his rule. He fled the country on Tuesday, likely to avoid arrest, and is now in Singapore, but Rajapaksa’s final destination remains unclear. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the sitting PM Rajapaksa appointed interim president before getting out of Dodge, was sworn in as acting president on Friday. Wickremesinghe’s ability to govern, however briefly, is uncertain given that protesters also want him out. Parliament’s process for selecting the new leader now begins, with a vote coming as early as next week. MPs will have to come up with an alternative candidate to serve out the remainder of Rajapaksa's term until 2025, or hold a snap election. Whoever becomes president will then have to pick a prime minister to lead a government that'll need to pass tough economic reforms to secure an IMF bailout, the only way Sri Lanka can salvage its ruined economy. Demonstrators ignored a new curfew to publicly celebrate Rajapaksa’s resignation overnight, and all eyes are on what happens next on the streets of Colombo.


A Bolsonaro bonus?

Brazil’s embattled far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is hoping that a massive new social spending package will boost his chances of being re-elected this fall. The country’s lower house this week approved a bill that would increase welfare payments by 50% and give special bonuses to certain workers, in particular self-employed truckers and taxi drivers. To pass the bill, lawmakers had to scrap a constitutional limit on government spending. Supporters of the bill say it’s necessary to help ordinary Brazilians cope with an inflation rate currently hovering around 12%. Critics say spending this much money will only worsen inflation, and that it’s merely a political ploy to help Bolsonaro, whose polling numbers badly trail those of his archnemesis, leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The first round of the election will be held on Oct. 2.

Biden enters the kingdom

On day two of his Middle East trip, US President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a pact with Israeli PM Yair Lapid in which the US and Israel pledge to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But each party has their own idea of how to do that. Washington is still holding out (fast fading) hopes of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the Israelis, skeptical of a deal, have always placed greater faith in a military deterrent. On Friday, Biden visits Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The meeting revives US-PA ties that the Trump administration had broken off, but Biden isn’t expected to unveil any fresh vision for Middle East peace. All eyes are really now on Biden’s onward journey to Saudi Arabia, where he’ll spend two days meeting with Gulf leaders including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Biden will look to secure more Gulf oil production to bring down crude prices as well as broader Arab-Israeli cooperation against Iran. One little question with big optics: will Biden shake the hand of MBS, the man he once pledged to make into a “pariah”? Biden’s team says COVID protocols prevent him from doing so, but that hasn’t stopped him from pressing the flesh in Israel …
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