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Ahead of the November 2019 election, Sri Lankan presidential challenger Gotabaya Rajapaksa proposed sweeping tax cuts so reckless the incumbent government thought it must be a campaign gimmick.

The finance minister at the time, Mangala Samaraweera, called a briefing to assail the “dangerous” pledge to reduce the value-added tax to 8% from 15% and scrap other levies. To him, it was simple math: Sri Lanka collected relatively less revenue than nearly any other country, and its high debt load had forced it to seek cash from the International Monetary Fund.

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