Sri Lanka protests on the verge of toppling the government: why it happened and then what?

Thousands of demonstrators refused to retreat from the official residences of Sri LankaThe President and Prime Minister of the Republic on Monday, having occupied both homes for several days. The wave of national anger over the cost of living in the impoverished country seemed to bring down its leaders, and the largely peaceful sit-ins in the two men’s luxury homes – and the protesters’ refusal to leave – were a literal and symbolic representation of the defiance. .

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Monday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday – which would meet one of the protesters’ main demands.

Mass demonstrations escalated over the weekend in the South Asian island nation of 22 million people, which lies off the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka has been mired in an economic crisis for months, and feeling their plight not only been resolved but not acknowledged by their leaders, thousands of angry protesters swept through the president’s official residence in Colombo on Saturday.

APTOPIX Sri Lanka
People gather at the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a second day after its storming in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 11, 2022.

Announcing Jayawardena / AP


Protesters also set fire to the residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday. He refused to step down until a new government was formed.

Demonstrators are demanding the men’s immediate departure, blaming them for mismanaging Sri Lanka’s economy.

Rajapaksa has not spoken in public since his home was broken into on Saturday. Reports suggest he may be on a Navy ship off the coast.

Despite the parliament speaker’s assurances that the president would step down, the protesters refused to leave his seaside palace, even though the president himself has not been seen for days.

Sri Lanka
Anti-government protesters swim in a swimming pool at the official residence of Sri Lanka’s president after it was stormed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 9, 2022.

Belt


Videos posted online and broadcast by news outlets showed protesters running through the luxury residence, some taking a dip in the garden pool while others resting on beds or taking advantage of a shower.

How did it come to this?

Sri Lanka has been short of cash for months and is struggling to pay for imports of necessities including food and fuel. The government has blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for slashing tourism income in the country, which is Sri Lanka’s main economic driver. But economists say there are other factors, including political corruption and economic mismanagement.


Sri Lanka’s prime minister says the country is ‘bankrupt’

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The country has defaulted on its massive external debt of $51 billion and is unable to make the interest payments on its loans. And while the government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund over a $3 billion rescue package, for now it has had to rely on help from India and China.

President Rajapaksa has also been criticized for the massive tax cuts he introduced in 2019, which cost the government more than $1.4 billion annually. His government also banned chemical fertilizers last year to boost organic farming – a move that surprised farmers and led to crop failures, eventually forcing the government to import food, exacerbating a shortage of foreign currency.

The Sri Lankan rupee has collapsed 80% over the past few months, making imports more expensive and exacerbating inflation. Food costs have increased by more than 50%. The confluence of factors left Sri Lanka staring at a national bankruptcy, with no cash left to import necessities, making the daily lives of millions of people difficult.

Over the past few months, Sri Lankans have faced blackouts of up to 12 hours a day in the scorching summer heat, severe fuel shortages that have led to thousands queuing at gas stations just to get a gallon or so of expensive fuel, and acute shortages of materials. food and medicine.

Anger with the government only spread when protesters began storming leaders’ homes and revealing the president’s level of luxury while many in his country faced starvation.

What’s next for Sri Lanka?

It could be weeks or months before the country’s food and fuel supplies begin to return to normal, even if the International Monetary Fund delivers a rescue package soon.

Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yaba Abiwardena said a new coalition government would be formed within a week of the president officially stepping down, and opposition political parties held talks Sunday to discuss forming a new government. More talks are expected in the coming days.

APTOPIX Sri Lanka
A man plays the piano at the Prime Minister’s official residence on the second day after it was stormed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 11, 2022.

Rafeeq Maqbool / AP


According to the country’s constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the speaker of parliament must take over as interim president.

But with the apparent and sudden collapse of the government, it is unclear when a whole new government can be formed, or whether any leadership that will emerge will be trusted by the people of the country or by foreign entities trying to help the island nation.

In addition to a possible bailout from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank has agreed to lend Sri Lanka $600 million. India has promised $1.9 billion in aid and may lend an additional $1.5 billion for imports. The Group of Seven major nations – the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom – said they would provide assistance to Sri Lanka in securing debt relief.

But it appears that there are still several days, if not weeks of uncertainty ahead for the beleaguered Sri Lankan people before any of the potential rescues begin to provide some relief on the ground.

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