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What the Sri Lankan Crisis Means

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The country’s troubled history, along with its recent economic decline, have prompted a lot of anger among sri lankans.

People celebrate the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
People celebrate the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

 

Recent reports suggest that Sri Lankans have been furious at their government, demanding changes from the country’s President in Colombo. Over the past few weeks, there have been massive protests in this area. In response to the demonstrations, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency for 10 days. The U.S., along with other countries, is considering sanctions against the Sri Lankan government as well.

In the recent days, an increased police presence has been observed in the area thanks to Reuters. Gotabayarajapksa, the president in trouble, fled from Sri Lanka and is expected to stay in Singapore for an undisclosed period of time.

As the former prime minister of Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe has been sworn into office as interim president on Friday. Rajapaksa declared Wickremesinghe as interim president when he was absent. As a result of this, protesters have attacked his offices in recent days, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s outrage, even among those who were party loyalists,” says Andrea Malji, an assistant professor of international studies at Hawaii Pacific University who specializes in the South Asia region. “Just outrage over the manner in which the Rajapaksa administration has handled multiple crises – not one single event, but multiple interspersed ones.”

As Malji says, people living on the island of Sri Lanka are fed up mostly because of the current economic state of the country. This has led to extreme food and fuel scarcity.

 International Monetary Fund officials visited Sri Lanka in June and discovered that the situation is dire and the country’s economy “expected to contract significantly in 2022, inflation high and rising,” and the most vulnerable and vulnerable people suffering the most serious consequences.

Sri Lankans struggle to keep up with the daily grind, according to Malji. A statement published on June 28, from the not-for-profit National Peace Council of Sri Lanka declared that conditions were becoming more severe “with queues lengthening, prices rising and essentials unavailable,” and also criticized Sri Lanka’s government’s reaction to this crisis.

“Governance is the essential element of the state, and effective governance is not merely the exercise of power but the safeguard of the rights of each individual and the welfare of all,” the council of the state said in its letter.

A lot has changed since the announcements were made public, and Rajapaksa officially announced his resignation the following day. A statement earlier in the week by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “smooth transition of government” as if echoing the words of officials from government across the globe as well as urging Sri Lankan leadership “to find sustainable solutions ” to the current economic crisis.

“Everybody realized that it was only a matter of time before Gotabaya was ousted,” says Neil DeVotta, a professor of international relations and political science at Wake Forest University and author of a book about Sri Lanka.

The country’s history has been awash with plenty of challenges prior to the current recession in the economy. There have been 13 years since the civil war, which was primarily fought between the Sinhalese, many of whom are Buddhist, and the Tamil minority, many of whom are Hindu, ended. But there were scars.

For instance, hundreds of missing people after the war, among them those who Rajapaksa admitted during the last two years as having passed away.

After the war, Malji asserts that it appeared like Sri Lanka was beginning to move towards what he calls the “new era.” The economy was beginning to improve, according to the OPEC Fund for International Development. However, Sri Lanka was hit by a string of turmoils this year, which ranged from the turmoil in the constitution in 2018 and the Easter bombings of the year.

According to Malji the latest events negatively impacted the tourism industry in Sri Lanka. COVID-19’s shutdowns are adding to the problems caused by the pandemic, she claims.

Since the conclusion of these conflicts, Sri Lanka has faced corruption as well as broken promises by a number of successive governments. This includes two administrations led by the brothers Rajapaksa. Their family is part of a powerful and wealthy Sri Lankan family that has successfully won over Sinhalese nationalism.

Current Rajapaksa leader, Gotabaya was the defense secretary during the war, and is currently facing “very specific allegations of war crimes” against him, which are dated to the year 2009 Malji says.

“The Rajapaksas as a political dynasty have attempted to use their name for power, and they’ve used their name and identity in this nationalistic sense, where that was overriding all else, “she declares. “So the issue was a question regarding Sinhalese Buddhist identity, and it wasn’t just about policy. Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka were divided over this issue. It only gets you so deep.

Additionally, critics assert that they believe that it is the Rajapaksa administration’s financial policies are the cause of the country’s economic woes. Malji claims that when the epidemic first started, the government made the decision to ignore the recommendations of its financial advisers and instituted a massive tax cut, which left Sri Lanka unable to bring the funds it needed to pay back its “huge” foreign debt.

Sri Lanka is currently in default on its debts. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva reported on Wednesday that 30 percent of emerging and developing markets are at or near the threshold of debt distress. This is due to the current situation in Sri Lanka, according to Reuters.

It’s nearly impossible to know what’s about to happen in Sri Lanka. Malji says that the situation in Sri Lanka is uncertain and is an indication of a “power vacuum.” DeVotta asserts that the protests currently taking place that are split between extremists and moderates, are likely to become more violent because of it being the case the fact that Wickremesinghe “does not have the legitimacy to be president” and has connections to the Rajapaksas.

 Although Gotabaya Rajapaksa is located in Singapore, Malji believes that might have been the “final destination” as the country is home to a large Tamil population who Malji is accused of having committed inhumane acts against.

“This extends beyond COVID,” she continues. “This is not only the economic crisis. It’s just one of the numerous aspects that are part of Rajapaksa’s legacy”

 

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