Sri Lanka Crisis: From the beginning of March this year, signs of something inauspicious started happening in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Then the food inflation was skyrocketing in this island nation. Basic necessities like sugar and rice were selling at almost double the prices a year ago.
However, for the first time, the citizens of Sri Lanka realized the magnitude of the situation when the government announced a week-long curfew in the capital in the first week of April. The government had taken this decision in view of the long queues outside the fuel stations there. What was it then, people came out on the streets against this decision of the government.
After this, a small group of protesters pitched their tents in the Galle Seafront just in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He felt that the President has to take decisions on the current mess and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions. From this it was becoming increasingly clear that the Rajapaksa dynasty’s control over the people of Sri Lanka was decreasing. This family has been in power in Sri Lanka since 2005.
After a gap of five years, Rajapaksa won the 2019 general elections with a resounding mandate. Then Mahinda Rajapakse was made the Prime Minister and his brother Gotabaya as the President. Several other top political executive positions were also given to members of the Rajapaksa family.
It is necessary to pause and try to understand why the Rajapaksa dynasty, one of the most powerful and well-established political dynasties in the Indian subcontinent and South Asia, lost power in a matter of months. This dynasty is famous for ruling Sri Lanka in a very cruel and strict way. Yes why not! After all, it was the Rajapaksa family that is given all the credit for wiping out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-LTTE.
How and when did the economic slowdown start in Sri Lanka
The relationship of the Rajapaksa dynasty to the bottom of the popularity charts begins with the slowdown in the Sri Lankan economy. In the year 2019, it started with the bomb blasts on Easter Sunday in a hotel in Colombo. Hundreds of people were killed and crippled in this terrorist attack. Because of this, the tourism economy of Sri Lanka suffered a serious setback. If seen, tourism has been the backbone of this country. Significantly, tourism is an important contributor to the foreign exchange reserves of this island country.
The shaking economy here was rightly destroyed by the Covid-19 Pandemic. The money that Sri Lankan immigrants living in foreign countries used to send to the country also stopped coming, because many had to lose their jobs in this epidemic. An important source of foreign exchange i.e. dollars coming into the country also almost stopped. As a result, the foreign exchange reserves of Sri Lanka continued to decrease.
Rajapakse government’s decision
The Rajapaksa government itself put the last nail in the coffin of the country’s dying economy. The government of Sri Lanka had banned all chemical and fertilizer imports in April 2021. The reasoning of the government behind this was that due to the promotion of organic farming among farmers, the country would be distinguished in organic food products and the objectives of export would be met. As a result, in six months, this policy of the government proved the saying that it was wet for him as soon as he shaved his head.
After this decision, the production of cereals fell by about 43 percent, while the production of tea and other important foreign earning items decreased by 15 percent. The government hurriedly canceled this decision, but the damage was already done. The triple whammy of the tourism slowdown, the shock of Kovid-19 and the fertilizer policy made Sri Lanka poor in foreign exchange reserves.
As a country that imports everything from fuel to staple food items like rice. In such situations he had very little money to pay for the imports. During this, the per capita GDP of Sri Lanka, which was much above that of India a few years ago, started showing a steady and sharp decline.
The island nation was forced to face its worst economic crisis in four decades. There was a shortage of fuel and food. The situation was that Colombo’s hospitals were being forced to postpone major surgeries in the wake of long power cuts.
In such a situation, the people of Sri Lanka directly blamed Rajapaksa for their plight. The protests that started in Colombo soon took the form of a full-blown rebellion. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned to pacify public anger, but to no avail. Things got out of control. The mob started beating and thrashing the ruling party MPs. The protesters set fire to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Because of this, President Gotabaya Rajapakse had to retreat in haste. He left the country in a naval ship. As he went, he handed over the reins of the country to his one-time arch rival, Ranil Wickremasinghe. The anger of the public increased. People were not satisfied with the decision of the government.
He called this agreement a sham for the ruling faction to control the reins of power. This is the reason why even Wickremesinghe’s residence was not spared by the protesters, although he has been seen largely as an opponent of Rajapaksa in his politics.
The departure of Rajapaksa and the arrival of a new president
However, it is ironic that long-time politician Ranil Wickremesinghe and former PM have finally realized their long-held dream of becoming the President in the midst of these adversity. This is when they were pushed to the margins. His party’s only MP in Parliament was first nominated as the Prime Minister by his staunch opponent. And now, after Gotabaya is gone, he has been elected as president by a parliament full of Rajapaksa loyalists.
how is this politics
As the new President, Ranil Vikram Singhe has not much to do. Sri Lanka has already failed to repay its foreign debts. Sri Lanka is the first country in the Asia-Pacific to do so in two decades. However, efforts to secure a $3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund have been delayed by a month. This help can reach Sri Lanka by September.
However, until the payment crisis is brought under control, rationing and distribution of fuel has been announced in the country. In the meantime, Wickremesinghe has made perfect arrangements to deal with the challenge of keeping both the economy and the anger and frustration of the people under control. This is the reason why he has given clear instructions to the armed forces to maintain law and order.
How long Wickremesinghe stays in office will depend on how fast and how much help he is able to mobilize for the people of Sri Lanka. Especially with regard to the supply of staples i.e. staple food items and essential commodities. The current political crisis in the island nation was caused by the lack of food and utility shortages. The Sri Lanka crisis is being compared to the Arab Spring in West Asia a decade ago.
A series of protests and dharnas began in 2010 in Central West Asia and North Africa. This is what is called the Arab Awakening, the Arab Spring or the Arab Rebellion. This revolution was a wave that shook the whole world, including the whole Arab world, due to picketing, protests, riots and armed struggle.
However, the new president has given enough indications that he is not the only acting president. He has clearly said that the situation is not conducive for his predecessor (Gotabaya) to return home soon. Looks like Ranil Wickremesinghe is in no hurry as he is preparing for the long haul.
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