Sri Lanka’s ongoing political and economic crises once again reached a fever pitch as thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday and some stormed the president’s house and offices.
Sri Lanka’s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has apparently agreed to step down on July 13, although he has not yet personally confirmed the announcement made by the speaker of parliament, as he is reportedly in hiding. Following the speaker’s announcement, protesters also set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence, who also stated he was resigning after just months on the job. Neither he nor Rajapaksa was present when the residences were breached, according to the BBC, and photos show several protesters floating in the president’s outdoor pool.
Rajapaksa, the scion of a Sri Lankan political family, was elected in 2019, and although he didn’t exactly cause the nation’s economic problems, conditions have deteriorated significantly under his leadership. Critical shortages of basic necessities like fuel, medicine, and food ignited the protests which have apparently toppled his administration and, for now, the Rajapaksa dynasty.
Wickremesinghe, who joined Rajapaksa’s administration in May after the previous prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa — a brother of the current president — resigned the post following violent protests over Sri Lanka’s dire economic circumstances. Sri Lanka has defaulted on payments of its foreign loans — which presently total about $51 billion — for the first time in its history. That’s exacerbating the turmoil that successive crises have caused for the country’s tourism industry in recent years, including a series of attacks on churches in 2019, as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Although Parliamentary Speaker Mahinda Abeywardena announced Saturday that the president would resign “to ensure a peaceful transition,” that won’t take effect immediately, and further chaos and violence could occur before the July 13 transition date — not to mention the risk that both the president and prime minister could find a way to cling to power in that time.
“So the president communicated through the speaker that he would abide by anything that was agreed at the party leader’s meeting which occurred today,” Nishan de Mel, the executive director of Verité Research, a think tank based in Colombo, told Al Jazeera English Saturday. “And at the party leader’s meeting, everyone except the prime minister, of course, said that both the president and the prime minister must leave their positions with immediate effect.” However, the prime minister hasn’t yet set a date for his departure, and the president’s is still days away.
“Still a ways to go. 4 days is a LONG time in #SriLanka politics,” Alan Keenan, a researcher focusing on Sri Lankan politics at the International Crisis Group, tweeted Saturday.
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