Published on :
The situation remains uncertain in Sri Lanka after the demonstrations which prompted President Rajapaksa to announce his imminent resignation. Elements to understand how the country found itself in this situation.
Sri Lanka plunged into uncertainty. The protest movement against the economic crisis that has been raging for months in Sri Lanka where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised on Saturday to resign after the invasion of his residence. An unprecedented crisis since independence in 1948 of this island of 22 million inhabitants.
At the origin of the demonstrations, the collapse of the Sri Lankan economy. The tourism sector, vital for the island’s economy, suffered the backlash of the jihadist attacks of April 2019 against churches and hotels (279 dead including 45 foreigners), then of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To read: Cornered by the economic and political crises, Sri Lanka at a standstill
The largest tax cuts in the island’s history, granted by Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his accession to the presidency, also emptied the coffers, and Sri Lanka found itself without sufficient foreign exchange to import what it needed. need, be it food, medicine or fuel.
Despite aid from India and other countries, in April 2022 the country defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt payment, and sought a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
As a result, Sri Lankans have been living for months with shortages of food and medicine, power cuts due to lack of fuel for power stations, and a shortage of gasoline which restricts movement.
Galloping inflation (55% in the month of June alone) makes the few things that can still be found inaccessible for a large part of the population.
• The risk of a humanitarian crisis
The United Nations has warned that the country is in danger of a serious humanitarian crisis, with more than three-quarters of the population having already had to reduce their diet.
Upon his accession to the presidency, Gotabaya appointed his brother Mahinda as Prime Minister, but the latter had to resign in May after very violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 73, president since 2019, is a member of a clan that has dominated Sri Lankan political life for decades. His brother Mahinda, 76, the charismatic leader of the clan, was previously the president of the country for a decade, until 2015. He considerably indebted the country, especially to China to which enormous debts were contracted to fund huge infrastructure projects tainted by suspicions of corruption.
Mahinda is adored by the Sinhalese ethnic majority for crushing the Tamil Tiger guerrillas in 2009, ending 37 years of civil war. Gotabaya – nicknamed “Terminator” – was then his top lieutenant, holding the influential post of secretary of the Ministry of Defense and controlling the armed forces and the police.
• Upcoming resignation of the Prime Minister
After months of demonstrations, in May supporters of the president violently attacked the demonstrators. Nine people were killed and hundreds injured in the clashes, which prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, he managed to cling to power, appointing a veteran politician, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as head of government until Saturday. On Saturday July 9, the demonstrators, after forcing him to flee the presidential palace which they stormed, also set fire to his house (from which he was absent). He then announced his intention to resign next week.
And now ? Parliament will then legally have one month to choose his successor. But the Speaker of Parliament has promised a decision by the end of the week.
A promise can be difficult to keep, because for the moment no one among the parliamentarians seems able to obtain sufficient support.
“We are heading into a period of dangerous uncertainty,” Tamil MP Dharmalingam Sithadthan told AFP. “Gota should have resigned immediately, to avoid a power vacuum.”