What’s Happening In Sri Lanka?

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Sri Lanka (or Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as it’s officially known) is an island in the Indian ocean just under 1500km (approx 930 miles) off the coast of India.

Sri Lanka is a developing country that has the second highest per-captia income in South Asia[1]Wikipedia: Sri Lanka but the recent world-wide economic crisis badly hit the country and this, coupled with a reduced tourist trade thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in the collapse of the currency.

Sri Lanka’s history is quite dramatic with several countries claiming sovereignty over the island thanks to its strategic position along the “maritime silk road”. The country was ruled over by the Portuguese, Dutch and then British. The latter held control from 1846 to 1948 when the island became a “dominion” of the British Empire before finally declaring full independence in 1972 when the nation changed its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.

The country fought a bitter civil war from 1983 to 2009, with the Tamil’s wanting to create a separate state after years of mistreatment from the mainly Sinhalese government, with the Tamil’s finally admitting defeat in May 2009 after their leader was killed.

The country’s government is a mixture of a Presidential and a parliamentary system, the president is elected on a 5 year term (and a maximum of 2 terms in office) and he heads up a parliament of 196 members elected from constituencies and 29 elected through proportional representation and they are also elected on a 5 year term.

The President has the capability to suspend or dissolve parliament after 4 and-a-half years and, interestingly, is immune from legal proceedings while they are in office.

The Parliament, led by the Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority ruling party, make and pass the laws of Sri Lanka.

Much as America has had political legacies, with two generations of Bush’s in office, several generations of the Kennedy’s being involved in politics and Trump employing his children while in office, Sri Lanka also has a political dynasty in the Rajapaksa family.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 election after 10 years in office – this prompted in the introduction of the two term limit as previously a President could stand for as many terms as they wished.

In 2019, Mahinda’s younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president and 5 other members of the Rajapaksa family won parliamentary seats in the 2020 parliamentary elections, with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming the new Prime Minister.

The political issues, stemming from the global economic crisis, began on the 3rd April 2022 when the entire 26 member cabinet, excluding the Prime Minister, resigned overnight[2]Wikipedia: 2022 Sri Lankan political crisis, although there had been a history of mismanagement in the Rajapaksa-run government since their election.

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There had been growing unhappiness with the President and Parliament from 2021 as the public viewed them incapable of passing legislation or implementing policy properly.

The tipping points seems to have come when the government, in an effort to make Sri Lanka the first 100% organic farming country in the world, banned chemical fertilisers overnight without consulting the farming community.

This decision lead to an exceptionally poor harvest and food shortages across a large part of the country. The government denied there was an issue and, despite declaring a state of emergency in August 2021, accused the media of spreading fake news.

The ban had the further impact of people queueing for essential food items, forcing the government to invoke emergency regulations to control prices

The ban on chemical fertilisers was overturned in November 2021 following protests, however the damage to the reputation of the government was done and the seeds of dissent were sown.

People started looking into the Rajapaksa family’s dealings and several ties to Uganda were found with people speculating that the Rajapaksas had laundered money in the country by sending it there on cargo flights.

Further scandal hit the family after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal (the Minister for Sport) was linked to an Australian company, Aspen Medical, that was allegedly laundering money into Sri Lanka.

In March 2022, the public had had enough of the Rajapaksa’s and they began to protest against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa[3]Wikipedia: 2022 Sri Lankan protests.

Due to the government’s mishandling of the financial crisis and fallout from the fertiliser ban, there were still food and fuel shortages, there were daily blackouts and a huge rise in the inflation rate.

Protesters demanded that the Rajapaksa family’s government resign as an election was still technically over 4 years away.

The government did not react kindly to this questioning of their power and position and enacted a state of emergency that allowed the military to arrest civilians, placed a curfew on residents and restricted access to social media. The social media restriction didn’t last long however as they faced international backlash for their actions.

So, following on from the government’s draconian actions, the Cabinet resigned in April leaving only Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his younger brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in power.

On the 9th of May, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa organised his supporters into a mob who attacked peaceful protesters at several locations leading to accusations of human rights violations. Following extensive waves of violence across the country, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned that day being replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On the 9th of June former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, announced he was stepping down as an MP but didn’t rule out standing again[4]EcomonyNext: , he also ominously stated that if the Rajapaksa’s couldn’t be in government then they would find a way to influence it.

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The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa firmly held on to his position, refusing to acknowledge there had been any wrong doing on his part and this led to the protesters overrunning his mansion in July 2022 causing him, his wife and children to flee aboard a military jet to the Maldives[5]BBC News: Sri Lanka: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees the country on military jet. Rajapaksa’s arrival in the Maldives sparked a wave of protests there as well with people urging the Maldavian government not to shelter him.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has stated that he will resign and announced that Ranil Wickremesinghe would be acting President, although protesters had been calling for Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s resignation as well which he had said he was willing to do.

As of the 15th July, no resignation letter from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been received and he was still in hiding in the Maldives.

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