The South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka is going through an extreme crisis. There is only wailing in the country now. The country has never been in such a bad situation since independence in 1947. The island’s economy has been hit hard by a severe foreign exchange crisis. It is burdened with huge foreign debt. The situation is such that they are unable to meet the cost of importing essential commodities. Commodity prices are skyrocketing every day. Authorities have been forced to cancel school-level exams in the country due to lack of paperwork. Because they do not have enough foreign currency to import paper.
The country is facing a severe fuel crisis. Thousands of people lined up to collect oil. The government has deployed troops at petrol pumps to deal with the situation. Since, it does not have foreign currency to import fuel oil.
The country has foreign exchange reserves of just under 2.5 billion at the end of February, according to the country’s central bank, which is the lowest in the last ten years.
Unprecedented Mass Revolution:
Outraged and frustrated, the island nation’s protesters now target only one person or one family. Their only demand is on placards, banners and slogans – “Go Gota Go”, “Gota Go Home” – “Say goodbye”, “Go home”. Sri Lankan youth are currently at the forefront of the protest. Netizens have been vocal on social media under the hashtag ‘GotaGoHome’.
Those who are taking part in this people’s revolution are not only seeking a change of government, they want a radical change in the political structure and culture. Despite coming to power with a huge majority two and a half years ago, the entire cabinet has resigned, with a significant number of ruling party MPs already indicating that they will not support the government in the parliamentary session. It will be very difficult for Rajapaksa to hold on to power till the last moment, as experts opined. This year’s demonstration is absolutely unprecedented and it is being organized by the educated youth of the city. It is even heard that a section of the police and the army are supporting the agitators. Yesterday, video footage of a police officer’s statement came on social media, where he says – we are behind you too.
Extreme economic hardship
Controversial President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, or ‘Gota’ for short, is being blamed by most of the country’s people for the country’s extreme economic woes. Desperate people are saying that they have reached the limit of endurance and are on their way.
There is no electricity for up to 18 hours a day, people are struggling to get cooking gas every day and waiting in long lines for car petrol has become a casual occurrence. Even the hospitals are running out of medicine, there are no papers for school exams, but politicians are getting electricity every day, they don’t have to line up for gas or kerosene, people are angry with those in power. The economic crisis has reached such a terrible level that many ordinary people have been forced to take to the streets. The country’s unprecedented economic crisis has united people of all ages, classes, professions and religions into spontaneous movements.
The fence of factionalism
Sri Lanka has experienced an acute shortage of foreign exchange. As a result, importing essential commodities like fuel has become difficult for the country. The epidemic has also hit the tourism industry hard, which is one of the major reasons behind the crisis. But many in the country are pointing fingers at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for failing to manage economic affairs during the crisis.
Analysts also say that after winning the election in 2019, Mr. The crisis has been exacerbated by the policies that Rajapaksa has enacted, such as major tax cuts and import bans. He has even refused assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A factionalism or a family system has had a significant impact on Sri Lankan politics in recent years. The Rajapaksa family is controlling this government. The four important ministries are controlled by the four brothers of the Rajapaksa family, including the President and the Prime Minister. They also have relatives in two other important ministries and many family members are MPs.
As a result, there has been widespread public outcry against the family over the country’s dire economic crisis.
Freedom of expression endangered
On the one hand, there is growing frustration among the people, on the other hand, there is growing fear that the government is determined to block the way for criticism against them.
The government has to frequently impose curfew to ban public gatherings. Social media has been shut down and a special presidential directive has been issued banning the movement of people “on public roads, parks, trains or beaches” without the written permission of the authorities. Even then, hundreds of people and their family are taking to the streets at risk, disobeying government orders to stay home. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is ruling the country with his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister, has been accused of undermining freedom of expression even before he won the 2019 election.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has twice served as president. And as defense minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces serious allegations of human rights abuses in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The two brothers are notorious for taking ruthless steps to suppress dissent, freedom of expression. Many protesters fear it could be difficult to oust this powerful family from power in Sri Lankan politics. They told that the power-hungry family could do anything to hold on to power. But in the face of this unprecedented mass discontent, it may be difficult for the Rajapaksa brothers to stay in power, according to analysts. Protests outside his residence in Colombo turned violent. Police have to use tears and watercolors to suppress the protests. Gotabaya Rajapaksa realizes that he has lost the support of a large section of the people. He was forced to shut down his official Facebook page after people continued to post “Gota Go Home” messages.
What Lies Ahead:
The country needs foreign currency to cope with the current crisis. That is why the country is facing many. The country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The country has devalued its currency by up to 15 per cent to get a loan from the IMF. At present, the Sri Lankan rupee is 230 against the US dollar.
It has also applied for more loans from China and India. India last week lent Sri Lanka 1 billion to buy emergency food, medicine and fuel. Without a stable government, it will be difficult for Sri Lanka to get a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or to reschedule existing loans. If the new government does not do that soon, there will be more power and energy crises.
Observers say the country will not be able to get out of the debt-ridden Sri Lanka suddenly. According to economists, Sri Lanka can emerge from the current crisis through medium and long-term measures. Therefore, the country’s exports must increase. In order to increase exports, they need to diversify the products, which requires foreign investment. In the medium term, the country’s revenue and budget management needs to be improved as well as unnecessary expenditure needs to be reduced.
The writer is independent analyst on international affairs.