In a shocking reversal, the protests have shaken Sri Lanka’s ruling dynasty

  • Sri Lanka’s ruling dynasty faces a political crisis
  • The Rajapaksas’ coalition is now in the minority following the withdrawal of lawmakers
  • High inflation and power outages are fueling anger on the streets
  • The president has said he does not blame the recession

Colombo, April 6 (Reuters) – In 2020, Mahinda Rajapakse won the election as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, serving under his brother and President Gotabhaya. In 2021, another brother, Basil, was appointed finance minister, tightening the family’s power.

Within a year, the country’s elite political dynasty was in trouble, with protesters taking to the streets and making unimaginable demands before the economic crisis: the president must resign.

“Go home!” Hundreds of people chanted on a leafy path in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo this week.

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More than 100 demonstrations have erupted across the island nation since last week, from coastal towns in the south to the Tamil-speaking north, according to the Watchdog Research Federation.

The unprecedented wave of spontaneous protest reflects the anger of the people, whom they regard as the mismanagement of rulers who have exacerbated cyclical inflation, fuel shortages, power cuts and crises.

“Sri Lankans are very patient. You have to push them into a corner before they can react,” said Chandel Cook, a protester who held up a banner calling for the Rajapaksas to resign.

The family is losing ground within parliament.

Basil resigned along with other members of the cabinet on Sunday, leaving at least 41 legislators in the ruling coalition on Tuesday.

“The more it (the crisis) drags on, the worse it will be for the Rajapakse family,” said Kusal Perera, a political analyst who wrote a book about former president Mahinda.

The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crisis or calls for his resignation.

But Gotabhaya, now 72, has been ordered to rule by 6.9 million voters in the 2019 presidential election, according to the government’s Prime Minister and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando.

“As a government, we make it clear that the president will not resign under any circumstances,” Fernando told parliament on Wednesday. “We’ll face this.” read more

Protests erupted in several regions, including Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Nine siblings

Nandasena Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the fifth of nine siblings born into a Buddhist-dominated southern Sri Lankan political family, joined the Sri Lankan army in 1971 and took part in operations against the Tamil insurgency during the country’s 26-year civil war.

In 2005, many years after his retirement and emigration to the United States, Gotabhaya returned to Sri Lanka and joined Mahinda’s government as Secretary of Defense, overseeing the tragic end of the civil war that killed a total of 80,000-100,000 people.

The United Nations has accused both sides of war crimes during the conflict, and Gotabhaya faces civil charges for wartime atrocities. He maintained his innocence and the case was dismissed due to political exclusion.

Gotabhaya came to power in 2019 with a landslide order, riding on a wave of nationalism in the wake of deadly attacks by Islamist militants earlier that year.

A few months later, the Rajapakse-led Sri Lanka People’s Alliance crushed the opposition in the parliamentary elections, helping his brother Mahinda to become prime minister.

“We will ensure that (Sri Lanka) is not disappointed during our tenure,” Mahinda said after his victory in 2020. By then the island nation was already on the path of crisis.

Credits and demonstrations

Sri Lanka has historically had weak finances where spending exceeds income.

Some critics say the weakness was exacerbated when deep tax cuts were passed immediately after Gotabhaya’s inauguration, only to further destabilize the Govt-19 epidemic tourism economy.

Despite voice appeals from some experts and opposition leaders, the government turned down the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid for months as the financial crisis worsened and foreign exchange reserves plummeted.

As of February, they were about $ 2.31 billion, while Sri Lanka is repaying about $ 4 billion later this year.

Following a change in position, Sri Lanka is set to begin talks with the International Monetary Fund this month.

In a televised address in mid-March, Gotabhaya said he understood the pain faced by ordinary Sri Lankans as imports stagnated due to a widening foreign exchange deficit and inflation.

“I am well aware of the shortage of essential commodities and the rise in prices,” he said. I am also aware of issues like gas shortage, fuel shortage and power outage.

But he avoided trouble, saying, “I did not create this crisis.”

For some protesters and opposition politicians, this is changing a little.

Udaya Kamanpila, a former cabinet minister in the Rajapakse administration, said, “The red line has been crossed. People’s confidence in this government has dropped to absolutely zero.”

Back on the streets of Colombo, outside the theater bearing the name of Mahinda Rajapakse, the protestant Cook said the Rajapaksas should go.

“Everything is not going to be resolved except for all the people to leave,” he said. “They want to evict everyone.”

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Report by Devjyot Koshal and Udita Jayasinghe; Editing by Mike Colette-White, Nick McPhee and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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