As a result of a staggering reversal, protests leave the ruling dynasty of Sri Lanka to balance

  • The ruling dynasty of Sri Lanka has faced a political crisis
  • The Rajapaksas Alliance is now in the minority after a defect by lawmakers
  • High inflation and power outages are also fueling anger in the streets
  • The president says he is not to blame for the economic collapse

COLOMBA, April 6 (Reuters) – In 2020, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the election to become the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, led by his brother and President Gotabaya. In 2021, another brother and sister, Basil, was appointed Minister of Finance, which strengthened the power of the family.

Less than a year later, the country’s prominent political dynasty found itself in trouble when protesters took to the streets with demands that would have been unthinkable before the economic crisis: that the president resign.

“I have to go home!” Hundreds of people chanted along the leaf-covered boulevard in the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, this week as cars passed by, shouting in support.

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According to research team WatchDog, more than 100 demonstrations have erupted across the island nation since last week, from coastal cities in the south to the Tamil-speaking north.

An unprecedented wave of spontaneous protests reflects people’s anger over spiraling inflation, fuel shortages, power outages and the fact that they believe executives mismanaged the crisis that exacerbated it.

“The Sri Lankans are very, very patient. You really have to squeeze them into a corner before they react,” said Chantal Cook, a demonstrator, holding a banner demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation.

In parliament, the family is also losing ground.

Basil resigned on Sunday along with other cabinet members, and on Tuesday at least 41 deputies withdrew from the ruling coalition, leaving the government with a minority in the 225-member chamber and opening the door to a no-confidence vote.

“The longer it (the crisis) drags on, the worse it will be for the Rajapaksa family,” said political analyst Kusal Perara, who wrote a book about Mahinda, who was himself a former president.

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

But chief government whip and highway minister Johnston Fernando said Gotabaya, now 72, was given a mandate to run 6.9 million voters, as many who backed him in the 2019 presidential election.

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

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

NINE BROTHERS

The fifth of nine brothers and sisters born into a Buddhist-dominated political family in southern Sri Lanka, Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa joined the Sri Lankan army in 1971 and participated in operations against Tamil rebels during the 26-year civil war. country.

In 2005, years after he retired and emigrated to the United States, Gatabaya returned to Sri Lanka and joined the Mahinda government as defense minister, overseeing the brutal end of the civil war that killed 80,000 people. up to 100,000 people.

The United Nations has accused both sides of war crimes during the conflict, and Gatabaya has faced civil persecution for alleged atrocities during the war. He pleaded not guilty and the case was dropped due to political immunity.

In a wave of nationalism following the deadly attacks by Islamist militants earlier that year, Gatabaya came to power in 2019, receiving a landslide mandate.

A few months later, Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan party, led by Rajapaksa, defeated the opposition in parliamentary elections and helped his brother Mahinda become prime minister.

“We guarantee that (Sri Lanka) will not be disappointed during our stay,” Mahinda said after his victory in 2020. At that time, the island nation was already on its way to crisis.

DEBT AND DEMONSTRATIONS

Historically, Sri Lanka had weak finances when expenditures exceeded revenues.

Some critics say the weakness worsened when Gotabaya accepted a deep tax cut shortly after taking office only to make the COVID-19 pandemic further devastate the tourism-dependent economy.

Despite loud calls from some experts and opposition leaders, the government for months refused to help the International Monetary Fund (IMF), even as the financial crisis worsened, leaving foreign exchange reserves dangerously low.

As of February, they were about $ 2.31 billion, while Sri Lanka is facing debt payments of about $ 4 billion for the rest of this year.

Following a change of position, Sri Lanka is due to begin talks with the IMF this month.

In a televised address in mid-March, Gotabaya said he understood the pain faced by ordinary Sri Lankans when imports stopped due to a shortage of foreign currency and rising inflation.

“I am well aware of the shortage of basic necessities and rising prices,” he said. “I am also aware of problems such as gas shortages, fuel shortages and power outages.”

But he distanced himself from the problems, saying: “This crisis was not created by me.”

For some protesters and opposition politicians, this changes little.

“The red line has been redrawn. Public confidence in this government has fallen to absolute zero,” said Udaya Gamanpila, a former cabinet minister in the Rajapaksa administration.

Returning to Colombo Street, near the Mahinda Rajapaksa Theater, protester Cook said Rajapaksa should go.

“People aren’t going to settle for anything other than that they’re all leaving,” she said. “They want them all out.”

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Report by Devjet Goshal and Udita Jayasinhe; Edited by Mike Collet-White, Nick McPhee and Raju Gopolakrishnan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Confidence Principles.

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