On Monday, the 18th of April, three political parties withdrew from Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition, aiming to form an interim government and appoint a new prime minister to replace President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s older brother. This withdrawal occurred amidst an unprecedented economic crisis, as the island nation struggled to provide its 22 million inhabitants with basic amenities such as electric power, supplies of food, and medicine due to a lack of foreign exchange imports. In response to this economic crisis, Sri Lanka has reached out to India, China, and the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance.
President Rajapaksa made the decision to dissolve his cabinet so that the government could unite to fix the crisis, just as 41 lawmakers withdrew from the ruling coalition. Concerning the IMF talks, SLFP General-Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera commented, “Talks with the IMF will need a stable government capable of implementing clear policies,” said SLFP General-Secretary. “This is necessary to repair the economy and bring relief to the people.”
Indeed, the response from the people General-Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera referred to is one of discontent and anger towards the government. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed these economic issues in a recent television address, stating, “The president and I are spending every moment to formulate solutions on how to get Sri Lanka out of this current crisis.” These solutions include seeking external assistance of about $3 billion over the next half-year to restore their supply of essential items. The government is also seeking to restructure international sovereign debt and a moratorium on payments.
During the aforementioned televised Presidential address, protestors camped outside of the presidential office for the third night in a row and voiced their discontent with the government’s insufficient action toward repairing the economy. Protests have extended to street demonstrations. For more than a month, citizens have mobilized and vocalized their anger toward the Rajapaska dynasty. Rajapaksa has governed the island nation since 2019, and many of his other family members hold top government positions. Yet, the family’s hold over the government seems to be diminishing, as the President fired his brother Basil Rajapksa as the finance minister, and his nephew recently quit his position as sports minister.
Indeed, economic mismanagement is not foreign to Sri Lankan governments. Years of successive governments have weakened Sri Lanka’s public finances, and the situation was further exacerbated by deep tax cuts enacted by the Rajapaksa administration soon after it took office in 2019. The COVID-19 Pandemic has done even more damage to the already-battered economy. Seeing as Sri Lanka has a deep history of financial misconduct, the government should have approached the IMF for help much sooner.