Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Resigns Amid Mass Protests

On July 14th, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent a letter via email to the parliamentary speaker announcing he would be stepping down from office, a day after fleeing the country to the Maldives and then Singapore. 

With this resignation, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as interim president on July 15th. That same day, in a televised speech Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps changing the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen Parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against ‘insurgents,’ according to NPR. Notably, many protestors were deeply upset by Wickremesinghe’s swearing-in, believing that he should resign as well because of his close ties to Rajapaksa. 

Rajapaksa’s resignation came after months of worsening food, gas, and medical supply shortages, and widespread power outages, forcing Sri Lankans to take to the streets and demand change. The economic downfall that has occurred since 2019 has created immense political instability, subsequently blocking any major reform. 

As shortages in essential supplies have become more pressing, government inaction has sparked nationwide outrage. In April 2022, tensions reached a boiling point when mass protests overran the streets of the capital city, Colombo. Now, after three months of recurring protests calling for, amongst other changes, the resignation of Rajapaksa, he has finally stepped down.

A series of poor policy choices from Rajapaksa’s administration began the spiraling economic decline in Sri Lanka, starting with significant tax cuts for the wealthy in 2019. At the same time, the 2019 Easter bombings and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic further damaged Sri Lanka’s economy by severely curtailing tourism, which is a vital component of their GDP. A third contributor to the economic crisis in Sri Lanka was the 2021 decision by Rajapaksa to ban chemical fertilizers which negatively affected their crops causing food prices to skyrocket and supply to diminish. 

In all cases, the government failed to act swiftly and effectively to avoid major debt and inflation, thus hurting citizens across the country. Now, Sri Lanka has re-engaged in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reach a deal on a bailout package – however, critics say these talks should have occurred months ago. The repercussions of this inaction can be seen clearly in the state of the nation today. 

Looking to the future for Sri Lanka, protestors have listed their main demands as the immediate resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksha, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and their government, the establishment of an interim government for a maximum of one year, and the implementation of a new constitution that promotes people’s sovereignty, limits the president’s executive powers, and strengthens the country’s democratic institutions. 

To achieve this, the top priority for Sri Lanka must be electing strong leadership who can direct them in stabilizing their economy and government. If a new administrator fails to aggressively combat the inflation, foreign debt, and supply shortages seen today, the hardships faced by the 22 million inhabitants of Sri Lanka will only worsen.