In a sign that the pressure on the government is beginning to show, it has been reported this week that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has resigned.
While these reports are preliminary and difficult to confirm, it appears that the resignation of Prime Minister Rajapaksa has been pushed by the President in an attempt to appease protestors unhappy with the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Sri Lanka. However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister’s brother, has so far refused to follow suit, raising questions as to whether this will result in meaningful political change.
This comes after Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence, with the South Asian country facing acute food, electricity, and medicine shortages island-wide. This crisis is largely due to economic mismanagement by the government as well as foreign exchange shortages brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of tourism since 2020. This has meant that the government has been unable to buy adequate amounts of fuel, gas, and food.
The crisis has resulted in large protests throughout Sri Lanka but predominantly in its two largest cities, Colombo and Kandy. Protestors have been calling for both the Prime Minister and the President to resign. While this latest news will be somewhat well received by Sri Lankans, the refusal of the President to resign will not prevent further unhappiness and unrest throughout the country.
The opposition, the SJB, has rejected an offer by the President to support an interim government led by him. Instead, the SJB supports a proposal for political reforms for an interim government for 18 months, with the aim of abolishing the presidential system of government. This offers further evidence that, unless the President resigns and reforms are undertaken, political unrest will continue.
The Rajapaksa family has been a political dynasty in Sri Lanka for decades, with Mahinda Rajapaksa having previously served as president between 2010 to 2015. The political dominance of the two brothers, initially legitimized by ending the country’s brutal civil war, has resulted in corruption, nepotism, and poor economic management. The family has also used the Easter terrorist attacks to use the fear of minority groups to stay in power and have allegedly committed human rights abuses.
It is now vital that two things occur to ensure that meaningful change is achieved in Sri Lanka. First and foremost, the international community, particularly the International Monetary Fund and regional partners, need to provide economic assistance to ensure that people have enough food to eat and fuel to power their homes and businesses. Second, decades of poor governance and corruption mean that political reform needs to take place. With the Rajapaksa family primarily responsible for the deteriorating economic situation, a democratic, peaceful transition of power should occur. This will help to transition Sri Lanka to a functioning democracy that will hopefully lead to better political and economic outcomes for all Sri Lankans.