Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Keeping the Storm at Bay

Sri Lanka’s interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group lays out what the EU and its member states can do to mitigate the risks of needed reforms.

Despite relative calm on the streets since mass protests forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign in early July, Sri Lanka’s interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. Selected by parliament to succeed Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe has since secured a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2.9 billion bailout loan known as an Extended Funds Facility (EFF). The deal is a necessary first step toward addressing its economic woes, but even if Colombo succeeds in convincing its international creditors to reduce its debts – which the IMF requires to disburse its loan – major challenges remain.…  Seguir leyendo »

El pasado mes, una sublevación popular sin precedentes en Sri Lanka llevó a la caída de la autoritaria familia Rajapaksa, que había dominado la isla durante casi dos décadas. Pero la victoria de los insurrectos se ha demostrado efímera y agridulce.

La elección de Ranil Wickremesinghe (el sucesor Gotabaya Rajapaksa) por el Parlamento sugiere que las demandas de los esrilanqueses corrientes van a permanecer desatendidas.

De hecho, pocas horas después de que Wickremesinghe tomara posesión, se declaró un estado de emergencia que acabó en un dramático número de arrestos y en la prohibición de viajar a destacados manifestantes. Las fuerzas de seguridad asaltaron violentamente las protestas antigubernamentales en Colombo y otros lugares, golpeando a civiles, periodistas y abogados y destruyendo propiedades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Manifestantes pronunciaron consignas después de desalojar la casa del primer ministro en Colombo, Sri Lanka, el 14 de julio. Chamila Karunarathne/EPA vía Shutterstock

Como una persona de Sri Lanka, ver la cobertura de noticias internacionales de la implosión económica y política de mi país es como asistir a tu propio funeral: todos especulan cómo fue que moriste.

Los medios de Occidente acusan a China de llevarnos a una trampa de deuda. Tucker Carlson dijo que los programas ambientales, sociales y de gobierno corporativo nos ahogaron. Y todos culpan a los Rajapaksa, la dinastía corrupta que nos gobernó hasta que las protestas masivas de esrilanqueses furiosos los expulsaron en julio.

Pero, desde mi punto de vista, la culpa final recae en el sistema neoliberal dominado por Occidente que mantiene a los países en desarrollo en una forma de colonización impulsada por la deuda.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters cheered and shouted slogans after they vacated the prime minister’s house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 14. Chamila Karunarathne/EPA, via Shutterstock

As a Sri Lankan, watching international news coverage of my country’s economic and political implosion is like showing up at your own funeral, with everybody speculating on how you died.

The Western media accuse China of luring us into a debt trap. Tucker Carlson says environmental, social and corporate governance programs killed us. Everybody blames the Rajapaksas, the corrupt political dynasty that ruled us until massive protests by angry Sri Lankans chased them out last month.

But from where I’m standing, ultimate blame lies with the Western-dominated neoliberal system that keeps developing countries in a form of debt-fueled colonization. The system is in crisis, its shaky foundations exposed by the tumbling dominoes of the Ukraine war, resulting in food and fuel scarcity, the pandemic, and looming insolvency and hunger rippling across the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the swearing in of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s new president, the country briefly caught its breath after weeks of crisis, generated by public anger at the accelerating economic collapse and the severe hardship it is causing. The extraordinary events of July 9-15, when massive crowds occupied the presidential residence and offices and forced then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign and flee the country, were the culmination of months of island-wide protests under the banner of #GotaGoHome. The tremendous and unprecedented victory of a genuine people’s struggle – janatha aragalaya in Sinhala – paved the way for this week’s selection of Wickremesinghe by parliament.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mahinda Rajapaksa, left, and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa waving to supporters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2019. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

There was satisfaction, and even glee, among many Sri Lankans when Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the widely unpopular president, fled the country by military jet in the dead of the night on July 13, following months of protests. Apparently fearing arrest while he searched for a safe haven, he didn’t resign until late the following day.

Now, however, Rajapaksa no longer has sovereign immunity from prosecution for grave international crimes in which he is implicated, including war crimes and the alleged murder, torture and enforced disappearance of his critics and opponents, or for the grand corruption that flourished under his family’s rule.

Years of abusive misrule by the Rajapaksa family have devastated Sri Lanka.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters storm the Sri Lankan prime minister’s office in Colombo. While the country appears to have moved away from violent confrontation, the economy is mired in a profound crisis © Rafiq Maqbool/AP

In a more optimistic era, the overthrow by Sri Lankans of a feckless government they blamed for their country’s economic collapse might have been called a Velvet Revolution. It began last Saturday when tens of thousands descended on the largest city Colombo and poured into public buildings, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence, amid chants of “Gota, go home”.

The president had fled for his safety, but in scenes reminiscent of many 20th-century regime collapses, the crowds hunkered down in the palace, sitting behind the president’s desk, bathing in his pool, and showering in his bathrooms.

By week’s end Rajapaksa was indeed gone — first on a military jet to the Maldives, then to Singapore, from where he finally tendered his resignation via email.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters shout slogans during an ongoing anti-government demonstration near the president’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 19. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

On Saturday, Sri Lanka’s horrific saga took a consequential turn when protesters stormed and occupied the presidential offices and both the president’s and prime minister’s official residences. Global media are now filled with videos of protesters swimming in the president’s pool, resting on his bed, using his gym, and fixing meals in his kitchen—after overcoming barricades, tear gas, and beatings. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had half a term still left to serve, had fled the scene before the protesters arrived. A few hours later, the speaker of Parliament announced the president would step down on Wednesday, although Sri Lankans want to see the president publicly announce his resignation himself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Security forces trying to disperse protesters near the president’s house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Saturday. Chamila Karunarathne/EPA, via Shutterstock

Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to be known as The Terminator for crushing Sri Lanka’s nearly three-decade Tamil insurgency in 2009 as a defense official during the presidency of his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya’s reputation for decisiveness brought the siblings — pushed out of office in 2015 — back to power four years later after a series of Islamist suicide bombings stirred renewed fondness for their ruthless ways.

This time, Gotabaya, 73, became president and appointed Mahinda, 76, as his prime minister. They promised “vistas of prosperity and splendor”. Instead, they delivered soaring inflation, severe food and fuel shortages, power blackouts and a country on the precipice of collapse.…  Seguir leyendo »

University students take part in a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s massive economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 19. ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images

Many Western leaders are behaving as though there is one crisis in the world: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While some are waking up to the widespread knock-on effects for food and energy security, there is little bandwidth, it seems, to address the underlying looming crisis: a global economic unwinding driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate breakdown, and degradation of the international political and economic system that has been at least a decade in the making.

Together, these crises have put scores of countries at serious risk and lit a fuse where those risks intersect with authoritarianism and poor governance. Sri Lanka is a case in point.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters outside the president’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Thursday. Photograph: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented political and economic emergency, a result of government mismanagement and the effect of global crises. But the tiny island nation is also seeing signs of cathartic revival. Despite longstanding ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional fault lines in Sri Lankan society, protesters have taken to the streets in unified resistance against the ruling Rajapaksa family, demanding a fix to spiralling food and energy costs.

After Sri Lanka emerged from decades of bloody civil war, it looked as if it would become one of Asia’s success stories, with growing industries and a burgeoning middle class. But today its rupee is the world’s worst performing currency, amid a crippling economic catastrophe compounded, in part, by the war in Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 2022. Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters

Sri Lanka is facing an economic meltdown. The COVID-19 pandemic hurt many low- and middle-income countries, but the island nation of 22 million people stands out as one of the hardest hit. Sri Lanka is experiencing the worst economic downturn of its history, grappling with staggering levels of government debt, spiraling inflation, and a foreign exchange crisis that has led to the scarcity of many essential goods. Long lines snake outside gas pumps. The power cuts out frequently. Shops are running out of medicines and other necessities. In April, the government defaulted on its external debt, paving the way for a loan program from the International Monetary Fund.…  Seguir leyendo »

Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, head of Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, accompanied by prison officers after he was sentenced by a court for threatening the wife of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Homagama, Sri Lanka June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

On 28 October, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the militant Buddhist monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara to head a presidential task force on legal reforms, shocking many in Sri Lanka and beyond. Gnanasara is the public face of the country’s leading anti-Muslim campaign group, Bodu Bala Sena (Army of Buddhist Power, or BBS). He is widely accused of inciting inter-communal violence, including two deadly anti-Muslim pogroms in June 2014 and March 2018. Convicted of contempt of court for a separate incident, Gnanasara was sentenced to six years in prison but received a presidential pardon from Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, in his final months in office.…  Seguir leyendo »

A sign in front of the Palali Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna Peninsula. April 2019. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy

As the UN Human Rights Council begins its first meeting of 2021 in Geneva, high on its crowded agenda will be to decide whether to adopt a new resolution that maintains international oversight over Sri Lanka. The present one, adopted in 2015 but now expiring, won support from the Sri Lankan government of the time, which agreed to address the legacy of the country’s brutal civil war and its conclusion in a wave of atrocities in 2009. But Sri Lanka’s current government, led by the same nationalist politicians and generals who were in office at the war’s end, has rejected the truth and accountability agenda it inherited and is working hard to end the Council’s engagement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wednesday, 5 August saw the landslide general election victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vote sets Sri Lanka on a path likely to bring fundamental political and social change. With 59 percent of the vote, the SLPP won enough seats – together with allied parties – to achieve the two-thirds parliamentary majority they requested from voters in order to change the constitution. With executive power shared between the Rajapaksa brothers, the family and their party have the power to reshape Sri Lanka’s political institutions in fundamental – and potentially dangerous – ways.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man reads a newspaper with a headline on Sri Lanka's dissolution of parliament in Colombo on 3 March 2020. LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

The Sri Lankan government has declared its intention to rule without parliamentary oversight for the first time in the country’s modern history, potentially sparking a serious constitutional crisis. Elected in November and without a majority in parliament, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seized his earliest opportunity to dissolve the legislature on 2 March and schedule a general election for 25 April. As the COVID-19 emergency grew serious in late March, the National Elections Commission (NEC) delayed the vote indefinitely. With the constitution stating that parliament can remain dissolved for only three months pending fresh elections, Sri Lanka will head into dangerously uncharted territory unless the president or courts take decisive action before the deadline expires on 2 June.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sri Lanka's new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks after taking oath of office during his swearing-in ceremony at the Ruwanwelisaya temple in Anuradhapura on November 18, 2019. AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi

What happened?

On 16 November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who served as defence secretary during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war – won a decisive victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election.

Although Rajapaksa’s victory was not a surprise, the margin of his win exceeded expectations among many analysts. The candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya (who, like Mahinda, is widely known by his first name) captured 52.25 per cent of the vote. His main rival, Sajith Premadasa, candidate of the ruling United National Party (UNP), came in second with 42 per cent.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Asia Turn to Illiberal Democracy

The return of the Rajapaksa brothers to power in Sri Lanka drew delighted cheers from their Buddhist nationalist supporters this weekend. But it should bring a shudder of alarm from those concerned for the island's future.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the nation's wartime defence chief, emerged as a comfortable winner on Sunday after a presidential poll on Saturday marked by deep ethnic divisions - signaling a likely return to the autocratic style favored by his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as president from 2005 to 2015.

More importantly, the result fits a broader and more alarming trend: the rise of illiberal democracy in South Asia as Sri Lanka joins India and Bangladesh in particular in backing nationalist strongman leaders with scant concern for the niceties of constitutional rule.…  Seguir leyendo »

A supporter of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), former secretary to the Ministry of Defence and presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, holds election posters at the party's election office in Biyagama, in the outskirts of the capital Colombo. AFP/ISHARA S. KODIKARA

As Sri Lankans head to the polls to elect a new president on 16 November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands as the widely acknowledged front runner. As defence secretary during his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade-long presidency ending in 2015, he was a leading figure in a government that many minority Tamils and Muslims, as well as opposition politicians, blame for terrible political violence and repression. During that period, dozens of journalists were killed or forced into exile, prominent Tamil politicians were murdered, and thousands of Sri Lankans were forcibly disappeared; no one has since been held accountable for those crimes. Gotabaya is expected to name his brother prime minister, as Mahinda is constitutionally term-limited from seeking the presidency.…  Seguir leyendo »

On May 29, 1915, a large group of Buddhists celebrating the festival of Vesak made its way through the streets of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. When the noisy procession — with its elephants, drummers and singers — approached a mosque, some Muslims hooted and hollered.

In response, some procession members attacked Muslims and the mosque, triggering nine days of riots across the country. By the end of the violence, 25 Muslims lay dead and more than 4,000 Muslim shops, houses and mosques were damaged or destroyed. This was the first of at least nine anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka over the last century, the most recent of which occurred this week.…  Seguir leyendo »