In the midst of a severe economic crisis in Sri Lanka, ordinary people are increasingly demanding the resignation of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. At the same time, the king’s demand is to remove the family from politics and put qualified people in power. People are not able to rely on this family to overcome the current crisis. They are taking to the streets every day in the capital, Colombo, to make demands.
Al Jazeera reports that students, teachers, lawyers, actors and architects joined a protest at Colombo’s popular Gale Face Green Park on Saturday. At that time their voices were, ‘Go home dive’, ‘Go home crazy dive’ (Madman dive). They protested for a long time, ignoring the intense heat and sun.
Protesters waved national flags and chanted slogans. At that time various placards written in Sinhala and English language were seen in their hands. It contained slogans such as ‘I don’t want a minister’, ‘Save Sri Lanka from the hands of the king’s family’.
One of the participants in Saturday’s protest was Buddhi Karunatne. “The issue (the country’s economic crisis) has now become a life-and-death issue,” said the young man, who works for an advertising agency.
Explaining the importance of the protest, Karunatne said, “This is the first time that different political parties and social activists have taken part in a protest together, forgetting the differences.” They demanded the resignation of the president and the transfer of power to a competent person to overcome the current socio-economic situation.
In 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a landslide victory and was elected president. His party did worse than expected from opinion polls, which saw them at gaining about two-thirds of the seats in parliament. After the victory, he appointed his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. On the other hand, he amended the constitution to consolidate his power.
Not just the PM’s job; President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has created an unprecedented history of familism in South Asian politics, with the important members of the cabinet, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Sports.
However, many in Sri Lanka still believe that Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa can play a role in establishing security and stability in the country. In this case, they gave the example of the bomb attack on Easter Sunday in 2019. About two and a half hundred people were killed in the attack. After this incident, the government has played an important role in suppressing terrorism. Earlier, in 2009, President Mahinda was able to end a long 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Gotabaya was then the country’s defense secretary. He played a major role in suppressing the Tamil rebels alongside his elder brother.
But after the Rajapaksa family came to power again in 2019, it failed to lead the overall development of the country. They failed to make the right decision on various issues of the country, said one of the protesters. Endorsing his words, another protester said, ‘Gotabayar has no qualifications to run the country. He does not have enough knowledge on how to handle the current crisis situation in the country.
The island nation of Sri Lanka is now facing the worst economic situation since independence, mainly due to the alarming decline in foreign exchange reserves. With inflation soaring in the country, people are struggling to make ends meet. Added to the shortage of essential commodities is the crisis of fuel oil and gas. The oil and gas crisis is also disrupting power generation. Many traders have been forced to close their businesses as load shedding continues for most of the day.
Not just the inadequacy of foreign reserves. Protesters are also blaming the government’s mismanagement for the country’s economic woes. Protesters have also accused the government of delaying in seeking help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to repay foreign loans due to the reserve crisis. Tourism, on the other hand, has been hit hard by the coronavirus ban on travel for the past two years, which has hit tourism hard, one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange.
Sri Lanka is far ahead of other South Asian countries in education. But author Buddhadasa Galapathi has expressed frustration with the current situation in the country. He said, ‘What has Gotabaya done in the last two years? Did nothing. We do not want to see Rajapakse fulfilling the responsibilities of the country for this. We don’t even want to see anyone in this family. ‘
Gotabaya’s indifference to solving common people’s problems has further angered the protesters. When ordinary people took to the streets last March, many government officials called them ‘terrorists’. The crisis is compounded by the fact that many government officials do not take the issue seriously.