Months of protests in Sri Lanka culminated on Saturday as demonstrators stormed the presidential residence and the prime minister’s private residence. Protesters say leaders are responsible for the corruption and mismanagement that led to the collapse of the economy.
Here’s what we know so far.
Severe fuel shortages and economic hardship have sparked protests.
Daily life in Sri Lanka has been disrupted by fuel shortages for months. Food and drug prices have skyrocketed, power outages have become the norm, and public transport is often shut down to shore up fuel supplies.
Protesters have taken to the streets before, but disillusionment with the conditions and what is seen as plunging the country into serious financial distress culminated in the near-peaceful takeover of the presidential residence.
The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame. It deprives the country of overseas tourists and vital foreign exchange needed to import fuel and medicines. Government mismanagement and currency devaluation will only exacerbate shortages.
The Ukrainian war has accelerated this downward spiral, which has added more supply chain problems globally. In April, the government Suspend payment of its international debt.
More than a quarter of Sri Lanka’s nearly 22 million people are at risk of food shortages, The United Nations said last month. Country needs $6 billion by the end of the year Buy fuel and other necessities, but the question is where will the money come from.
In Sri Lanka, government has become a family affair.
The Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for most of the past two decades and in recent years has increasingly run the island nation’s Government as a family business.
The family patriarch, DA Rajapaksa, was a lawmaker in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was his son Mahinda Rajapaksa who helped cement the family’s prestige, rising to two terms as prime minister and president from 2005 to 2015.
The Rajapaksa, who briefly quit government after losing the 2015 election, returned to power in 2019 with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their presidential candidate.
Soon after, he brought his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa back to the government as prime minister and handed the key position to several other family members. He appointed his brother Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister last July as the country’s economy appeared to be heading for collapse.
In the face of intensifying protests, President Rajapaksa forced his family to give up their seats in the government.
The president has said he will give up his post, according to the speaker of parliament who is also an ally of the president.
What happens next?
The Sri Lankan constitution clearly lays out the line of succession, but whoever takes power will need to transform the political system under the watchful eye of an impatient, weary public.
In a more mundane scenario, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be the acting president, as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is said to be negotiating an exit. But on Saturday, Mr Wickremesinghe – whom many believe has been preparing for the possibility – announced that he, too, intends to resign.
The next possible candidate for interim president is Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the 76-year-old speaker of parliament and a close ally of the Rajapaksa family.
The acting president will have a month to organize the election of the president from among the members of parliament. The winner will serve the remaining two years of Rajapaksa’s term before the election expires.