Sri Lankan Prime Minister Resigns Amidst Escalating Protests

PM Rajapaksa rescued, gives shoot-to-kill order on protesters . . .

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned yesterday in a bid to appease anti-government protesters seeking to oust him and his brother, President Gotobaya Rajapaksa. However, protests have continued. Protesters set fire to the homes of the Rajapaksas and numerous politicians, culminating in a dawn raid on the Prime Minister’s official residence this morning. After a special military operation rescued the Prime Minister, the government ordered the military to shoot looters and violent protesters “on sight.” Protesters also mobbed the police chief today for what they regarded as his failure to protect peaceful demonstrators. On Sunday, government supporters, including ruling party MPs, had clubbed and fired at anti-government protesters, killing five and injuring hundreds.

What next for the Rajapaksas ... and Sri Lanka?

The recent violence and the prime minister's resignation are the latest flashpoint in the country’s evolving economic and political crises. Anti-government protesters blame the current government, helmed by the once-popular Rajapaksa political dynasty, for economic mismanagement that has led to skyrocketing inflation and shortages of fuel, electricity, and food. They now insist on the resignation of President Rajapaksa and the end of more than 20 years of his family's influence in government. The government has announced plans to appoint a caretaker prime minister to lead an interim unity government, hoping to avoid a no-confidence vote in Parliament. But the clashes will likely harden the opposition’s stance on booting the Rajapaksas from power, as difficult as that may be.

A canary in the coal mine?

Although many domestic factors have contributed to Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, the ongoing war in Ukraine and a rising global wave of debt have greatly exacerbated the situation. India and China have jockeyed to position themselves as potential sources of debt relief and economic aid. However, all eyes are currently on negotiations between Sri Lanka and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Many experts blamed the Sri Lankan government’s “reluctance” to turn to the IMF for worsening an already dire economic picture. The conditions that the IMF has tended to place on lending arrangements, which Sri Lanka has already been subject to 16 times since 1965, could be vastly unpopular among working- and middle-class Sri Lankans. The way out of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis will likely also require a political breakthrough.