President and PM: Two men are at the heart of Sri Lanka's crisis

NEW DELHI -- Two men at the heart of Sri Lanka's economic crisis promised to heed the calls of tens and thousands of protesters and resign.

President and PM: Two men are at the heart of Sri Lanka's crisis

NEW DELHI -- Two men at the heart of Sri Lanka's economic crisis promised to heed the calls of tens and thousands of protesters and resign.

One is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He was the last member of the country's most powerful family, and was still fighting for power.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is Rajapaksa’s preferred prime minister. He is a veteran opposition politician who was appointed to lead the country out the abyss.

Massive crowds poured into Colombo's capital and broke into Rajapaksa’s official residence. They also occupied Rajapaksa’s seaside office. Hours later, leaders of political parties in Parliament demanded that both leaders resign. Protesters stormed Wickremesinghe’s home and set it ablaze.

After months of protests, both Rajapaksa and Modi agreed to resign on Saturday. According to the parliamentary speaker, Rajapaksa, whose location is unknown, stated that he would be leaving office on Wednesday. Wickremesinghe stated that he would leave as soon as the opposition parties reach an agreement on a unity government.

Let's take a closer look at how they have fallen.

GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA

The Rajapaksa land-owner family has dominated the local politics of their southern district for decades before Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected president. He appealed to the nationalism of the island's Buddhist Sinhalese majority and led Sri Lanka to a victory over the ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009. This ended a 26-year-long civil war that had divided it. His younger brother, Gotabaya was a strong official and military strategist at the Ministry of Defense.

Mahinda was in office until 2015 when he was defeated by the opposition of his former aide. The family did make a comeback in 2019, however, when Gotabaya won presidential elections on the promise to restore security following the terrorist suicide bombings of Easter Sunday that killed 290 people.

He pledged to restore the muscular nationalism that made his family famous with the Buddhist majority and to lead the country from an economic slump with a message about stability and development.

Instead, he made fatal errors that led to an unprecedented crisis.

After the bombings, tourism plummeted and foreign loans for controversial projects (including a port in the president's hometown) needed to be repaid. Rajapaksa ignored economic advisors and implemented the biggest tax cuts in the country’s history. Although it was intended to stimulate spending, critics said that it would reduce the government's finances. The fragile economy is further damaged by pandemic lockdowns, and an ill-advised ban of chemical fertilizers.

Soon, the country ran out of money and couldn’t pay its enormous debts. Public anger over what many considered corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement grew due to shortages of food, fuel, and cooking gas.

In April, growing protests caused three Rajapaksa family members, including the finance minister to resign from their Cabinet posts, and one to resign his ministerial post. Protesters were attacked by government supporters in May. Nine people were killed. Mahinda Rajapaksa was the victim of protesters' anger and was forced to resign his position as prime minister. He then sought refuge at a fortified naval base.

Gotabaya refused, prompting chants of "Gota go home!" Instead, Gotabaya saw Ranil Wickremesinghe as his savior.

RANIL WICKREMESINGHE

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime Minister, was undoubtedly the most difficult. Rajapaksa appointed him in May to restore international credibility. His government also negotiated a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Wickremesinghe was also the finance minister and became the public face for the crisis. He delivered weekly addresses to Parliament and began difficult negotiations with lenders, financial institutions and other allies to help fill the coffers of impatient citizens.

He increased taxes and promised to reform a government that had become more concentrated under the presidency, a model many believe tipped the country into financial crisis.

He was clear about the grim future in his new job. He told Sri Lankans that the next few months would be the most difficult of their lives in June. This was a few weeks after he had stated in Parliament that the country had reached rock bottom. He said that "our economy has completely fallen apart."

According to observers, he was lacking both the political heft and support of the public to complete the task. After a humiliating defeat at the 2020 election, he was a one-man-party in Parliament. He was the only lawmaker in his party to retain a seat in Parliament.

His previous tenure as prime minister was a disaster for his reputation. He was part of a power-sharing arrangement that made it difficult for him to share the power with President Maithripala Srisena. Their communication problems were blamed for the intelligence gaps that led to the terrorist attack in 2019.

Wickremesinghe was becoming increasingly unpopular as there was no relief for those who waited in line to get fuel, food, and medicine. Many protestors believe that Wickremesinghe's appointment was a delay in Rajapaksa's resignation. Analysts are unsure if a new leader will be able to do more and fear that political uncertainty will only exacerbate the crisis.

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