Colombo, Sri Lanka- With the resignation Sri Lankan Prime Minister and two-time former Chief Executive Mahinda Rajapksa in Colombo on Monday, the island nation is likely to see the beginning of the end of the rule of the Rajapaksas, one of Sri Lanka’s two most powerful post-independence political dynasties. lanka. But the country’s financial and political crises are far from over.
Thousands of protesters have been gathering daily at a protest site in the heart of Colombo, Galle Face, for peaceful protests demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government as the country’s economy has plummeted.
But violence erupted in Colombo on Monday when a group of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked protesters camped outside his official residence, Temple Trees, in Colombo. At least three people were killed when violence broke out on the Indian Ocean island. The island-wide curfew and the deployment of the army failed to prevent the violence.
The Rajapaksas have come under severe criticism for failing to take timely action to control economic collapse and to keep the 22 million inhabitants supplied with the essentials. In the past four months, the island has seen long lines for fuel and gasoline, while there have been severe shortages of medical supplies and food. Mounting criticism against the government had intensified calls for the collective resignation of all Rajapaksas.
The island’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted and, despite requests, multilateral donor agencies have been unavailable, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has not offered a bailout. Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt last month.
a popular politician
Mahinda Rajapaksa is considered the most popular politician in the Rajapaksa family, but his reputation has taken a hit in recent months as allegations of corruption, one of the main reasons for the country’s economic crisis, have resurfaced, protesters say.
Although popular and credited with ending the protracted war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who fought to carve out a bountiful homeland in the northeast of the island, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political legacy is tainted with allegations of corruption, and many refer to his extended family. like the “Marcos family” of Sri Lanka.
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Rajapaksa administration was accused of diverting tsunami funds intended for the affected population. large-scale corruption complaints were also made against the regime in military purchases during the years of the civil war that ended in 2009.
The two-term chief executive’s victory in the war is also seen by many as severely dividing the nation along ethnic lines and tainted by accusations of gross human rights violations.
During his first term, from 2005 to 2010, the Rajapaksa administration was accused of committing crimes against humanity during the final phase of the war in May 2009, when the UN estimated that some 40,000 Tamil civilians perished while seeking safe conduct.
The 76-year-old political veteran was elected to office in 1970, his father Beliatta’s constituency in the Deep South at the age of 24. He was defeated in 1977 when the United National Party recorded a landslide victory and returned to parliament in 1989.
He became the island’s prime minister for the first time in 2004 with a narrow margin of less than 200,000 votes against his rival Ranil Wickremesinghe, and a year later he was elected the country’s fifth chief executive and remained in office until his surprise defeat in 2015. .to his former party secretary, Maithripala Sirisena.
Rajapaksa served as Leader of the Opposition between 2018 and 2019. Importantly, he served as Finance Minister from 2019 to 2021 until his brother Basil Rajapaksa took over the powerful finance portfolio. Basil Rajapaksa resigned a month ago amid widespread accusations of corruption that set the stage for a popular uprising against the administration, but more so against the family government.
On May 3, a no-confidence motion was introduced in parliament against the Rajapaksa administration. Last week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is believed to have asked his older brother to step down to deal with the political crisis.
Rather than address the twin ongoing crises of financial and political collapse, the administration has focused on shifting the balance of power within parliament, with plans to appoint a new prime minister to form an interim government. However, the public has come out strongly against this approach and intensified its calls for the resignation of both the president and the prime minister.
Violence has erupted in other parts of the country against Rajapaksa loyalists, including former cabinet ministers, following attacks on peaceful protesters.
“This is what happens when love turns to hate. Mahinda was a well-liked, respected and trusted politician for a long time, despite many questions about his great personal wealth which is at odds with his lifestyle before 2005. There is a time to come and a time to come. leave. When they don’t leave, people will force them to leave,” said Aruna Nishantha, an anti-Rajapaksa protester, who was waiting outside Colombo’s national hospital, where emergency care was being provided to injured protesters.