Thousands of Sri Lankans took to the streets on Monday calling for the impeachment of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, seen here on November 1, 2021 in Glasgow, UK.
Andy Buchanan | Pool | fake images
“I have to go, Gotabaya,” chanted thousands of people who took to the streets of Sri Lanka to demand the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, defying the state of emergency in what analysts called Sri Lanka’s version of the Arab Spring. . The president later revoked the state of emergency, which had not stopped the demonstrations.
“It’s the Arab Spring in Sri Lanka. It’s a perfect match to the pattern of an Arab Spring: a popular uprising to end authoritarian rule, economic mismanagement and family rule, and install on pc democracy,” Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, a senior fellow at the Millennium Project in Washington, told CNBC.
The Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.
The Arab Spring refers to a series of protests that began with the self-immolation of a vendor in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to various countries in the Arab world such as Egypt, Libya and Syria against authoritarianism, corruption and poverty. As many as four autocrats, including the Egyptian Hosni Mubarak, were overthrown during the Arab Spring.
The powerful Rajapaksa clan has ruled Sri Lanka for decades and returned, after a short spell out of power, in 2019 when Gotabaya was elected president. Although concerned about allegations of corruption, the current discontent stems from economic mismanagement. Gotabaya was once popular for ending a decades-long civil war in 2009 with a bloody bombing campaign against Tamil separatists.
At least 41 Sri Lankan lawmakers have left the ruling coalition, leaving the Rajapaksa government in a minority in Parliament. On the same day, the government was dealt another blow when Finance Minister Ali Sabry resigned just a day after his appointment.
“I believe I have always acted in the best interest of the country,” Sabry said in a statement. He said “new, proactive and unconventional steps” were needed to solve the country’s problems.
Like the crisis in Sri Lanka, the Arab Spring was also triggered by economic stagnation and corruption in Tunisia, said Chulanee Attanayake, a research fellow at the Institute for South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.
“Sri Lanka is also witnessing anti-government protests in response to the economic downturn, rising inflation and shortages of essential goods. Slogans similar to those of the Arab Spring are also used,” he said.
An association of medical professionals in Sri Lanka has declared a health emergency due to a shortage of medicines and equipment, local media reported.
But Fung Siu, senior economist for Asia at the Economic Intelligence Unit, a think tank, disagreed with the Arab Spring parallel.
“The triggers of the Arab Spring were years in the making, while discontent in Sri Lanka dates back to the start of the pandemic and poor political decisions,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s central bank cabinet and governor resigned on Monday in the face of mounting public anger and mass protests over rising food and fuel prices. Sri Lanka has sought IMF bailouts 16 times in the last 56 years, second only to Pakistan’s debt.
Fung said a new IMF loan could help, but a period of fiscal austerity would follow.
“While such efforts will help address imbalances, higher taxes will likely further stoke anti-government sentiment,” he said.
Faith in the government has also plummeted, Attanayake said, adding that disappointment has increased since the country’s independence.
“The events that are happening right now show the public’s lack of trust in political leadership, and their impatience, frustration and disappointment. They will no longer tolerate missteps, mishandling and mistakes,” he said.
The 26 cabinet ministers who have resigned include Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, Namal, who tweeted that he hoped it would help the “president and prime minister’s decision to establish stability for the people and government.”
Sri Lankan Member of Parliament and Leader of the Opposition Harsha de Silva he said Tuesday that only a new election could present a solution.
“The reshuffle is only temporary. They’ve only appointed four cabinet members… I don’t think they have any credibility left to stay. So unless we can regain trust, I don’t know how to make this country comfortable.” “The economy is back to normal. The only way to do that is to have a new mandate for a new group of people,” de Silva said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
Still, the MP said it was too early to tell if the president would be forced to resign.
“This pressure started building only 48 hours ago,” he said. “Things are moving fast today, and Parliament will meet in two weeks. And then we can see if the government still has a majority.”
Asked if he was willing to join a national unity government, de Silva said he agreed. But, he continued, “The problem, however, is that this country will no longer tolerate any Rajapaksa in government. Therefore it will not be possible to work in a government with Rajapaksas.”