The political crisis that Sri Lanka is facing now is the result of a sustained mismanagement of the economy and a persistent disregard for democratic norms. Things took an unexpected turn when cabinet ministers and the central bank governor offered to resign. Stock trade also halted twice because share prices started plunging rapidly. Beset by all this, the president invited all political parties in parliament to accept cabinet posts. When a country finds itself in a situation of this severity, all parties must consider it a national need to work together for the sake of the country.
EMERGENCY rule has been declared in the island nation of Sri Lanka after anti-government protests turned violent. Sri Lanka has been going through a severe economic crisis caused in some measure by a shortage of foreign exchange resulting in lengthy power cuts, price spirals and a shortage of essential items. Public anger boiled over as protesters stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Colombo on Thursday and clashed with law enforcers. While the president said the move had been made “in the interests of public security”, emergency rule severely limits civil rights, and gives sweeping powers to the state to detain citizens.
There appear to be several factors behind the Sri Lankan economic meltdown. Amongst these has been the blow to the island’s tourism-dependent economy caused by the 2019 Easter bombing as well as global travel restrictions because of Covid-19. But apart from these factors, public anger is also directed at the Rajapaksa family for its dominance of government and apparent economic mismanagement. For example, the president, prime minister, finance and irrigation ministers are all brothers, while the president’s nephew is sports minister, thus adding to the public’s criticism of the Rajapaksa clan.
It is hoped Sri Lanka is able to tide over the crisis and restore order and a semblance of economic stability. The crisis should serve as a warning to other states that rising fiscal challenges have within them the seeds of greater civil unrest, and if not managed will spiral out of control. Moreover, there is also a cautionary tale in the Sri Lankan crisis against dynastic rule. When members of one family dominate government and there is seemingly little transparency, people will rightly question such behaviour, especially when the bread lines start growing and the population does not have access to essentials. While restoring order is important, the Sri Lankan government should take the people into confidence and unveil a road map to economic stability, with the international community doing all possible to help the island emerge from the crisis.
The Sri Lankan president did too little and too late. He glossed over the economic hardships that the people were facing and tried to contain the protests by imposing a weekend curfew and then a state of emergency, but to no avail. If a country of 22 million people can end up like this, just imagine what a country with ten times more population could face if such crises get out of hand. When governments fail to grapple with soaring inflation in a timely manner and the currency is devalued while the IMF is twisting your arms, what can the government expect from people other than demonstrations and protests? Sri Lanka’s expenditure has exceeded its income and its production of tradable goods and services has not picked up.
The Sri Lankan president did too little and too late. He glossed over the economic hardships that the people were facing and tried to contain the protests by imposing a weekend curfew and then a state of emergency, but to no avail.