The media has focused on the fleeing Rajapakses, gate crashing of official residences and torching one or two but not much on the internal maths of the agitation. Reports suggest that the movement is not monolithic and many forces including the hard Left are behind this. Activist middle class may have been the TV face of the crowd but the muscle has largely come from a party called the Front Line Socialist Party (FLSP). It’s a splinter e- of the ultra-Left and ultra-Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which had itself mounted two armed revolts against the government in the past, comes in. India media "India Narrative" says, "that FLSP has been a key player in giving political direction to what had started at Colombo’s Galle Face as spontaneous protests against a virtual economic meltdown." “Extreme measures by the government to promote organic farming had already hit farm production, which plummeted. As in the case of Tahrir square in Egypt during the Arab Spring, the Galle Face became the sanctum sanctorum and the ground-zero of a popular uprising.” Read:Sri Lanka : Has the colonial democracy model run its course ? India-China factor ? Indian media has now begun to write on the issue more because some fear the crowd is really in the FLSP hands and that this party is largely funded by China. This means the Chinese wanted the Rajapakses to go, a group once China’s darling and they succeeded. And China remaining such a big player in Sri Lanka means, one rules only if one has good equations with Beijing. If China is still calling the shots India will feel threatened. India has intervened in Sri Lanka several times beginning from the Tamil insurgency days and doesn’t have a great track record. Rahul Gandhi’s assassination was a factor behind this nor very popular. The recent round of speculation on invasion gained clout with the remarks made by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy who tweeted on May 10 that the Indian Army must be sent to “restore Constitutional sanity”. Swamy has been fringed for a while and had advised invading Maldives as well as Bangladesh before. He is not taken very seriously but he does say what is in many political hearts and can’t reach the lips. Like a policy level Nupur Sharma of sorts. Both the Government and the BJP were quick to deny such statements. A nervous Sri Lanka ruling class ? Public feelings against the random crowds acting at will has now started to create unease and JVP memories are also a factor. The extreme left position of FLSP also has been a factor in getting MPs to recognize that greater internal chaos awaits them if they don’t act quickly. The lawyers, businessmen and professional bodies have spoken on behalf of law and order and the election date is being taken seriously. But it’s also possible that deal making with the FLSP may be on some cards. Meanwhile, many have spoken of the “invasion threats” as an impetus to start elections seriously. FLSP through the Inter University Students' Federation (IUSF) -- a confederation of around 70 students' unions, has great influence on Sri Lankan agitation politics. They basically forced the Rajapakse hand through hard agitation. Trade Unions have also supported the FLSP in general making them a major factor in Sri Lanka . Its extreme views probably rules it out of any immediate future coalition role, but it’s on the street, has clout and intends to continue making prolonged unrest in the future a real fear for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s acting president on Monday declared a state of emergency giving him broad authority amid growing protests demanding his resignation two days before the country’s lawmakers are set to elect a new president. Ranil Wickremesinghe became acting president on Friday after his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled abroad on Wednesday and resigned after months-long mass protests over the country’s economic collapse. Wickremesinghe’s move to impose a state of emergency comes as protests demanding his resignation too have continued in most parts of the country, with some protesters burning his effigy. Lawmakers who met on Saturday began the process of electing a new leader to serve the rest of the term abandoned by Rajapaksa. Nominations for the election of the new president will be heard on Tuesday, and if there is more than one candidate the lawmakers will vote on Wednesday. Read: Sri Lanka begins choosing leader to replace ex-president The emergency decree issued by Wickremesinghe invokes sections of the Public Security Ordinance that allow him to make regulations in the interests of public security, the preservation of public order, the suppression of mutiny, riot or civil commotion, or for the maintenance of essential supplies. Under the emergency regulations, Wickremesinghe can authorize detentions, take possession of any property and search any premises. He can also change or suspend any law. The South Indian island nation is engulfed in an unprecedented economic crisis that has triggered political uncertainty. Sri Lanka has run short of money to pay for imports of basic necessities such as food, fertilizer, medicine and fuel for its 22 million people. Its rapid economic decline has been all the more shocking because before the crisis the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. Sri Lanka is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and other creditors, but top officials say its finances are so poor that even obtaining a bailout has proven difficult. The economic hardships led to political upheaval and widespread protests demanding the government led by Rajapaksa step down. Although many ministers resigned in April, Rajapaksa had remained in power until last week. The main protests have occurred in the capital, Colombo, where protesters occupied the front of the president’s office for more than 100 days. The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers and of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s meltdown. Rajapaksa flew first to the Maldives on Wednesday and then to Singapore.
The people’s movement in Sri Lanka called “Aragalaya” has thrown out a powerful and corrupt political dynasty like the Rajapakses. It has overthrown many barricades, both physical and political and ultimately held the street which has now become a factor even in the Presidential elections expected to be held on the 20th. But is this a conflict between what the movement says and what political institutions stand for?. Are street movements the answer to failed politics? Or they say that conventional politics has failed in the developing South ?. Despite the popularity across religious and ethnic lines – a sensitive issue in South Asia in general and Sri Lanka in particular – the movement is fundamentally middle class. The leaders are priests, digital activists and social protestors. Dependent largely on social media, it's fundamentally located in that space which saw the Arab spring grow and then die. Closer to home it’s what produced Shahbagh which has a great history of youth spirit and energy but ultimately was taken over by the ruling party. The limits of urban middle class protest are clear. And Sri Lanka may be facing that all too going by what is happening. Read:Sri Lanka: Will the army be forced to act? Argalaya realities "Aragalaya has to accept whoever comes into power next. You cannot keep protesting," one lawmaker told organizers in a meeting last week. Thus the movement is now in conflict with the law making body and system. The conventional political state is beginning to assert itself as the ruling class which is always upper in nature finds its space limited by the crowds. Questions are however rising about the nature and structure of the movement. “The strength of the Aragalaya movement has been its leaderless, organic nature. It's what makes it so good at spontaneous mass uprisings - but it also makes it difficult to predict or control, “ says the BBC. Some leaders have said that they were not in favour of storming the Palace as it makes them look “anarchic”. However, Ranil’s denouncement of them as “fascists” has made them look much better since anything the old leadership says is suspect and has no legitimacy. But even as the agitations were metaphorically wined and dined by global media, few mentions were made of the long queues on the streets near supply centres of essentials including petrol. That is a problem which won’t go away no matter who wins the elections or how big the protesting crowd is. Can politics deliver? Sri Lanka is a good example of failed politics. The genesis of current unrest goes back to the management of the Tamil war, a problem of Sinhala nationalism based politics. Colombo won the war under the Rajapakses but as history shows lost Sri Lanka. And it seems so did the Sinhalese. Just as nationalism based governance –political- has a weak record so has the trappings of colonial inheritance such as what goes in the name of parliamentary democracy including elections. Rajapakse elections were not walk overs so elections as saviours may be overestimated. It keeps the upper class in perpetual power but doesn’t solve problems. As entire South Asia shows, following the colonial model hasn’t led to universal prosperity including in India. Both Sri Lanka and the rest of South Asia may need to start examining other options. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is in for a hard time from which no election can deliver right now.
Pakistan reached 24 for two at stumps on day one in reply to Sri Lanka's first innings total of 222 all out in the first Test Saturday. The visitors trail Sri Lanka by 198 runs with eight wickets in hand at Galle International Stadium. Having elected to bat first, Sri Lanka's batting collapsed as they slumped to 133 for eight but the lower order fought back to enable them to get to 222 on a good batting surface. Sri Lanka was in danger of being shot out for less than 150, but the last two wickets produced 89 runs to salvage some pride. Dinesh Chandimal, who had a career-best 206 not out earlier this week to inspire Sri Lanka's innings and 39-run win over Australia, came to the team's rescue again by top scoring with 76. The former captain added 44 runs for the ninth wicket with Maheesh Theekshana. The stand was broken when Chandimal was spectacularly caught by Yasir Shah off the bowling of Hasan Ali. Chandimal's 76 came in 115 deliveries with 10 fours and one six. "They are playing five specialist bowlers, so whenever someone comes on to bowl, he's fresh," Chandimal said of the disciplined Pakistani attack. "This pitch is something in between what we had got for the first and second Tests against Australia," he added. "When you have got to 30 or 40, when the ball pitches in certain areas, it's easier for you to go for your shots. On this wicket, even when you are settled, you can't play with too much confidence." Read: SL vs PAK Test Series 2022: Fixtures, Venues, H2H Records After Chandimal's dismissal, Theekshana added 45 runs with No. 11 Kasun Rajitha. Theekshana was the last man dismissed when he was caught behind. He made 35 off 65 deliveries with four fours and a six. It was the No. 10's career-best score in first-class cricket. Shaheen Afridi bowled superbly to finish with four for 58. The left-arm quick, who dismissed Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne (1) cheaply, provided the breakthrough when a partnership was building between Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva (14). His pace was too much for Sri Lanka's batsmen as both Karunaratne and de Silva dragged deliveries onto their stumps. The very next over after claiming the wicket of de Silva, Shaheen had wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella caught at gully. As the last pair provided stubborn resistance, he was called up again and he broke the stand with the first delivery of his new spell. Yasir Shah and Hasan Ali finished with two wickets apiece. Leg-spinner Yasir is making a comeback after injuries sidelined him since August last year. After posting a record total of 554 earlier in the week against Australia at the same venue, Sri Lanka's batting flopped Saturday as they lost four wickets each in the first two sessions before a fine rearguard action by the tail. During Pakistan's innings, Sri Lanka got off to a good start as Kasun Rajitha trapped Imam-ul-Haq leg before wicket for two. Left-arm orthodox spinner Prabath Jayasuriya deceived Abdullah Shafique with a straight one to have him leg before wicket for 13. The two-match series got underway in the southern coastal town of Galle despite Sri Lanka's economic crisis. There are severe shortages of essential items like fuel, cooking gas and medicine while there are long hours of power cuts throughout the island. There have been nationwide protests, which forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee and resign as president. With Parliament set to meet next week to elect a new president, more protests are expected in the capital Colombo and cricket officials were looking at the possibility of shifting the second Test from Colombo to Galle.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew into Singapore from the Maldives on Thursday evening, the Straits Times reported. The Singaporean newspaper said Rajapaksa arrived on board a Saudi flight, which landed at Singapore's Changi airport at 7:17 pm local time (1117 GMT). Also read: Sri Lankan leader leaves Maldives, protesters leave offices It is not clear how long he will stay in Singapore or if he has another destination in mind, the newspaper added. Rajapaksa left Sri Lanka for the Maldives on Wednesday, just hours before his resignation was expected to be announced, amid a severe economic crisis that has sparked protests in the country. Also read: Sri Lanka protests: One dead and 84 injured, say hospital officials Sri Lankan Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena confirmed on Wednesday that a new president will be elected on July 20 through a vote in parliament.
The sight of crowds gathering and overrunning the security cordon at the Presidential Palace, torching the PM’s residence and generally taking over the streets have warmed many hearts as they are archetypal scenes of “people’s power” movements anywhere. Even in Bangladesh, when Ershad was overthrown in December 1990, the vice president's residence was attacked and trashed. But before it went further, political parties backed by the army reined the crowds in. In Sri Lanka the situation is much more desperate and the crowd control of the political variety is missing. The people are far more desperate and the economic conditions –the main trigger- much worse than feared. In Bangladesh which has a long history of military takeovers, the arch villain Gen. Ershad of 1990 was an army man who was arrested and taken in. The army was also not interested in taking over. The balance of power between the civil and military forces was positive and Bangladesh went into a new phase of electoral politics with the Neutral Caretaker Government phase that lasted from 1991 to 2007. In fact the movement was against the prevailing military regime, and conducted by separate political factions coming together to achieve a common objective. In Sri Lanka the entire polity has lost credibility. The scenario is therefore different and the most significant marker is the absence of credible political options. Do they exist in Sri Lanka today ? The Rajapaksa mess The Rajapaksas have basically considered Sri Lanka their family business. And it was not on governance that they based their claim but defeating the Tamil insurrection. It was a military victory that made them who they are and the pride they claim is shared by the SL army as well. At this point of time, the army had not deserted them and when the Prez Rajapaksa couldn’t fly out, it was an army plane that flew him to sanctuary in the Maldives. But does the army want to move in? Going by current statements, it’s not a yes. But… Read:Did eco-activist Vandana Shiva ruin Sri Lankan agriculture? The last week’s events The events have begun to peak in the last few weeks till it’s now very much out of control of the police and the armed forces have been forced to get involved. It had been on for some time. On May 11, an army spokesperson strongly refuted any takeover by it. “When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it," Kamal Gunaratne, the secretary of Sri Lanka's defence ministry, told a press conference in response to the claims. Don't ever think that we are trying to capture power, the military has no such intentions." “Gunaratne was a top field commander in the final battle that defeated Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers movement in 2009, ending a decades-old civil war. His superior at the time was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now serving as the nation's president.” ( Indian Express May 11 ) But the situation is changing rapidly and on July 10, NDTV reported that the Sri Lankan Army chief General Shavendra Silva had sought people's support to maintain peace as Sri Lanka battles a super crisis. General Shavendra Silva requested Sri Lankans to support the armed forces and the police as the public ransacked the Presidential palace. Following the protests, President Rajapaksa informed Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena that he will step down on July 13, while Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said he would resign as soon as an all-party government was ready to take over. The Speaker would become the acting President after Mr Rajapaksa resigns. Later, an election among MPs will be held to elect a new President, reports said. On 13th July the situation reached a point when civil and police forces could no longer sustain law and order. The media reported that the Sri Lanka army took over state TV and radio stations. As the police crumbles and given the situation unable to go beyond tear gas, the army is increasingly moving in to fill the gap. Whether this will mean a total take over or not depends a lot on how the parliament manages to establish itself. Until now they haven’t. The parliament however also knows that the army is pro-Rajapaksa, having fought the Tamils under him, with professional links and connections. The army hasn’t liked stepping in, whatever bit it has but circumstances have pushed it to do so. Will circumstances push the army beyond a point of its own reluctance?
Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the Maldives on Thursday after fleeing his own country amid mass protests demanding he resign over his country's economic collapse. A Maldives government official said Rajapaksa boarded a flight of Saudia, formerly known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, on Thursday bound for Singapore. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Rajapaksa and his wife fled Sri Lanka early Wednesday aboard an air force jet as protesters were taking over government buildings to demand he resign. Rajapaksa promised over the weekend he would do so, but instead he named his prime minister acting president in his absence, further incensing those who blame the government for the crisis. Meanwhile Thursday, the government announced a curfew in the capital Colombo and its suburbs to run until 5 a.m. Friday and protesters were withdrawing from the presidential palace after occupying it during the weekend. Some were seen unrolling a red carpet in the palace as they left. Anticipating more protests after a group attempted to storm the Parliament’s entrance a day earlier, troops in green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived by armored personnel carriers Thursday to reinforce barricades around the building. Some protesters had posted videos on social media pleading with others not to storm the Parliament, fearing an escalation of violence. Protest leader Devinda Kodagode told The Associated Press they were vacating official buildings after the Parliament speaker said he was seeking legal options to consider since Rajapaksa left without submitting his resignation letter as promised. The protesters accuse the president and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown. It was not immediately clear what Rajapaksa’s destination would be. Maldives officials initially indicated he planned to travel onward to Saudi Arabia, but later could only confirm his first stop in Singapore. Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power it’s likely Rajapaksa planned his departure while he still had constitutional immunity and access to a military jet. Read: Sri Lanka protests: One dead and 84 injured, say hospital officials On Wednesday, protesters undeterred by multiple rounds of tear gas scaled the walls to enter the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the crowd outside cheered in support and tossed water bottles to them. Protesters took turns posing at the prime minister's desk or stood on a rooftop terrace waving the Sri Lankan flag. Amid the mounting chaos, Wickremesinghe’s office imposed a state of emergency giving broader powers to the military and police. Defense leaders have called for calm and cooperation with security forces — comments that have rankled some lawmakers who insist civilian leaders would be the ones to find a solution. The protesters blame the Rajapaksas for leading the country into an economic abyss, but they are also furious with Wickremesinghe. They believe he has protected the president and that his appointment in May alleviated pressure on Rajapaksa to resign. Wickremesinghe also has said he will resign, but not until a new government is in place. He has urged the speaker of Parliament to find a new prime minister agreeable to both the ruling and opposition parties. It's unclear when that might happen since the opposition is deeply fractured. But assuming that Rajapaksa resigns as promised, Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. The political impasse threatens to worsen the bankrupt nation’s economic collapse since the absence of an alternative government could delay a hoped-for bailout from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, the country is relying on aid from India and China. The shortages of basic necessities have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. The country’s rapid decline was all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. “Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — but there are so many more,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old student of maritime electrical engineering, who is not related to the prime minister. He complained that Sri Lankan politics have been dominated for years by “old politicians” who all need to go. “Politics needs to be treated like a job — you need to have qualifications that get you hired, not because of what your last name is,” he said, referring to the Rajapaksa family. After the president fled to the Maldives the whereabouts of other Rajapaksa family members who had served in the government were unclear.
One person has died and 84 others injured after protests rocked the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Wednesday, hospital officials have said. The 26-year-old man died from breathing difficulties after police forces lobbied tear gas at protesters, reports BBC. Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed acting president after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country. But the decision triggered further protests demanding that he also resign. A military spokesperson told the BBC said that a soldier and police officer were amongst the injured, and alleged that an assault rifle with ammunition had been stolen by a protester and had not yet been recovered. Early on Thursday, Sri Lanka imposed a new curfew, which would be in place from 12:00 on Thursday till 05:00 on Friday, said the government in a statement. The protests come as Sri Lanka has been suffering from its worst economic crisis in decades. Many blame the Rajapaksa administration for the crisis and see Mr Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister in May, as part of the problem. Hospital officials at the Colombo National Hospital said the injuries came from protesters who were outside the prime minister's office as well as those who were outside parliament later in the evening. Police had fired tear gas at protesters who attempted to break down the gates of the prime minister's office in Colombo, before finally making their way in. They later made their way towards parliament. In a television address late on Wednesday, Mr Wickremesinghe had called on protesters to leave his occupied office and other state buildings and co-operate with authorities. Read: Sri Lanka waits in confusion, anger for president to resign He also told the military to do "whatever is necessary" to restore order. His statement came hours after Mr Rajapaksa had fled to the Maldives - days after his official residence was stormed. Mr Rajapaksa had pledged to resign by Wednesday, but is still yet to submit a formal letter of resignation. The leader, who has enjoyed immunity from prosecution as president, is believed to have wanted to flee abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new administration. The president's departure threatens a potential power vacuum in Sri Lanka, which needs a functioning government to help dig it out of financial ruin. Politicians from other parties have been talking about forming a new unity government but there is no sign they are near agreement yet. It's also not clear if the public will accept what they come up with. In a press statement on Wednesday, Mr Wickremesinghe's team said he had asked the speaker of parliament to nominate a new prime minister "who is acceptable to both the government and opposition". Earlier on Monday, the main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told the BBC he would be tilting for the presidency. But he - like Mr Wickremesinghe - lacks public support. There is also deep public suspicion of politicians in general. The protest movement which has brought Sri Lanka to the brink of change also does not have an obvious contender for the country's leadership. Sri Lanka: The basics Sri Lanka is an island nation off southern India: It won independence from British rule in 1948. Three ethnic groups - Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim - make up 99% of the country's 22 million population. One family of brothers has dominated for years: Mahinda Rajapaksa became a hero among the majority Sinhalese in 2009 when his government defeated Tamil separatist rebels after years of bitter and bloody civil war. His brother Gotabaya, who was defence secretary at the time, is the current president but says he is standing down. Presidential powers: The president is the head of state, government and the military in Sri Lanka but does share a lot of executive responsibilities with the prime minister, who heads up the ruling party in parliament. Now an economic crisis has led to fury on the streets: Soaring inflation has meant some foods, medication and fuel are in short supply, there are rolling blackouts and ordinary people have taken to the streets in anger with many blaming the Rajapaksa family and their government for the situation.
Sri Lankans woke up to confusion on Thursday, still waiting for their embattled president to resign after he fled the country, as the island nation fumes over an economic meltdown that has sparked political chaos. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife fled to the Maldives on Wednesday aboard an air force jet. He made the prime minister acting president in his absence — a move that further roiled passions among a public that blames Rajapaksa for an economic crisis that has caused severe shortages of food and fuel. On Wednesday, protesters, undeterred by multiple rounds of tear gas, scaled the walls to enter the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the crowd outside cheered in support and tossed water bottles to them. Protesters took turns posing at the prime minister's desk or stood on a rooftop terrace waving the Sri Lankan flag after the latest in a series of takeovers of government buildings by the demonstrators — who see the political maneuvers as delaying their goal of a new government. Late on Wednesday night, crowds also gathered outside the Parliament. Demonstrators clashed with security officers who fired tear gas into the air. Wickremesinghe's office declared a nationwide curfew and imposed a state of emergency giving broader powers to the military and police. The curfew was lifted early Thursday. Over the weekend, the two leaders both said they would resign after protesters stormed Rajapaksa's and Wickremesinghe's official residences in a dramatic escalation of months of protests. Some set fire to Wickremesinghe's private residence, and his whereabouts were unknown. The protesters blame Rajapaksa and his powerful, dynastic family for leading the country into an economic abyss, but they are also furious with Wickremesinghe, whom they accuse of protecting the president. Many believe that his appointment in May alleviated pressure on Rajapaksa to resign. “We need both ... to go home,” said Supun Eranga, a 28-year-old civil servant in the crowd on Wednesday. “Ranil couldn’t deliver what he promised during his two months, so he should quit. All Ranil did was try to protect the Rajapaksas.” Read:Sri Lanka in crisis: President flees and ire turns to PM But Wickremesinghe has said he will not leave until a new government is in place. He has urged the speak of Parliament to find a new prime minister agreeable to both the ruling and opposition parties. It's unclear when that might happen since the opposition is deeply fractured. But assuming that Rajapaksa resigns as planned, Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. The political impasse threatens to worsen the bankrupt nation’s economic collapse since the absence of an alternative government could delay a hoped-for bailout from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, the country is relying on aid from neighboring India and from China. With the country in disarray, Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva called for calm and for cooperation with security forces. Similar comments have rankled opposition lawmakers, who insisted that civilian leaders would be the ones to find a solution. Protesters accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown, which has left the island nation laden with debt and unable to pay for imports of basic necessities. The shortages have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. The country’s rapid decline was all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. “Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — but there are so many more,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old student of maritime electrical engineering, who is not related to the prime minister. He complained that Sri Lankan politics have been dominated for years by “old politicians” who all need to go. “Politics needs to be treated like a job — you need to have qualifications that get you hired, not because of what your last name is,” he said, referring to the Rajapaksa family. After the president fled to the Maldives the whereabouts of other Rajapaksa family members who had served in the government were unclear. Local media in the Maldives reported Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s planned travel to another country was delayed, forcing him to remain in the Indian Ocean archipelago Wednesday night. Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power, and it is likely Rajapaksa planned his escape while he still had constitutional immunity. A corruption lawsuit against him in his former role as a defense official was withdrawn when he was elected president in 2019.
Sri Lanka’s president fled the country without stepping down Wednesday, plunging a country already reeling from economic chaos into more political turmoil. Protesters demanding a change in leadership then trained their ire on the prime minister and stormed his office. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife left aboard an air force plane bound for the Maldives — and he made his prime minister the acting president in his absence. That appeared to only further roil passions in the island nation, which has been gripped for months by an economic meltdown that has triggered severe shortages of food and fuel. Thousands of protesters — who had anticipated that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be appointed acting president and wanted him gone— rallied outside his office compound and some scaled the walls. The crowd roared its support and tossed water bottles to those charging in. Dozens could later be seen inside the office or standing on a rooftop terrace waving Sri Lanka’s flag — the latest in a series of takeovers of government buildings by demonstrators seeking a new government. “We need both ... to go home,” said Supun Eranga, a 28-year-old civil servant in the crowd. “Ranil couldn’t deliver what he promised during his two months, so he should quit. All Ranil did was try to protect the Rajapaksas.” But Wickremesinghe, who declared a state of emergency, appeared on television to reiterate that he would not leave until a new government was in place — and it was not clear when that would happen. Although he fled, Rajapaksa has yet to resign, but the speaker of the parliament said the president assured him he would later in the day. READ: Sri Lanka's acting president says military appointed to maintain law, order Police initially used tear gas to try to disperse the protesters outside the prime minister’s office but failed, and more and more marched down the lane toward the compound. As helicopters flew overhead, some demonstrators held up their middle fingers. Eventually security forces appeared to give up, with some retreating from the area and others simply standing around the overrun compound. Inside the building, the mood was celebratory, as people sprawled on elegant sofas, watched TV, and held mock meetings in wood-paneled conference rooms. Some wandered around as if touring a museum. “We will cook here, eat here and live here. We will stay until (Wickremesinghe) hands over his resignation,” said Lahiru Ishara, 32, a supervisor at a supermarket in Colombo who has been a part of the protests since they kicked off in April. “There’s no other alternative.” Over the weekend, protesters seized the president’s home and office and the official residence of the prime minister following months of demonstrations that have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa family’s political dynasty, which ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. On Wednesday morning, Sri Lankans continued to stream into the presidential palace. For days, people have flocked to the palace — swimming in the pool, marveling at the paintings and lounging on the beds piled high with pillows. At dawn, the protesters took a break from chanting as the Sri Lankan national anthem blared from speakers. A few waved the flag. Protesters accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. READ: Thousands protest against Sri Lanka's new acting president The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown, which has left the island nation laden with debt and unable to pay for imports of basic necessities. The shortages have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people and were all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding and a comfortable middle class was growing. “Not only Gotabaya and Ranil, all 225 members of Parliament should go home. Because for the last few decades, family politics have ruined our country,” said Madusanka Perera, a laborer who came to Colombo from the outskirts the day protesters occupied the first government buildings. He lost his job, and his father, a driver, can’t do his because of fuel shortages. “I’m 29 years old — I should be having the best time of life but instead I don’t have a job, no money and no life,” he said. The political impasse has only added fuel to the economic disaster since the absence of an alternative unity government threatened to delay a hoped-for bailout from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, the country is relying on aid from neighboring India and from China. As the protests escalated Wednesday outside the prime minister’s compound, his office imposed a state of emergency that gives broader powers to the military and police and declared an immediate curfew in the western province that includes Colombo. It was unclear what effect the curfew would have: Some ignored it, while many others rarely leave their homes anyway because of fuel shortages. In his TV appearance, Wickremesinghe said he created a committee of police and military chiefs to restore order. The air force earlier said in a statement that it provided an aircraft, with the defense ministry approval, for the president and his wife to travel to the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean known for exclusive tourist resorts. It said all immigration and customs laws were followed. The whereabouts of other family members who had served in the government, including several who resigned their posts in recent months, were uncertain. Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power, and it is likely Rajapaksa planned his escape while he still had constitutional immunity. A corruption lawsuit against him in his former role as a defense official was withdrawn when he was elected president in 2019. Assuming Rajapaksa resigns as planned, Sri Lankan lawmakers agreed to elect a new president on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. “Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — but there are so many more,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old student of maritime electrical engineering, who is not related to the prime minister. He complained that Sri Lankan politics have been dominated for years by “old politicians” who all need to go. “Politics needs to be treated like a job — you need to have qualifications that get you hired, not because of what your last name is,” he said, referring to the Rajapaksa family.