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Sri Lanka: PM resigns amid unfolding catastrophe

10 July 2022

12:42 AM

10 July 2022

12:42 AM


Global politics is in free-fall, but no government is falling faster than that of Sri Lanka.

Breaking news this morning as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agrees to the demands of protesters and has announced that he will step down once the parties have decided on how to form a new government.

The news came after he summoned an emergency meeting with Parliament recalled.

In the meantime, the Parliamentary Speaker will take over the leadership role and assist with the formation of an interim government in the hopes that the catastrophic political situation in the country can be overcome.

At the time of writing, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister admitted that they had no information on the whereabouts of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He fled shortly before the Presidential residence in Colombo was swarmed by a furious human tide. Other prominent government locations were also overrun by protesters, including Old Parliament House.

As far as anyone knows, VIP vehicles were seen speeding in the direction of the airport while the President’s luggage was loaded onto a waiting Naval vessel moored in Colombo Port. It appears that he has gone into hiding following hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country turning against the Presidency.

After months of serious unrest, unbridled chaos took over as streets full of protesters descended on the Presidential residence, tearing down barriers and overwhelming security forces who – after firing above the crowd – abandoned their positions. They watched as the fortified building was quickly breached and ransacked.

Several protesters were injured, some critically. Protesters in their hundreds were caught on film rummaging through the President’s bedroom, offices, and even swimming in the pool. It was a moment of indulgence in luxury after so many have endured months of poverty.

Previously, widespread curfews had resulted in similar mass protests where police shot at crowds while using tear gas and water canons. With near-constant media blackouts, the extent of these protests has been difficult to gauge, but more than once the government appeared to be on the verge of losing control.

As footage went viral on social media of the overrun palace, an air of celebration surfaced.

‘The siege is over. Your bastion has fallen. Aragalaya and peoples power has won. Please have dignity to resign now!’ Tweeted Sanath Jayasuriya, former Sri Lankan cricketer.

One protester said:

‘We have seen very little change from the government – very little real action. The call today is unanimous. We, the people of Sri Lanka, have no choice to make this call, to be here on the road today. What we have experienced is unprecedented. No one in our lifetime, our parents’ lifetime, or even our grandparents’ lifetime has seen a crisis like this with so little effort from those in power to make real change. So we, as people, are claiming back our power.’

This is the worst economic crisis for Sri Lanka since its independence in 1948. It has been reported that three in every ten households are experiencing critical food shortages, although this figure is expected to keep rising. Sri Lanka is a nation dealing with widespread food insecurity, fuel shortages, media silence, and lengthy blackouts.

Children have been locked out of schools with the country unable to afford basics like paper, let alone fuel. Thousands of residents were seen queuing for petrol in recent days only to be turned away. The World Bank estimates that half a million people have suddenly fallen below the poverty line.

While the United Nations bemoans the reality that this will stop Sri Lanka reaching its ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ – it is the climate policy encouraged by the UN that acted as the first domino to disaster.

Since May, Sri Lanka has been surviving on aid handouts from India with regional leaders trying to determine if a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund would be possible.

Sri Lanka has $51 billion in foreign debt and, flirting with bankruptcy, has suspended repayments on foreign loans. At least $7 billion of this is owed to China in Belt and Road projects – a situation that makes observers nervous after Sri Lanka already ceded control of the Chinese-built Hambantota Port in a widely publicised debt-trap situation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made campaign promises during the 2019 election that he would ‘go green’ by forcing farmers to transition into ‘organic’ agriculture. This meant the imposition of a nationwide ban on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides that – almost immediately – resulted in a ruinous 20 per cent cut to rice production in six months. Other industries, such as tea production, all suffered similar fates.

Sri Lanka had a famous fertiliser subsidy program, described as:

‘The fertiliser subsidy program is one of the longest-lasting, most expensive, and most politically sensitive policies implemented to promote rice cultivation in Sri Lanka. It was initiated in 1962 (that is, at the onset of the Green Revolution) with the main objective of encouraging farmers to switch from traditional rice varieties to high-yielding varieties (HYVs) that are highly responsive to chemical fertilisers. Since then, however, the provision of the subsidy has become customary, and successive governments have been under tremendous pressure to continue the subsidy despite budgetary constraints.’

It may have been controversial, but its importance to continued food security is now undeniable.

Previously, Sri Lanka’s food production had been the envy of Asia, with the country a mass producer. With an immediate food shortage, it was forced to turn around and attempt to import rice with money it didn’t have because their exports in tea, rubber, and coconut production had been decimated for the same reason. When the government backtracked on policy and tried to hastily buy fertiliser and pesticides to recover the problem, they found a global shortage caused by the war in Ukraine.

The damage to Sri Lanka from idiotic green policy out of the UN went from a month-long crisis to a complete domestic collapse.

With its export market destroyed and treasury empty from trying to buy food, the currency toppled and inflation became unmanageable. Like Western governments that ruined private businesses through Covid policies, the Sri Lankan government started throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at farmers in compensation in the hope that they could recover the situation. As usual, government appears to have no idea how agricultural systems work. Food production cannot simply be ‘reset’ when civilisation is in a shambles.

Perhaps Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may regret his article in the World Economic Forum in 2018 proclaiming that ‘this is how I will make my country rich by 2025’. The way things are going, Sri Lanka will be lucky if it makes it to 2025 with a functioning democracy.

Changing the government will quiet public outrage – for a while. But revolutions only work if the underlying problem is solved. Once broken, there is no easy fix for an economy.

Given the severity of people’s situation, hunger and desperation is unlikely to give the new government much time to find a solution before the next round of protests begin.

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