Their President has resigned, the state has collapsed, the political order has crumbled, and the economy has shrunken. This is the reality of Sri Lanka as it is today. The island nation that 22 million people call home stands abandoned, with renewed political and economic friction being the order of the day.
Members of the long-ruling Rajapaksa dynasty that remained prominent in Lankan politics are now driven out of power by the same mandate that elected them. The much turbulent week saw government offices overrun, state broadcasters hijacked, the presidential palace ransacked, and the Prime Minister’s house set ablaze. With no government, no accepted leader, no food, and no fuel, what lies ahead for Sri Lanka?
If the situation continues to plunge from bad to worse, of the country could suffer from food insecurity. Furthermore, a health catastrophe awaits the country as hospitals and medical facilities run out of medicines and other drugs. Dr. Gnanasekaram, secretary of Sri Lanka’s Association of Medical Specialists, said, “Day by day, things are running out. If we get to the point where it’s zero, then I don’t know what will happen. are going to collapse unless there’s immediate relief”. Additionally, many are attempting to escape to Australia via sea because they don’t see a future in the country. The said, “Such attempts were being made due to the ongoing economic crisis and have increased since early 2022”.
How did Sri Lanka drive itself into this chaos?
The country’s two primary industries, tourism, and agriculture, underwent multiple tensions. The COVID-19 pandemic killed tourism, while the President ruined agriculture. As the government banned chemical fertilizers, crop yields fell. After extensive protests, the band was forced to roll back. However, only a minute amount of those fertilizers made it to agro production, likely leading to an annual drop of at least in paddy yield across the country. An import-dependent country witnessed the depletion of forex reserves, more expenditure than income, and all the while taking loans from China. New inflation records hit Lanka on July 1, protestors took to the streets to demand answers from their once favorable President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and 12 days later, the head of state flew out to the Maldives on a military aircraft.
What happens next?
The crisis is multi-dimensional that requires many solutions:
Firstly, a stable government. One that is acceptable to all sides of the political spectrum to the masses. Talks are currently on to form a ‘caretaker’ government consisting of lawmakers from all parties. A new President would be elected per their Constitution through a consensus. With the Rajapaksas still holding a parliamentary majority, the opposition leaders face the challenge of making a mark. To get on the road to recovery from an economic crisis, this interim government is Lanka’s best bet.
Secondly, strong economic reforms would bring the country steadily out of the debt burden. The nation’s have now cost them an external debt of US $7 billion for what remains of this year against foreign reserves of US $1.9 billion at the end of March 2022. Again, boosting productivity, investing in non-agricultural sector jobs, and reviving tourism would be a start.
Thirdly, social stability, i.e., restoring the public order. Radicals could easily exploit the power vacuum that is now in place. A country already vulnerable economically need not be a feast for external threats. The interim government must be ready to tackle security concerns that could amplify this mess further. Barely three years ago, Sri Lanka underwent bombings in their capital on Easter. A on three churches and three hotels in Colombo by Islamic terrorists killed over 250 people and injured at least 500 others. That incident, which crippled the economy, must be kept in mind as the interim government takes over to calm public sentiment and help them.
India is treading carefully. It wants to respect public sentiment without getting involved in the political mess. India has extended more than $4 billion as loans, financial assistance, and credit line to Sri Lanka. Additionally, it has given food medical aid worth SLR 250 million. Maintaining that India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi stated, “India stands with the people of Sri Lanka as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values, established institutions and constitutional framework.”
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