The collapse of governance in Sri Lanka has led to the inevitable hard-fisted response by the threatened state: A State of Emergency has been declared and a curfew imposed after protesters occupied the Presidential compound Prime Minister’s Office in Colombo and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called on the security forces to take whatever actions deemed necessary to restore ‘peace’ and ‘order’.
After the presidential compound was occupied by a multitudinous mob, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee and flew to the Maldives, from where he appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe as acting president.
The president was reported by the Speaker of the parliament as having promised to resign on Wednesday (July 13) and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe gave a similar undertaking, but protesters still marched on the prime minister’s private residence and set it alight.
On Wednesday, the situation took a turn for the worse after the mob marched on and took-over the Prime Minister’s Office.
The justifiably-enraged masses took to the streets, but were unfortunately misled down the road of anarchy, attacking the two usually-fortified (presidential and prime ministerial) complexes – and burning the prime minister’s private residence.
Indeed, weeks earlier, then Prime Minister Mahindra Rajapaksa’s private home was also attacked and set alight forcing him to flee Colombo and leave office, while his brother held on to the presidency.
Throughout the unfolding of this sorry episode, it’s always been clear the crisis could not be solved or resolved overnight or soon enough, as it was long in the making.
The Rajapaksa government was in a serious bind and had to choose between the proverbial Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, as the effects of the unfolding crises was worsening by the day, creating institutional chain reactions that benefitted only the political opposition.
Unfortunately, the opposition opportunistically fed on and fueled the fire caused by the successive COVID-19, Climate Change, Supply Chain, Ukraine War and related sanctions crises, to hasten the downfall of the Rajapaksa government.
The security forces, overcome by a hostile crowd (as had been the case of The Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021) tactically and wisely retreated without firing a single shot, but as soon as it became clear the anarchy was moving from the streets to targeted government buildings the police and army started responding with teargas and water cannons.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has called on the Speaker of Parliament to engage the mechanism to ‘appoint a Prime Minister acceptable to the Government and Opposition’, a tall order in this chaotic situation where the opposition and the protesters are asking for the government to resign and be replaced.
By every sign on Wednesday (July 13), Sri Lanka was a coup-in-the-making that was as clear as daylight even on the darkest night, thanks in large part to the political opportunism of the opposition.
Before the protests broke-out, the country had run out of foreign exchange and the government was accused of favouring Chinese investment over Western capital.
The government argued that Chinese loans were more favourable and less onerous on the national treasury than loans and assistance from the traditional Western financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Rajapaksa-led government was accused of leading the country and economy into a ‘Chinese Debt Trap’, but it responded by pointing out that the total value of all Chinese loans amounted to only eight percent (8%) of GDP, compared to other nations.
After the treasury ran out of cash, the government started talking about reaching-out to Russia for a possible emergency loan to overcome the fuel crisis that had crippled the nation’s transport system and affected everything from schools to hospitals.
But the protests erupted and the government did like most would: responded in kind with a State of Emergency and curfew and gave the security forces limitless permission to decide how to restore order.
It was always clear throughout the days of protests that this is not a crisis that will be overcome overnight, as food and fuel would not become available soon and prices for whatever food is available will not be reduced.
Any government – existing or interim – will need time to make new bilateral and multilateral agreements and arrangements for emergency financial and economic support, which will also automatically increase the national debt burden.
Like everywhere else, Sri Lanka needs to find ways to produce more of its own food in a world where fertilizers are more costly and food imports are affected by the Ukraine war’s trade and economic sanctions.
Sri Lanka is a basket-case example of how the accumulated effects from COVID and Climate Change, Supply Chain and Ukraine War sanctions collude and collide in ways that no country anywhere can escape.
While people poured into the streets in Colombo, the USA and Europe were facing their own hard times from inflation and related pressures, with the Euro sliding below the value of the US dollar for the first time, inflation in the USA jumped to 9.1% (the highest year-on-year rate since 1981) and food and fuel costs and shortages were haunting Europeans and Americans like everybody else, everywhere.
Sri Lank is a red flag signal for the rest of the world that the unfolding global crisis will leave no country untouched and it’s just a matter of time before the next popular eruption, which can and will be anywhere.
In 1789, the French Revolution followed poor people’s protests for bread; and today, all of 233 years later, people in poor countries can’t afford bread due to wheat shortages, while mothers in rich nations can’t get formula for babies and more children depend on school meals than ever.
Meanwhile, with the security forces now given the all-clear to save the nation from the unfolding anarchy, it’s clear a military coup is also likely on the table, if not already well under way in Colombo – if it hasn’t already happened as you read this last paragraph…