Conflict Alerts # 510, 11 May 2022
In the news
On 10 May, Sri Lanka's president Gotabya Rajapaksa urged the people to remain calm and stop violence and acts of revenge against citizens. He added: "All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve the economic crisis."
On 09 May, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksha tendered his resignation. His tweet came hours after he urged the general public to exercise restraint.
Also, on 09 May, violence erupted as Mahinda Rajapaksha's supporters attacked the peaceful anti-government protestors. Sri Lanka imposed an indefinite curfew and called in the military to contain the violence. An arson attack destroyed Gotabaya's traditional home and shrine in Anuradhapura. Mobs also attacked the museum belonging to the Rajapaksas in their ancestral village of Meda Mulana.
On 06 May, Gotabya declared another emergency in Sri Lanka for the second time in a month. His declaration came as the citizens' protests escalated and the trade unions held a massive hartal. The president's decision sparked reactions from protestors and opposition leaders.
Also, on 06 May, Sri Lanka's finance minister announced that the country had less than USD 50 million in usable foreign exchange reserves.
Issues at Large
First, the protests turning violent. The protests took a violent turn as pro-government supporters attacked the protestors at protest sites. This led to a violent response on government property, buses, and other state-owned enterprises.
Second, the continuing political crisis. The protest groups are now diversified, with trade unions, priests, and left groups joining the demonstrations against the government. 26 cabinet members have resigned, while the opposition parties have filed a no-confidence motion in the Parliament.
Third, the worsening economic situation. With Sri Lanka's usable reserves falling to USD 50 million, it is on the brink of bankruptcy, and overall reserves crashed by 70 per cent in two years.
First, the expanding profile of the protesters. There are Buddhist monks, Christian priests and party members joining the demonstrations. Hence, the demands are likely to expand.
Second, the protests remain leaderless, raising questions over sustainability if more people/groups join the protests. Third, the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa has raised questions over differences within the Rajapaksha family. Mahinda seems to be distancing from his brother Gotabaya. Gotabaya has been the focus of the protests and slogans since the economic crisis and his announcements of declaring emergencies in Sri Lanka. Fourth, an autocratic outcome. President Gotabaya called on the military and police to end the protests, granting more power to intervene. Under the new outline, the police and the army could question people without arrest warrants. Thus, giving impetus to a stronger autocratic government supported by the military, which is likely to use state violence against protestors.