One of the coolest and most heavily guarded buildings in years Sri Lanka it served as the official residence and office of the president.
But everything changed on July 9, when protesters stormed the venue and took control, demanding Resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa before turning the palace upside down.
“It was the home of the most powerful man in the country,” said Asanga Abeyagunasekera, a Sri Lankan author and analyst. “It was never open to the public.”
Now the building has become an attraction. all traces of its exclusivity and prestige are gone. Every day for the past five, thousands have queued for hours to catch a glimpse of Rajapaksa’s lavish lifestyle. The manicured lawns have become picnic spots, and protesters are swimming and partying in their private pools.
Rajapaksa fled the crisis-hit country on a military plane on Wednesday Maldives and appointing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as interim president.
He has since moved on singapore, arriving on a “private visit” approved by the authorities. On Friday, the Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament accepted Rajapaksa’s resignation, ending his nearly three years in office.
“Shooting was really the only option he had,” Abeyagounasekera said. “People are tired, hungry and angry… And they’re demanding change and accountability because they’re tired of seeing the same faces in charge.”
“We can’t afford to choose”
Rajapaksa may be gone, but Sri Lanka is still struggling with a major financial crisis, and experts say things are likely to get worse before they get better.
Protests against daily power outages and price hikes fuels and basic goods such as food and medicine began in March and show little sign of abating.
“There is no political stability,” says Abeyagunasekera. “We saw three offices in two months, the fourth one came. Urgent changes are needed to restore the country.”
Despite a series of crisis control measures implemented by the government, the situation remains desperate for millions of people across the country. “We are still short of food, medicine and fuel,” said Amita Arudpragasam, a political analyst in Colombo. “Policies have also been ineffective and confusing.”
Analysts say the crisis began around 2019. But for many Sinhalese, the warning signs were evident even in 2010, when Mahinda, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brother, was re-elected for a second term as president.
“It was a ticking time bomb,” Arudpragasam says of the Rajapaksa era. “The government was giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy elite as well as corporations when they had to raise rates. Money that could have been reinvested in the population has been used to pay down debt, none of which has helped to address the many weaknesses in our economy.”
Gotabaya Rajapaksa took power in late 2019, having previously held only the unelected post of defense secretary in his brother’s government.
Critics say he has mismanaged the economy, investing heavily in the military while implementing massive tax cuts despite international warnings, causing government revenues to plummet.
“Rajapaksa didn’t listen to anyone’s advice and was supported by people who didn’t understand how an economy like ours should work,” says Arudpragasam.
“(The government) refused to admit that the economy was in crisis until it was too late,” he says.
According to the analyst, now urgent humanitarian aid is needed. “We are in a crisis situation where we cannot afford to make a choice.”
in 2020, World Bank Sri Lanka reclassified as a lower middle income country amid currency collapse and rising inflation.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe declared the country “bankrupt”. “Our economy has faced a complete recession,” he said.
“One of the best places in the world”
The crisis has shocked many in the international community who remember another Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka is a development success story in many ways,” said Philippe Le Weroux, former vice president of the World Bank for Southern Africa. Asia. “It stands out as a lower-middle-income country in a region with the highest concentration of poor people in the world.”
After the end of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war in 2009, the country entered a period of peace and stability. Trade flourished and international tourists returned to the country’s beaches, resorts and tea plantations.
Le Weru highlighted Sri Lanka’s “impressive” post-war social achievements. “Economic growth has been strong and prosperity has been widespread,” he says, adding that life expectancy is also among the highest in the region.
Oh World Economic Forum (WEF) has already ranked Sri Lanka’s economy as the richest in South Asia. “The island is reaping the benefits of early investment in higher education and training … and needs to focus on the areas that matter most to unlock the efficiencies that will further drive growth,” said a 2016 WEF report.
Experts say tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s most lucrative industries, has never had a chance to recover from the Easter 2019 terror attacks, followed by an epidemic that hit the country the following year.
“We had a strong agricultural base and one of the most attractive tourism industries in the world,” says Abeyagoonasekera. “In the absence of proper governance, we have gone from a fragile state to a crisis state, and now we are a failed state.”
But he added that “Sri Lanka was one of the best places in the world and I believe that with the right guidelines and institutions, it can become that place again.”
In a statement on Saturday (16), Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Beijing said the country was holding talks China for nearly $4 billion in financial support.
The money includes a $1 billion loan to repay existing loan payments from China, a $1.5 billion barter line and a $1.5 billion loan to buy goods from China, Ambassador Palita Kohona said.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on a bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who is “closely following” developments in the country after negotiations ended without an agreement in June. Government mismanagement further complicated the recovery, analysts said.
“The IMF is not going to give us financial support without political stability, not when the country is still on the razor’s edge,” said researcher Sanjana Hatotuva.
He added that while the protesters had achieved their initial goal of Rajapaksa’s resignation, the country now faced great uncertainty. “There is no easy fix for a broken economy,” he said. “But the first step will be a new government, and elections are necessary.”
“It’s time for changes”
With Gotabaya Rajapaksa now out of the country, public anger has turned to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the current caretaker president.
“Wickremesinghe was Rajapaksa’s choice for prime minister, that’s the problem,” says Abeyagounasekera. “He is politically connected to the Rajapaksas and his interest has always been to protect them.”
Others repeated the call for elections. “The protest movement is not slowing down and many Sri Lankans have realized the importance of their role as citizens to hold the authorities accountable,” said Ambika Satkunanathan, a Sri Lankan human rights lawyer who has worked at the UN and the Commission. Human rights: People.
He also said that he would not rule out the return of the Rajapaksas to power. “They may have abandoned ship because it was sinking, but they are experienced and have been in the political game for decades,” he said.
“But now there is a window and it’s time for a change. The government should call elections sooner or later.”
Wickmenesinghe will remain interim president until parliament elects a new president. There is no voting period yet, however, according to the Constitution, he can hold office for a maximum of 30 days.
The parliament will accept the appointment of the new president on Monday, the head of the body announced on Saturday. Once elected, the new president will serve the remaining two years of Rajapaksa’s original term.
Parliamentary elections were last held in 2020 and presidential elections in 2019, months after the attacks on the church on Easter. Gotabaya Rajapaksa won after a close contest against then ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa.
Wickremesinghe’s appointment on Wednesday was not well received by protesters who stormed his office demanding his resignation. The police used tear gas and water cannons on the protesters, and a state of emergency was declared in the country.
On Friday, Sri Lanka’s ruling party confirmed that Wickremesinghe is the presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.
But Sri Lankans remain determined, analysts say, and want new people and faces in government. “The interim president will be tasked with stabilizing the economy for a few months,” Abeyagunasekera said. “But he would not be a leader elected by the people, and that is an obstacle.”
“Lack of Responsibility”
The Rajapaksas drew much of their power from the “war hero” status bestowed upon them by the majority of the population after then-President Mahinda’s 2009 declaration of victory in the 26-year civil war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; overseen by the then Defense Minister Gotabaya.
According to a 2011 UN report, Sri Lankan government forces are responsible for abuses, including the deliberate bombing of civilians, summary executions, rape, and the withholding of food and medicine from affected communities.
The UN report said “a number of reliable sources estimate that there could be as many as 40,000 civilians”. The Rajapaksas have always vehemently denied such claims.
Human rights lawyer Satkunanathan said Sri Lanka’s next long-term leader must “address deep-rooted issues such as ethnic conflicts, accountability for human rights abuses, and have the commitment and integrity to restore public trust.”
“Because we simply cannot afford to go back to the kind of crisis we are in today,” he says.
Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) also claim that United Nations Investigations into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka must be sustained.
“Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the other accused must be properly investigated and prosecuted,” said Elaine Pearson, HRW’s acting Asia director. Independent investigations and prosecutions are also needed for Sri Lanka’s economic mismanagement, he added.
“There must be an investigation into the alleged corruption that contributed to this crisis, including any attempt to hide assets overseas,” he said. “Foreign governments should investigate assets and freeze them if necessary.”
Pearson also reiterated the urgency of the elections.
“The urgent priority is a peaceful transition of power that respects rights and addresses the root causes of the political and economic crisis, which are ultimately linked to a lack of accountability, corruption and the weakening of the institutions that are supposed to ensure control of power. …”, – She said:
“If a more stable government cannot be established, the risks are a humanitarian crisis, as well as an increase in violence and repression.”
This content was originally created in English.