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Sri Lanka Uprising – The New York Times


Sri Lanka’s recent upheaval provides a prime example of recent world problems. Covid disrupted the country’s key industries, especially tourism, and then leaders failed to adapt – triggering a string of economic disasters, including food shortages. and fuel. The crisis prompted protests, which culminated in the president’s resignation and the arrangement of a new president on Wednesday.

My colleague Emily Schmall reported on Sri Lanka. I talked to her about the country’s crisis.

What has led Sri Lanka to this point?

Over the past six months, the economic conditions of Sri Lankans have become increasingly difficult. Things like fuel and gas became increasingly expensive and hard to find, and inflation skyrocketed. New government import bans mean foreign goods like chocolate and coffee beans disappear.

In Sri Lanka, there is a sizable middle class. People aren’t used to scarcity, so they notice immediately when things start to disappear from the shelves. People were upset about it. And the ability to continue became all but impossible in the last month or so.

In the end, the protesters took over the presidential palace. How did that happen?

It began with protesters marching towards the presidential palace on July 9. Government officials tore them apart and fired live bullets around them. This makes everyone angry. Some people control a military truck and use it to break the gate. Hundreds of people then swarmed in and found the place essentially deserted – the president had fled, and no one had stopped them from getting inside. They later did the same at Temple Trees, the prime minister’s official residence.

But the protesters did not search the place. They began to invite the public into their homes, but in an orderly manner. Activists have forced people to line up properly. They treat these houses like museums. They are concerned about not damaging any property.

After about 24 hours, a jubilation filled the place, and several people swam in the presidential pool. They did it: They forced this extremely powerful president – who was accused of war crimes, who was feared – to leave his own home and even the country. But they did it peacefully, unarmed.

So it’s an atmosphere of fun and cynicism, with a bit of absurdity and a bit of humor thrown in – a very Sri Lankan kind of revolution, relatively low-key and polite.

I can’t help but compare this to the uprising in the US Capitol. This seems much more peaceful.

Oh, yes. I also can’t help but think about it.

There are some differences. For one, these people were unarmed. It is also somewhat spontaneous, and has no clear leader. They don’t do that when affiliated with any politician or political party.

But the big difference is that these protesters have received widespread support. Ordinary Sri Lankans welcomed them and even joined in. Those who would otherwise have never participated in the activities or protests happily walked around the blocks, enjoying themselves and basking in the success of this movement.

In the US, we’ve had inflation and supply shortages lately. But this sounds like a whole other level of problems.

Right. So in America, Americans have complained about fuel prices. In contrast, Sri Lanka has run out of fuel. It’s not just that it’s expensive; it was unable to find.

How did the government react?

Until a few months later, there was really no government recognition of the crisis. Patriarch Gotabaya Rajapaksa was leading the government at the time, and he appointed his brothers and grandsons to his cabinet. He doesn’t take much advice from outside his family.

There are many denials among them. They are told many times that the economy is deteriorating. But they are sure tourism will continue to increase post-Covid and that will be enough to shore up finances. But that did not happen; Tourism has begun to return, but not enough.

I was surprised that so many countries are run by this one family. Is that unusual in Sri Lankan history?

That is strange even for Sri Lanka.

There are some families in politics. Rajapaksa was defense minister when his brother was president from 2005 to 2015.

But this administration is an extremely brazen example. The Sri Lankan government looks more and more like a family business. And it was run that way: lots of secrecy, not much transparency, not many outsiders. The family tried to benefit from government-imposed policies.

Will the new government gain the trust of the people?

Protesters are not happy with Ranil Wickremesinghe, the new president. They felt that his takeover reaffirmed the influence of Rajapaksas because he represented the establishment and because he appointed a friend of the Rajapaksa family as his prime minister.

What’s next in Sri Lanka?

In the short term, we are likely to continue to experience uncertainty. But everyone is invested in making sure Sri Lanka doesn’t fall into this situation again when they are leaning towards autocracy, where there is little transparency and where the will of the people is ignored. So it’s mostly a positive story.

More about Emily Schmall: She grew up in DeKalb, Ill., and used to have a job breaking corn. She decided to become a journalist in high school. She started her career at The Miami Herald in 2005 and joined the New Delhi office at The Times in 2020.

Related: Amidst the chaos, Sri Lankans find a hiding place in cricket.

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