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CHAOS IN SRI LANKA: The Downfall of a Government

By: Ray Zhao

The economic fallout from both the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has already caused many problems. Now, it has brought down an entire government.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was chased from office this month, ending decades of the Rajapaksa family rule in Sri Lanka. The successor to the presidency is Rajapaksa’s ally Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been prime minister six times before. Wickremesinghe, who was selected by parliament to be president, is now overseeing a country that defaulted on 51 billion of foreign debt, has little liquid resources in the central bank, and tens of thousands of protesting civilians. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is facing energy, fuel, and food shortages as civilian unrest increases dramatically.

How did Sri Lanka fall to such political instability? First, the Covid pandemic decreased revenue from tourism by 3.8 billion (out of 4.3 billion total) to 500 million. Then, the Rajapaksa government’s ban on chemical fertilizers to promote organic farming and halt climate change completely decimated the agriculture section, with production rates falling as much as 50% in some areas. The “ill advised” and “stupid” plan was repealed afterward. Finally, the Russian war in Ukraine has caused fuel and food prices to rise globally. In Sri Lanka specifically, the increase sits at over 38%.

Sri Lanka was once considered a success story with its very strict climate change policies. Now, it might be the first among several countries that might crumble. Other countries with strict climate change policies, like Belgium and Canada, are facing instability as well, with protests springing up all over the country because of climate-friendly fertilizer reductions that may force many farmers from their fields.

The Washington Post’s Niha Masih reports that “hours after Wickremesinghe took the oath of office on Thursday, police and military forces surrounded the protest site and seized control of the presidential office … Security forces charged at protesters with batons and demolished tents, injuring many.”

Former diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka believes that this was a wrong move from Wickremesinghe, saying that “the needless use of military force has made political stability impossible which the IMF and others have said is needed for economic reform.”

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