On Monday, citizens took to the streets to demand the departure of the Prime Minister and the President. Government supporters unleashed the violence by attacking the demonstrators.
Sri Lanka has been mired in a serious economic crisis for months, which sparked a wave of peaceful protests until the outbreak of violent events on Monday that left at least eight dead and 218 wounded.
Below are five keys to understand the financial and political instability that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, while protesters also demand the departure of his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka began to show signs of an incipient economic crisis since Nov. 2021 when authorities were forced to close the country's only oil refinery to avoid spending large amounts of foreign currency on imported crude oil.
Over the last two years, Sri Lanka lost its international reserves due to the effects of the pandemic in reducing international tourism. Record numbers of inflation and food shortages began to suffocate citizens, and the government suspended the payment of the external debt in April.
Tension and discontent increased at the end of March, when authorities imposed power cuts of more than 13 hours, which led the population to take to the streets to demand the resignation of the government.
The protests grew in scope, and hundreds of demonstrators settled in the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo to demand the resignation of the Rajapaksa clan. The most repeated slogan during the anti-government protests has been “Go Home Gota.”
Soon after the prime minister's resignation, some cabinet ministers including the health minister also presented their resignations. On Monday, clashes between supporters and opponents of the government caused the hospitalization of 80 people. Authorities imposed a curfew to try to contain the situation.
The economic debacle triggered a serious political crisis. In early April, pressure on the street led to the resignation of all the ministers, although President Rajapaksa momentarily dodged the crisis by appointing a reduced Cabinet.
Days later, the resignation of 42 parliamentarians from the ranks of the government coalition left the Government on the verge of losing its majority in the House of Representatives. Last week, the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), presented two motions of censure against the president and his government.
In that week, however, a vote in Parliament suggests that the government coalition still has a sufficient majority to face the motion of no confidence.
On Monday, clashes between government supporters and opponents left at least eight dead and 218 injured. Government supporters unleashed the violence after participating in an act in support of the prime minister in Temple Trees, where they confronted peaceful protesters who were callinf for his resignation outside the official residence.
Later, government supporters attacked protesting citizens near the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo with sticks and iron bars. The police did nothing to stop them. These attacks triggered a harsh response from citizens, who destroyed vehicles and set fire to some 25 residences of politicians related to the ruling party.
The reaction to violence was the prime minister's resignation early Monday afternoon, although that position is mostly ceremonial and protesters are still demanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation as the country's president.
Gotabaya has said that he will not resign and called for the formation of a government of national inclusion. The disturbances led the authorities to impose a national curfew, which adds to the state of emergency in which the country has been immersed since Friday night.