RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa must fear for his safety and is hiding in a military base. Enraged citizens have set fire to his villa and vandalized it out of anger over political failure.
He has faced unbridled widespread anger since the island nation declared bankruptcy and the economy collapsed.
Rajapaksa resigned on Monday after months of violent protests over the economic crisis, and police have imposed a curfew in the country.
Anti-Russian sanctions have exacerbated the economic crisis, and prices in the country have skyrocketed. The cost of basic foodstuffs has more than doubled. Locals queue up for paraffin. They need fuel to cook food.
The effects of the covid lockdowns were already melting foreign exchange reserves, so that critical imported goods such as energy sources and medicines could no longer be paid for.
Once beloved by the people because his family ended the country’s long civil war, the 76-year-old is now forced to hide in a heavily guarded military base.
Supplies are faltering, and prices are shooting through the roof. The angry people stormed Rajapaksa’s mansion and vandalized it in anger over the government’s total political failure. Politicians’ cars were also thrown into the river.
The Sri Lankan state is now slipping into a full-blown political and economic crisis, with more and more people facing hunger, death, and severe unrest.
A general strike paralyzes the country. Transport is at a standstill, and the country’s businesses and factories are empty following a call for a one-day general strike by more than 2,000 unions after months of shortages.
(One upper-class villa in flames)
Now they are also facing brutal violence from the state. At least nine people died, and more than 200 were injured when vehicles and homes were set on fire this week in fighting between government supporters and critics.
The island is in its worst economic crisis since independence, and the state’s response shows its inability to protect its citizens.
However, it is unlikely that the use of the military will be able to quell the unrest. Widespread anger and frustration, exacerbated by pro-government counter-demonstrators, will likely only grow and fuel distrust in the ruling government.
(Politicians’ cars were thrown into the river)
This week, the army received orders to shoot “lawbreakers” on sight as people gathered in the streets to protest food shortages, fuel, and medicine.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, according to the BBC, made no mention of the role of government supporters in sparking the violence, only condemning the mob’s actions and promising to crack down on them with the full force of the law.
A nationwide curfew that closed stores, businesses, and offices was lifted for a few hours Thursday morning but is expected to be reimposed in the afternoon.
Nationalist President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to office in November 2019 after campaigning on national security and appealing to Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.
Since then, the Rajapaksa family has grown increasingly powerful; Gotabaya installed his brother Mahinda (himself a former president) as prime minister and appointed other relatives to ministerial posts. Nepotism that is now taking its revenge.