Chaos in Colombo: A cautionary tale of populism, financial mismanagement - The Tribune India

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Chaos in Colombo

A cautionary tale of populism, financial mismanagement

Chaos in Colombo

AS thousands of protesters converged on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo on Saturday, the security forces helped him flee to safety. Reuters



AS thousands of protesters converged on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo on Saturday, the security forces helped him flee to safety. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house was set on fire. Pushed to the brink, both have agreed to resign. It’s clear that Gotabaya and the self-serving political clan he represents have failed Sri Lanka, plunging the country into an economic crisis and the citizens into misery, with no hope in sight. Last week, Wickremesinghe declared that the country was bankrupt as it defaulted on its debt repayment. He was unable to offer hope to his countrymen because Sri Lanka was to now negotiate with the International Monetary Fund as a bankrupt country, and ‘therefore we have to face a situation that is more difficult and complex than the previous negotiations’.

With inflation at an all-time high and the country facing debilitating fuel and food shortages, public anger is boiling over. The protests began in March in Colombo when there were protracted power cuts, and the security establishment acted with brute force to crush them, leading to fatalities and injuries. Public anger was directed at the Rajapaksa brothers, the quartet that has maintained a strong grip on power for a long time. In May, the country’s one-time hero Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as PM soon after violent mobs stormed his residence and set it afire.

The Rajapaksas, populist to the core and fanning majoritarian fires among the numerically superior Sinhalese, have found that populism is no substitute for good governance and financial management. Though the government blames the Covid-19 pandemic for ravaging the country’s economy, experts point to the tax cuts President Rajapaksa introduced in 2019 as a key factor — former Finance Minister Ali Sabry estimated that these cost the country over $1.4 billion a year. Experts also blame the government for spending precious foreign currency on importing goods, instead of focusing on boosting manufacturing and exports. Falling foreign currency reserves led to a ban on import of chemical fertiliser, and this caused a crop failure and the need to import food. The country of 2.2 crore people now has an external debt of $51 billion, serving as a cautionary tale against populism and majoritarianism. 

#gotabaya rajapaksa #ranil wickremesinghe #sri lanka


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