Angry protesters storming the residences of the president and prime minister of Sri Lanka have forced them to resign over the weekend as the crisis in Sri Lanka continues.
However, protesters maintain that they will not leave these residences until the two leaders are gone.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is due to resign on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tweeted his resignation on Saturday, but did not confirm the date of his resignation.
The resignation marks a big win for the protesters, but the future of 22 million people struggling to get the bare necessities like fuel and medicine remains uncertain.
Here’s all you need to know about the political chaos in Sri Lanka.
Why are the protests happening?
Experts, pointing to a series of government decisions that exacerbated the external shock say the crisis has been boiling for years.
Murtaza Jafferjee, chairman of the Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based think tank, said over the past decade the Sri Lankan government has borrowed massive amounts of money from foreign lenders to finance public services.
This boom in borrowing coincided with a series of blows to Sri Lanka’s economy, from natural disasters like strong monsoons to man-made ones, including government bans on chemical fertilizers that wiped out farmers’ crops.
Facing a massive deficit, Rajapaksa slashed taxes in a doomed attempt to stimulate the economy. But the move backfired, instead, hitting government revenue. As a result, credit rating agencies have downgraded Sri Lanka to near-default, meaning the country has no access to foreign markets.
Sri Lanka had to use its foreign exchange reserves to pay off public debt, which led to a decrease in foreign exchange reserves. This has affected imports of fuel and other necessities, causing prices to skyrocket.
Moreover, in March, the government securitized the Sri Lankan rupee, priced according to supply and demand in the foreign exchange market. However, the devaluation of the rupee against the US dollar only exacerbated the situation for ordinary Sri Lankans.
The protests so far
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of demonstrators broke through security perimeters, gathering outside the president’s office and home.
A vivid video posted on social media shows demonstrators shouting slogans and singing protest songs asking for the President to resign.
Another photo shows a group of protesters setting up barbecue pits for grilling and cooking food.
But the most dramatic footage showed protesters swimming in the president’s private pool.
The Sri Lankan military took Rajapaksa on a naval ship minutes before demonstrators broke into his residence, reports said.
The president came down from a bedroom on the top floor of the palace and left the building minutes before demonstrators knocked down the complex’s first barrier.
Late on Saturday, protesters attacked Wickremesinghe’s home and set it on fire.
According to local medical staff on Saturday, the protests injured at least 55 people, including a lawmaker from eastern Sri Lanka. Three people were confirmed to have gunshot wounds. A video of soldiers shooting at protesters near the presidential residence was circulated on social media, but the military denied the firing.
Life in Sri Lanka right now
The country has suffered its worst financial crisis in seven decades, after its foreign exchange reserves plummeted to record lows, with dollars running out to pay for essential imports including food, medicine, and fuel.
For Sri Lankans, the crisis has turned their daily lives into an endless cycle of waiting in lines for basic goods, many of which are being rationed.
In several major cities including the capital, Colombo, desperate residents continue to queue for food and medicine, with reports of civilians clashing with police and the military as they wait in line.
In early July, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the country had less than a day’s worth of fuel left.
As trains become less frequent, travelers are forced to crouch in the cubicle as they commute to work.
Lack of fuel and skyrocketing food prices keep patients from going to hospitals. Rice, a staple in South Asian countries, has disappeared from the shelves of many stores and supermarkets.
The future of Sri Lanka’s government
Rajapaksa will officially resign on July 13, officials said after parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeiwardena convened an emergency meeting.
Wickremesinghe tweeted that he would resign “to ensure the continuation of power, including the safety of all citizens,” but did not give a date.
Four more ministers resigned over the weekend, the latest in senior officials’ resignations.
Analysts and observers now say that parliament speaker Abeywardena will assume the role of interim president until the next president is elected by lawmakers.
Abeiwardena said in a statement on Monday that a new president would be elected on July 20 after Parliament resumes on July 16.
Abeiwardena said the nominations would be presented to Parliament from July 19 and would have to go through a vote to elect a new president a day later.
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