In the wake of mass protests that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign in July 2022, Sri Lanka’s interlocking economic and governance crises remain acute. Austerity measures, introduced in part to win financial support from the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors, have brought additional economic hardship for many Sri Lankans already struggling with collapsing living standards. Forthcoming economic reforms could provoke renewed protests. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reliance on Rajapaksa allies for his parliamentary majority will likely constrain fulfilment of promises to increase financial accountability, strengthen rule of law institutions, reduce impunity and corruption, ensure the rights of Tamils and Muslims, and address the legacy of the 1983-2009 civil war. Building on Crisis Group’s work during and after the war, we advocate for international humanitarian assistance, as well as inclusive governance reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and support a lasting, equitable peace.
Sri Lanka's interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group lays out what the EU and its member states can do to mitigate the risks of needed reforms.
Tensions spiked as govt claimed funding shortfall, forcing indefinite postponement of local elections; police crackdown on pro-election protesters killed opposition politician and injured over dozen.
Govt invoked financial crisis, forcing election commission to postpone local polls. Ahead of local elections scheduled for 9 March, cabinet 13 Feb approved President Wickremesinghe’s proposal to limit govt expenditure on credit to five “essential” categories, which excluded election expenses. Election Commission next day was forced to suspend postal voting and 24 Feb announced vote’s indefinite postponement. Election monitoring groups, Bar Association and opposition parties condemned govt’s decision, while Wickremesinghe 23 Feb confirmed “we have no money” for elections and denied vote was ever properly scheduled. Police 20 Feb dispersed people protesting move in capital Colombo led by main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party; opposition National People’s Power member 26 Feb died from injuries sustained in police attack on protest previous day that injured over dozen.
Govt marked Independence Day amid dissent and widespread strife. Amid high inflation and severe recession, govt was roundly criticised for spending $500,000 on military parade to mark 75th anniversary of independence on 4 Feb; police violently dispersed Colombo sit-in protesting cost. Tamil communities in north and east same day held demonstrations demanding end to “occupation of the Tamil homeland” and began four-day march from northern city Jaffna to eastern town Batticaloa. Govt employees continued protests over income tax hikes. Further compounding hardship, Ceylon Electricity Board 15 Feb announced increase in electricity prices by average of 66%, which threatens collapse of small and medium-sized businesses. Efforts to secure financial bailout continued: notably, media reports 17 Feb claimed International Monetary Fund was considering approving bailout before China agrees to join debt restructuring deal.
Protest leader released amid UN Human Rights Council session. Authorities 1 Feb released on bail student activist and protest leader Wasantha Mudalige after five and a half months of detention under Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and other laws. UN Human Rights Council same day began scheduled Universal Periodic Review; many states praised govt for its commitment to reform and reconciliation, while U.S., UK, Canada, New Zealand and Norway urged govt to repeal PTA.
[Sanctions for Sri Lankan officials] are a timely reminder that continued impunity will bring increasing costs to the government’s international reputation.
The ongoing crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka by the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe is worse than any under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.
Sri Lanka still matters a lot to China, but other things also matter. In particular, they seem to not want to set a precedent in Sri Lanka of offering debt relief that ot...
China has gotten a lot more involved in the politics of Sri Lanka and in backing the government in a much more public way.
Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, but it’s compounding everything.
The president has tried to weaken [Sri Lanka's Prime Minister] in many ways, including taking the police under his control. So it's entirely possible that the police woul...
Originally published in The Hindustan Times.
Crowds of ordinary Sri Lankans stormed the presidential residence on 9 July, compelling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan lays out the background of these events and looks at what the immediate future may hold.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in nationwide protests amid deepening economic woes and increasing political volatility. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan analyses the implications of the crisis, which could have lasting political and economic effects.
Sri Lanka’s president has named a veteran anti-Muslim agitator to head a legal reform task force. Critics have called the move “incomprehensible”, but it is readily understood as a way to divert discontent among the government’s Sinhala Buddhist base toward an embattled minority.
The UN Human Rights Council will soon discuss Sri Lanka, where the new government has scotched truth and justice efforts related to the 1983-2009 civil war. The Council should demand accountability for past crimes but stress that Colombo’s present policies may spark further deadly conflict.
The politically-motivated Presidential Commission of Enquiry has been distorting politically-connected criminal suspects into victims, and investigators and legal reformers into criminals.
Twice postponed because of COVID-19, Sri Lanka's parliamentary election finally took place on 5 August. The SLPP's electoral victory should be understood not simply as a result of dissatisfaction with rival party UNP, but of the failure of its internationally-backed liberal reform agenda to gain lasting traction with Sri Lankan voters.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government appears headed for a constitutional crisis that could lastingly damage Sri Lanka’s political institutions and aggravate conflict risks. Firm and concerted action by the country’s international partners could help break the impasse, which comes amid rising authoritarianism and anti-Muslim propaganda.
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