Behind the crisis in Sri Lanka – how political and economic mismanagement combined to plunge nation into turmoil

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa formally resigned on July 15, 2022, having earlier fled the country amid widespread protests in the Southern Asian nation.

The man who replaced him, Prime Minister and now interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe, is likewise facing calls to go amid political and economic turmoil.

Although the drama escalated over a matter of days – during which the presidential palace and the prime minister’s residence were both occupied by demonstrators – the crisis is years in the making, argues Neil DeVotta, professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University.

The Conversation U.S. asked DeVotta, who grew up in Sri Lanka and specializes in South Asian politics, to explain what brought about the crisis and where the nation of 22 million goes from here.

Can you talk us through the latest events?

What happened in Sri Lanka was really quite revolutionary. For the first time in the country’s history, you had a president resign – and in the most humiliating manner.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had earlier announced his intention to step down but did not do so immediately, because once he did that he would lose his presidential immunity from prosecution. Instead he fled the country, first going to the Maldives and then to Singapore. Some claim he may now be looking to get to Saudi Arabia – all of which is somewhat ironic given that Dubai, the Maldives and Saudi Arabia are Muslim states, and during his tenure in power Rajapaksa stood accused of encouraging Islamophobia to bolster his lock on power.

The catalyst behind all this was a protest movement. Demonstrators have since left the president’s and the prime minister’s official residence, but the protest movement has only partly succeeded. They wanted Rajapaksa and his brothers gone. But many also wanted the ouster of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

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