Last Updated: July 11, 2022, 08:30 IST
The past few months have been unprecedented for Sri Lanka – from a never-seen-before economic crisis and shortages to a consistent uprising and now the protests seeking ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Leaders of Sri Lanka’s protest movement said on Sunday they would occupy the residences of the president and prime minister until they finally quit office, the day after the two men agreed to resign leaving the country in political limbo.
Thousands of protesters stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home and office and the prime minister’s official residence on Saturday, as demonstrations over their inability to overcome a devastating economic crisis erupted into violence.
Rajapaksa will quit on July 13, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he would step down to allow an all-party interim government to take over, according to the Speaker of parliament.
As this crisis unfolds, a look at the rise and fall of the villain of the moment – Rajapaksa:
- November 17, 2019: Gotabaya Rajapaksa is elected as the president
- November 21, 2021: Rajapaksa’s elder brother and two-time President Mahinda is appointed as the PM
- April 4, 2022: Rajapaksa invites opposition leader Sajith Premadas to become the PM. Sajith rejects the offer
- May 9: PM Mahinda is forced to resign after unrest, as financial crisis aggravates
- May 12: Struggling to find a PM, Rajapaksa convinces Wickremesinghe to take up the Premiership. With conditions, he accepts premiership on that day
- May onwards: People are annoyed that Wickremesinghe did not emphasise on the resignation of the President as a precondition to form an interim government when he was invited to accept the post of the PM. Pressure mounts on Wickremesinghe as there is no relief despite him taking charge. People believe that had Wickremesinghe not accepted the premiership, Rajapaksa would have stepped down from presidency.
- The friend for all seasons: Wickremesinghe is accused of aiding and abetting the corrupt Rajapaksas every time. When Wickremesinghe came to power in 2015, he had rescued Mahinda Rajapaksa while he was defeated and sent home. Mobs were looking for him. Wickremesinghe offered a chopper to Mahinda to go to Hambantota, his hometown.
When Rajapaksas came to power in 2019, they rescued Wickremesinghe from the Central Bank bond scam. There was no probe, as assured by Rajapaksa.
When Rajapaksa faced an unprecedented challenge from the people, he was almost ready to step down, while his brother Mahinda stepped down from Premiership on May 9. However, Wickremesinghe came and “rescued” Rajapaksa and retained his presidency by accepting the premiership.
- Crisis worsens: It fails to help the country as the fuel crisis becomes intense, people stand in queues for food and the country comes to a standstill. Fifteen people who stood in the queue have died so far.
India, which was offering humanitarian aid, cannot continue anymore. The government seeks an IMF loan, which is facing roadblocks due to the political instability.
They are asked to form an all-party government, but ruling party SLPP blocks all chances and picks the new ministers who should work with the leadership.
Frustration among the public reaches its boiling point.
- July 8: Rajapaksa imposes a police curfew. The same day, lawyers fight and prove it was illegal to halt a public protest march
- July 9: The government removes the curfew notice at 8 am. Using social media, the public organise a massive ‘do or die’ protest to oust Rajapaksa and Wickremsinghe. Over 2,00,000 travel from various parts of the country to reach Colombo and march towards the presidential palace. They enter his palace around 11 am.
- 9 am onwards: Tear gas and water cannons are used on protesters, leaving many injured.
- Around 11 am: Rajapaksa flees through the back door.
- Around noon: People enter the presidential palace and the presidential secretariat.
- 4 pm: Wickremesinghe says he would step down, but form an interim government. He says he is willing to resign as the Prime Minister and make way for an all-Party government to take over.
- 7 pm: Journalists covering PM’s residence protest are assaulted and it is aired on all TV channels.
- 8 pm: The PM expresses grave regret over the assault on journalists.
- 9 pm: Protesters break into the private residence of Wickremesinghe and set it on fire.
- 10 pm: Rajapaksa tells the Speaker he will resign on July 13. The Speaker informs the public.