By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2813

Sri Lankan revolt topples rulers

The movement on the streets of Sri Lanka must prepare itself for greater battles to come
Issue 2813
Protesters picture climbing a wire framed tower with a flag

Sri lankan protesters storm the presidential palace (Picture: Alamy)

The simmering rage of people in the streets of Sri Lanka has finally boiled over, sending the country’s rulers into panic.

In defiance of a ­government curfew, thousands made their way to the capital to join a monster protest in Colombo last Saturday. They commandeered busses and lorries that still had fuel, and packed into trains that could still run. Once in the capital they joined hundreds of thousands of others furious at economic collapse and political corruption.

Together they demanded that “Gota Must Go”—a reference to the president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his family of government ­hangers on.

In the centre of town, demonstrators built impromptu barricades to stop the police and military from breaking up the protests. They even captured a water cannon, throwing the cops out of its cab and ­writing “give our stolen money back” on its side.

Not far away protesters smashed a commandeered military truck into the last gate between themselves and the president’s mansion. Hundreds of people flooded in, gleefully occupying the luxury home that Rajapaksa had left in a hurry.

“Within two hours of starting, we were inside the house,” said Nuzly Hameem, who helped start the initial protest camp Galle Face Green back in April. “It still feels unreal.” Within minutes of entering the mansion, some protesters were swimming in its pool while others worked out in the gym or lounged in the bedrooms. Riffling through draws, one demonstrator proudly displayed what he said were a pair of the president’s underpants.

From the apparent safety of a Sri Lankan naval vessel at sea, Rajapaksa announced that he would resign this Wednesday. By the evening the ­swarming rebels had moved on to the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house, which they set ablaze to cheers and chanting.

He too was forced to announce that he was ­prepared to step down in favour of a government of national unity. Sunday turned into a day of celebration. Deepa Ranawara, her husband and their two children were among those enjoying the festive atmosphere. 

Laughing, Deepa said she was unable to stand because her legs ached so much from walking 15 miles to join the protesters. “Still, we are celebrating the event that happened here,” she said. “People have suffered too much. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen in Sri Lanka.”

“We eat maybe two times a day now. We don’t even think about fish or meat,” she said.

The carnival atmosphere is well deserved, but cannot last. The economic crisis is deepening as supplies of almost every type of essential goods runs out. And politicians and the broader ruling class are desperate to regain the initiative.

There is talk of a national government involving all the main parties, and perhaps fresh elections. The main aim of any new administration will be to quell the protests and make a deal with the International Monetary Fund that will involve huge cuts and privatisation. All political parties are committed to this process. None can be counted to stand up for workers, small farmers and fishers, and the poor.

That’s why it is vital that the movement that brought an end to the Rajapaksa dynasty prepares itself for even greater fights ahead.

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