Military violence under the newly sworn-in president of Sri Lanka bodes poorly for an end to protests that drove out the preceding administration for corruption and economic collapse.
On Friday, local time, military forces raided a demonstration at Sri Lanka’s presidential secretariat ahead of the stated withdrawal date by peaceful protestors, who had already broken camp outside the prime minister’s official residence. Sri Lanka has both a prime minister and a president, and the newly sworn-in president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is a six-time prime minister hostile to the protestors who drove his predecessor from office, calling them “fascists”.
Economic collapse and outrage over political cronyism brought civilians to the streets in a brutal, months-long protest beginning in April. The island nation’s inflation rate is now over 50 percent, and a range of food, fuel, and medicine shortages are joined with a lack of essential services, along with daily power cuts. Experts and locals alike blame financial mismanagement and corruption in part by the preceding president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore and resigned earlier in July. His brother, Mahinda, resigned from his post as prime minister in May.
International lenders like the IMF, the World Bank, the G7, India, and China stand ready to offer difficult deals to mitigate Sri Lanka’s financial disaster. But the power vacuum in government needs to be filled to complete and implement these measures.
Wickremesinghe’s antagonistic approach to protestors, which this Friday saw violent action taken against civilians struggling to be heard for months, draws from this appeal to order. But protestors view Wickremesinghe as a continuation of the corrupt status quo. Whether military crackdowns will serve the short-term interests of economic stability, or if anti-cronyism protests will persist until the region’s recent authoritarian turn is better reversed, remains to be seen.