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JUMPING THE SHIP

Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa escapes to the Maldives

Sri Lanka's former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves after he was nominated as a candidate for the presidential election during the Sri Lanka People's Front party convention in Colombo
REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
  • Harish Pullanoor
By Harish Pullanoor

Co-editor, Quartz India

Published Last updated

This post has been updated.

Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa today (July 13) escaped to the neighbouring island nation of the Maldives four days after angry citizens, protesting against economic mismanagement, stormed his palace in Colombo.

His wife and a bodyguard are reported to have been flown, along with him, on an Antonov-32 military aircraft from Colombo to the Maldives early this morning, NDTV reported. He was received by Maldivian government officials at Male’s Velana airport, the report said.

Rajapaksa is expected to announce his resignation today. That will make him the first sitting Sri Lankan president to quit.

Meanwhile, in a repeat of the events of July 13, protesters overran the compound of the prime minister’s office in the country’s capital today. On that day, angry Sri Lankans had also set fire to prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s private residence.

“The grounds have now been taken over by protesters who are gathering in celebration, following a standoff with armed police at the gates of the property. Protesters could be seen on the balcony of the property, lighting firecrackers and waving the Sri Lankan flag, according to witnesses,” CNN reported today.

Immigration officials stopped Rajapaksa from fleeing

The Sri Lankan president was yesterday stopped by immigration officials from leaving the country. They “refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport, while he insisted he would not go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from other airport users,” NDTV reported.

Seventy-three-year-old Rajapakse, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Sri Lankan army, is the second of the four Rajapakse brothers who have wielded immense political power over Sri Lanka since the bloody civil war ended in 2009.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa joined the army at 21, served for two decades, retired and moved to the US.
His entry into politics came when his elder brother, Mahinda, became president in 2005.@AlasdairPal‘s profile of the war hero brought down by protests:https://t.co/3MQbzR2Sb8
— Devjyot Ghoshal (@DevjyotGhoshal) July 13, 2022

His elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the family’s political flagbearer of sorts, resigned as prime minister in May. He then fled to a naval base for security reasons. Basil Rajapaksa, the youngest of the brothers quit as Sri Lanka’s finance minister last month. Their eldest sibling, Chamal Rajapaksa, was the country’s minister of irrigation till April this year.

The Rajapaksa family’s fortunes, which had soared following the victory of the country’s defence forces against the Tamil separatists in 2009, dried up with the tanking of the country’s economy over the past few years.

Sri Lanka’s sinking economy took down the Rajapaksas

Reeling under a severe economic crisis over the past many months, Sri Lanka has witnessed large-scale unrest.

Protesters have been seeking the removal of the Rajapaksa brothers. Despite their overthrow, however, the economy could not be resuscitated. In May, the country defaulted on its external debt. Inflation hit 54.6% in June.

Prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, who had taken over from Mahinda Rajapaksa, declared last week that country was bankrupt.

“…inflation rising to record levels, food prices skyrocketing and government coffers running dry. While the government blamed the pandemic for the debilitating economic situation, experts have said it was caused by political mismanagement and racking up debts with China,” CNBCTV18.com reported.

Talks have been on with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package while neighbouring India has also chipped in with considerable funds and material supplies, including fuel.

High Commission categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports that India facilitated the recent reported travel of @gotabayar @Realbrajapaksa out of Sri Lanka. It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka (1/2)
— India in Sri Lanka (@IndiainSL) July 13, 2022

On July 9, hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Colombo, hours after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was moved to the army headquarters. By evening, Wickramasinghe’s private residence in the city was set ablaze by a section of the protesters.

President Rajapaksa’s resignation today is now expected to make way for an all-party government that will be in charge of wading the country out of this unprecedented crisis.

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