Students throw their weight behind island-wide protests

As Sri Lanka suffers its worst ever economic crisis, waves of protests and mass uprisings involving all sectors of society, including students and teachers, have sent shock waves through the government and thrown the country into a deep political crisis.

The entire Sri Lankan cabinet resigned on Monday 4 April and on Tuesday, around 43 Sri Lankan parliamentarians left the ruling government coalition to function as independent MPs, leaving the government without a majority in parliament. Previously, in the 225-member Sri Lanka parliament, the government and coalition had a 146 majority. After the walk-out, it was left with 104 members.

Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Ajith Cabraal, also seen as responsible for the economic crisis, quit amid a deepening political crisis.

Academic activities have been interrupted at several universities as lecturers and students boycotted classes and joined people from political parties, civil society organisations, and other young people and their parents in island-wide protests where the chanted message was: “Go Home Gota” – a call for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down and end what is regarded as the corrupt political system in the country.

The #GoHomeGota social media hashtag has been trending on most social media platforms since late March.

Universities launch protests

Students at the universities of Sri Jayewardenepura, Peradeniya, Colombo, Ruhuna, Wayamba and Sabaragamuwa, and Eastern University and South Eastern University in Oluvil town launched protests. Students from several private universities, including Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, also joined protests.

Youth protesters have planned another round of protests in Colombo in the coming days. Thousands of students from across Sri Lanka are expected to gather in the capital on 8 and 9 April to protest the government’s failure to address a spiralling economy and introduce educational reforms promised during the election.

The country’s main university student union, Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF), said it planned a protest in Colombo on 8 April under the banner: “Let’s oust the government! Let’s reverse the system!”

“People should rally, organise and fight to oust both the government and the system,” said IUSF convener Wasantha Mudalige.

“The people have to pay the price for a failed regime that has been in place for seven decades,” he said, referring to the period since independence in 1948. “People are now suffering due to power cuts, oil and gas shortages. People are rallying in search of answers to the crisis. The idea of the majority is to overthrow the government. For that we must be organised.”

According to a Central Bank report, Sri Lanka recorded negative economic growth (-3.6%) in 2020, the deepest recession since gaining independence from Britain. The Asian Development Bank’s annual flagship economic publication forecasts Sri Lanka’s economic growth will be 2.4% in 2022 and improve marginally to 2.5% in 2023.

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