Why Mobs Are Torching Sri Lanka Politicians’ Homes

why mobs are torching sri lanka politicians homes

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Sri Lanka is back in the news—for all the wrong reasons. On Monday besieged Prime Minister

Mahinda Rajapaksa

resigned after weeks of protests, amid a cratering economy and violent clashes between government supporters and antigovernment protesters in the capital, Colombo.

At least eight people have died in the violence, and some 200 were injured. Rampaging mobs torched more than 50 houses, including the ancestral home of the Rajapaksa clan, a family that has dominated Sri Lankan politics for nearly two decades. Rioters have set up roadblocks on the way to the airport to prevent politicians from fleeing the country.

The military has taken to the streets with orders to shoot violent protesters on sight, but it hasn’t stopped the unrest. President

Gotabaya Rajapaksa,

the former prime minister’s younger brother, may be the next to go. On Thursday, in a bid to create a national-unity government, the president swore in former prime minister and opposition leader

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

as prime minister.

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What happens in Sri Lanka matters beyond its borders. Both China and India vie for influence in the teardrop shaped island nation of 22 million people, which lies off the southern coast of India. It’s also a bellwether for a larger contest between democracy and authoritarianism in Asia. Under British rule, Ceylon, as it was then known, adopted universal suffrage in 1931, making it Asia’s oldest democracy.

Critics accuse the Rajapaksas of debasing Sri Lankan democracy by practicing nepotism, intimidating critics, and setting the majority community of Sinhalese Buddhists—about 70% of the population—against the Tamil ethnic minority as well as Christians and Muslims.

Even so, not long ago Sri Lanka was South Asia’s poster child, as a longstanding democracy with reasonably good economic and human-development indicators. Three years ago, the World Bank classified Sri Lanka as an upper-middle-income country with a per capita income of $3,850. (It has since fallen back to lower-middle-income status.)

Unlike India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka boasts near-universal literacy. Since finally quelling an almost 26-year-long ethnic Tamil insurgency in 2009, the country has enjoyed peace and its accompanying economic benefits. The travel guide Lonely Planet rated Sri Lanka as the world’s top travel destination in 2019. That year, despite Islamic State terrorist attacks on Easter that killed 269 people, 1.9 million tourists visited the island, earning it $3.5 billion.

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