Sri Lanka’s Protest Movement Began With Candlelight Vigil

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They traveled by bus, train, bicycle, or foot. Some of them stayed for months on Colombo’s public beach, while others struggled to find fuel supplies.

The movement to force out Sri Lanka’s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, began with small candlelit vigils and culminated in a takeover last week of the president’s mansion and office, and the prime minister’s official residence.

But the movement’s aims are disparate. There is no clear leader or strong affiliation with any party. Students, trade unionists and Catholic nuns were among the protestors who stormed President Obama’s mansion. Also, middle-class professionals, farmers, and monks were among those involved. Volunteers set up food banks and kitchens for protesters.

Lawyers involved in the protest demanded that Mr. Rajapaksa and the rest of his cabinet resign.

This plan calls for the revision of the tax policy as well as a new constitution. Nuzly Hamed, one of the founders the Colombo protest camp, believes that an interim government must be established first to provide immediate food, fuel, and medicine relief to the Sri Lankan population and to restart negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in order to get an economic bailout. He said that the presidential and parliamentary elections could be held in six months, once the country stabilizes.

Other protesters want to maintain the movement’s momentum by pushing for constitutional change — and a clean sweep of government — before anything else.

Jhancasie Chatty, a protest organizer in a tent outside the prime minister’s residence on Tuesday, said the protesters want to “change the whole system.”“This is not enough, changing the heads. We want to reform the entire system, including the constitution and the culture of governance that holds politicians accountable to the citizens. That has not happened so far,” he said.

The split represents the difficulties in finding consensus about a way forward among the protesters, the political opposition, and lawmakers in Sri Lanka’s parliament, the majority of whom are members of Mr. Rajapaksa’s party.

Lawmakers met with protesters at a forum they organized Tuesday in Colombo amid talk of a possible coalition between Sajith Premadasa, the opposition leader who lost to Mr. Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka’s 2019 presidential elections, and Dullas Alahapperuma, among the first members of the ruling party to call for Mr. Rajapaksa’s resignation.

Jeevan Tanjaman, a lawmaker aligned with the ruling party was skeptical that the coalition would win enough support from parliament or the general public.

“If we want to go for elections, we need to steady the ship until then. It is clear that Gota would like Dullas to be their representative. But I don’t think he has the support in parliament. And how far the people will accept him is questionable,” he said.

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