WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sri Lankans' outlook on their economy turned pessimistic for the first time in 2021, presaging the country's worst economic crisis in over 70 years. And, as their economy headed for free fall, Sri Lankans' confidence in their national government evaporated almost overnight. Both trends do not bode well for the Rajapaksa family that has been in power in Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Quick Summary: Protests over Sri Lanka's worst economic crisis in decades turned deadly last week when police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing one.
For weeks without incident, thousands of Sri Lankans have taken to the streets to protest the economic crisis and to call for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whom they blame for mismanaging the economy during the pandemic. Although Rajapaksa has admitted to making some mistakes, so far, he and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, have resisted calls to step down.
Last week's shooting took place as Sri Lanka is seeking emergency financial help from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help it pay for imports of food, fuel and medicine. The country also announced two weeks ago that it would default on more than $50 billion in foreign debt.
Sri Lankans' Outlook for Economy Turns Grim: For the first time in the history of Gallup polling in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans in 2021 were more pessimistic than optimistic about the direction of their local economy. In the first round of three surveys that started in October, a new low of 40% said their economy was getting better and 48% said it was getting worse.
Sri Lankans only soured more as the year drew to a close. By the time the third survey started in late November, just 25% said local conditions were getting better and 61% said conditions were getting worse.
Confidence in National Government Tumbles to Record Low: Until 2021, Sri Lankans' confidence in their national government had never fallen below a majority, but this faith was tested last year. In the first survey, which started in October, a record-low 50% of Sri Lankans expressed confidence.
However, in the next two surveys, confidence tumbled even further -- and by the end of the year, the majority of Sri Lankans did not have confidence in their national government.
Implications: Before food and oil prices increased in the wake of the Ukraine war, Sri Lankans saw their country headed for a crisis. Although President Rajapaksa removed several family members from his Cabinet to appease protesters and Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed changing the constitution to clip presidential powers, these moves will likely hold little sway in the wake of the police shootings that have reignited widespread protests across Sri Lanka.
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