COLOMBO: A pot of milk boiled over outside the presidential office in Colombo on Thursday to the cheers of thousands of Sri Lankans who defied their annual tradition of returning home, wanting just one person to go: The country’s embattled leader.
Boiling a pot of milk is the most important ritual of Sri Lankan New Year. It is usually done with family members to attract prosperity. But this time, instead of enjoying the new year’s festivities in their hometowns, people remained in the capital to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, as they blame him for the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
Mass protests against the president, known to many as Gota, began in Colombo last week.
Angry over skyrocketing inflation, stalled imports of fuel and medicines and hours of power cuts a day, residents have transformed the streets in front of Rajapaksa’s office into a protest camp dubbed “Gotagogama,” or “Gota go village.”
“We want President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down,” Malith Lakshan, who has been protesting at the site, told Arab News.
“We want him to step down, we want his family out of politics.”
The Rajapaksas are the country’s most influential political dynasty. The president’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is serving as prime minister.
Their younger brother, Basil Rajapaksa, was Sri Lanka’s finance minister until he resigned last week.
The prime minister said on Wednesday he was ready to meet the protesters, but he did not announce when.
“We won’t stop until they go,” Pathum Bandara, another demonstrator, said. “We will keep coming back here.”
A font designer, he is one of those who installed a board calling the protest site “Gotagogama.” The name has since reached other cities as well.
“We didn’t expect it to go viral,” he said with a laugh.
“Now there are Gotagogamas in Ratnapura, Badulla and even Kandy. We think this movement will spread across the country.”
Bandara believes the movement to oust the government is now unstoppable.
“It is coming from the people,” he added. “There is no organizer and no leader.”
Rajapaksa was elected president in 2019, mostly with the support of the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority. But now, even his electorate has turned its back on him, as the island nation of 22 million people is about to default on its debts and many can hardly afford three meals a day.
The protest site has seen an influx of all kinds of people offering their support and solidarity.
Artists, puppeteers and amateur musicians have been entertaining the crowds with their performances.
Gagana Atapattu, an artist manager, said he came to help a friend who was distributing bottles of water among demonstrators.
“I haven’t left since. People kept coming and handing over donations of water and food to sustain the protestors. How could I leave then?” he told Arab News.
“I have never seen anything like this before.”