Jakarta – Many Indonesians will feel a sense of deja vu upon watching the current events in Sri Lanka, where economic and political crises are hitting hard and leading the country of 22 million people toward a failed state. Certainly the global recession has played a role, but the greed of the Rajapaksa brothers and their cronies for power and money for nearly two decades started the fire.
The country has declared its bankruptcy, failing to make payments on its foreign debt for the first time in its history, and now is begging for bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund. A severe humanitarian crisis is looming and it may take the nation many years to emerge from the turmoil.
Indonesia endured such a predicament more than 24 years ago. The financial crisis that swept across Asia left the Indonesian economy, which prior to that time had won praise from many international agencies and pundits, crumbling. Massive demonstrations erupted and forced then-president Soeharto to end his 32-year dictatorship amid demands for sweeping reforms and the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism that characterized the regime.
Learning from Sri Lanka, Indonesia should refrain from complacency, or else history will repeat itself.
Angry protestors stormed and occupied the official residence of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and burned down the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in their attempt to force the president and his family members to relinquish their posts. In 1998, thousands of demonstrators occupied the House of Representatives in their final push to dethrone Soeharto.
Sri Lanka will have to go through a painful path toward recovery once the political dust is settled. Like in Indonesia many years ago, the people's ability to oust the president and his powerful family could be a starting point to rebuilding the nation.
The Sri Lankan parliament, which is controlled by the family, will elect a new president next week. The Rajapaksas may be defeated for a while, but their power and influence will stay and continue to disrupt the country until they make a comeback.
The Rajapaksas comprise Mahinda, 74, the patriarch, incumbent President Gotabaya, 71, Basil, 69, and Chamal, 77. All of them have enjoyed prestigious positions in the government. Reports of systematic abuses of power, human rights violations and corruption have been rampant under Rajapaksa's authoritarian government.
Sri Lanka is now seeking a bailout from the IMF to repay its debts that total US$51 billion, many of which fall due soon. Inflation is skyrocketing, its currency is nosediving, while fuel, food and medicines are disappearing from stores in the island state.
The IMF's bailout will be very bitter, humiliating and very costly for Sri Lanka. In comparison, Indonesia secured $43 billion in bailout funding from the IMF in 1997, and as a consequence it had to carry out wide-ranging economic reforms. Indonesia repaid the IMF bailout in October 2006.
We can only hope that with the help of the international community, Sri Lanka will get back on its feet and make sure that it will not let another Rajapaksa govern the country.
While showing sympathy to the Sri Lankan people for the plight they endure, Indonesia should learn from its South Asian neighbor that we cannot let our leaders treat the country like their personal property.