The country’s streets have been full of protests for the past few days and the central theme is ‘Gota Go Home’! Many who participated in protests were those of the 6.9 million who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be the new President of Sri Lanka, with renewed hopes of seeing quite a different country. The protestors included young men and women who wanted to see a difference in politics. As a Presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised various proposals from election platforms. However, it is unfortunate to see what has happened today with wrong advice given to the President where the whole country is in total disorder.
People are faced with many problems today – electricity problems, gas, milk powder etc., where the cost of living is ever rising and commodities are not available even at a price! Petrol prices go up every week. Is it not strange that government ministers not affected by fuel hikes? The average family cannot afford even to have one meal a day. Fuel, kerosine and gas queues extend up to several kilometres. The Mahanayake Theras of all four Chapters have warned that the ‘Sangha Convention’ will object if the political leadership ignores implementing the proposals to resolve the country’s present crisis. Therefore, it is not surprising to see many citizens, including young children parading and shouting the slogan ‘Gota go home’, including the entire Government.
An independent group of 58 legal and medical practitioners released a ‘step towards change’ demanding that the President resign, paving the way for an interim government with a successor President. The national portfolios and an equal number of State Ministers representing all political parties say that the President should leave immediately in response to demands in Article (1) (b) of the Constitution that provides for the resignation of the President, and Parliament to elect as President, from one of the members for the unexpired period in office.
They suggest that a caretaker government should function for a maximum period of one year. The interim cabinet should include qualified people with unique skills and of the highest integrity. Concerning the National List members; they should resign to pave way for professionals of the highest intergrity. In addition, the 20th Amendment must be rescinded and provisions of the 19th amendment with modifications necessary for democratic governance should be introduced.
On 17 April 2022, the President appointed a new set of Ministers, excluding all Rajapaksas, with the exception of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Addressing the new Cabinet, the President was humble enough to admit his recent mistakes (without blaming anyone) and promised to correct himself. He backtracked by self-criticising his policies and promised the new cabinet would provide chemical fertilisers to farmers again in the next ‘Kanne’. Ali Sabry decided to retain the Finance Ministry to negotiate with the IMF.
Blood is thicker than water
The first mistake the President did was to include so many Rajapaksas (kith and kin) in cabinet. Secondly, his so-called advisers gave him ill advice. Many MPs protested when his younger brother Basil Rajapaksa was absorbed into the Cabinet and given reigns to run the country as Minister of Finance. In the English there is a saying; “blood is thicker than water!”
Some political parties are hellbent on a political agenda and arouse the public so that all 225 Parliamentarians should ‘ go home!’ However, it is astonishing that some MPs accuse each other without any specific proposals to save the country from the present calamity even in parliamentary debates! Non-political elements, which include housewives, ladies carrying babies and young children, entertainers, sportspeople and the whole gamut of protesting people genuinely say that they do not want to suffer in this manner!
The Rambukkana incident confirms the behaviour of protesters. There are various versions of the incident, and there is no doubt that new development is increasingly occurring among the protesters. There is also a specific team who are hellbent on violence and causing damage to property which goes against peaceful protests.
On one side, the Government says it would take steps to ensure that diesel, petrol and kerosine will be distributed without any delay and plead with the protesters not to attack, set fire, and obstruct bowsers transporting fuel. An eye witness told the Magistrate who performed the inquest regarding the Police shooting at Rambukkana on 19 April that he heard gunshots beforehand. Another eyewitness is willing to identify the shooters. The public will have to wait until a full report is released.
Protesters have every right to demonstrate when the Government denies them and when they are severely affected by the current economic disasters. Still, they should not attempt to set fire to bowers full of fuel, which can cause enormous damage to the environment. Some eyewitnesses say that the Police did ignite a three-wheeler. Still, some protesters are causing damage to property or blocking the roads by burning tyres, etc. It leads to protests being diluted, stale, and lose their purpose of protesting. It will make life difficult for ordinary folk. The latest is that the new Minister of Power and Energy ordered the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) to provide security to fuel bowsers transporting fuel immediately after the incident at Rambukkana on 19 April.
The people’s protests will continue until the present Government backs out. On 21 April, SLPP MPs decided to continue with the current Government under Mahinda Rajapaksa. The entire protest maintains that the Prime Minister should also resign. Unless there is some form of immediate settlement, Sri Lankans won’t have a country to govern or share their opinions.
By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando