Can We Move Forward with this Political Gang?

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By early this year our foreign reserves were in serious trouble. In December 2021, our foreign reserves were about USD 3.1 billion. Our foreign debt commitment for 2022 was almost USD 7 billion. 

When the forex ran out, this Government’s downfall began. This Government, that weathered incredible challenges, not ensured by its predecessors, collapsed. It is unfortunate that the economic meltdown coincided with the political fallout.

Superiority-Inferiority Complexes

Though the Gotabaya Government was formed with a two-thirds majority, it was not a single party government. Just as with any other alliances, this too had its friction. The majority-minority complex ran deep between the SLPP – the party with the most number of seats – and other parties – most with only one MP.

Ultimately, both ends forgot their original purpose. Instead, they engaged in a battle to prove their respective importance. Neither won the battle and are now political orphans.

Bad Partnerships

Having the SLFP on board proved the old proverb, putting snakes under the sarong and complaining about their bites. As a partner of the failed Yahapalana Government, the SLFP did not want their predecessor to succeed.

Only for political survival, they partnered this Government. SLPP’s victory was a foregone conclusion. Yet, the SLPP was not just aiming for a victory but for a two-thirds majority. Thus, it was for the numbers that the SLFP was accommodated.

This did not assure the Gotabaya Administration their support. They enjoyed the successes of the Government’s endeavours as the curtailing of the pandemic. Simultaneously, when opportunity presented, they were critical and were always threatening to withdraw their support.

Seniority over Capability

The bane of our country is that its political arena is composed of politicians who have gained seniority status by simply hanging on to the Parliament. Whether they served in the Government or Opposition is immaterial. Their political careers’ lifespan is the only qualification that matters. They are as culpable as their political leaders for the misadventures they put the country through, but somehow manage to escape from taking responsibility. They bring little to the table but as seniors they must be appointed to crucial ministries as education and foreign affairs.

Wijayadasa Rajapakshe’s contention of not getting the Ministry of Justice is a case in point. Even after he eventually got the ministry that he so hankered, he had his own agenda that has nothing to do with the country’s needs.

Failure of the Justice Ministry

From the legal front we have many issues. Lack of facilities and archaic laws have translated to delayed or even the injustice of not delivering justice. Even heinous crimes as murder and rape take years to reach a verdict. Astonishingly, about 96 percent of crimes is said to go unpunished.

After the Easter Attack the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted that Sri Lanka is without laws to detain those who had engaged in terrorist activities elsewhere. Curiously, this preposterous lacunae is yet to be addressed by His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith in his fight for victims’ rights.

Another absurdity that precipitated with the Easter Attack is the ease with which various extremists are able to introduce and practice their own laws in contravention to the laws of the land. Sharia Law is such an example. Under the Sharia Law one maybe even stoned or flogged to death or beheaded, limbs can be amputated or the same injury inflicted upon the guilty party.

However, the Sharia Law that is not endorsed by our constitution has not received the same opposition from civil societies that our death penalty gets. When Azath Sallay in a public forum advocated the Muslims to follow “our laws” disregarding the law of the land he was arrested for inciting comments that could cause distress among communities. However, subsequently he was released without any charge.

Leaving the Legal Framework Bare

Despite these obvious issues confronting our legal front, Wijayadasa’s attention is elsewhere. Even when he served in this capacity during the Yahapalana era he did not address this issue. It was he who informed the parliament of the rising Islam extremism. Yet, he did not work to bring laws against it. Even after he received the portfolio from President Gotabaya his only objective was to tinker with the Constitution so as to take away the president’s executive powers.

The fact that the country is in the midst of an economic meltdown did not excite him to explore ways to ensure the legal frame supported the country to face the crisis. At the very least he could not come up with a legal definition to differentiate a peaceful protestor from a rioter to a terrorist.

He could not bring the necessary laws to protect the Police and Security Forces as law enforcers to execute their responsibilities without fear of persecution. Consequently, SSP of the Rambukkana Police is in remand prison notwithstanding the fact that he prevented a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

This absence of protection for executing duty was duly noted by both the police and the armed forces. Thus, as anarchists burnt, looted and vandalised parliamentarians’ private properties in May, they refused to take the necessary action to prevent it. Even young MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala was lynched to death in broad daylight.

Both Wijayadasa and Ali Sabri, as Wijayadasa’s predecessor, is responsible for the events that transpired on 9 July 2022. Those who broke into the President’s House, Presidential Secretariat, State building that housed the President’s Media, PM’s private residence, official residence and Office may have been unarmed but were not peaceful. They were violent.

They did not even spare Wickremesinghe’s pet dog, who did not pose any threat as he was secured with a leash and harness. Yet, he was beaten to death. Not a single animal rights’ organization has condemned this act.

Had they found PM, his wife or President or his wife, would they have been spared or made to suffer a similar fate as that innocent, harmless dog? Yet, because the rioter and even the terrorist is placed under the same category as a peaceful protester, neither the police nor the armed forces can take the necessary action to take control of the situation and so ensure the safety of all.

Rights of Protesters and Protested

In this regard, both American Ambassador Julie Chung and President of the Bar Association Sri Lanka (BASL) Saliya Peiris are very much to be blamed. Chung took Office as the US ambassador to Sri Lanka in February, 2022. Her arrival coincides with the beginning of public unrest over the shortages of essentials.

US’s infamous track record of inciting public uprising against democratically-elected governments to pave way for unpopular western stooges immediately puts them high in the list of suspects of instigation. In 2015, the then State Secretary John Kerry shamelessly admitted to have funded USD 600 million to topple three governments in which Sri Lanka was one.

The significance of Wickremesinghe replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa was not lost on Sri Lankans. Wickremesinghe, darling of the West, during the Yahapalana Government had a good rapport with the incumbent Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power.

Given this background, one has to be forgiven for speculating on the role the US might have played in ousting Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Already the grapevine is buzzing with allegations that the US funded this uprising as well. Chung’s non-stop tweeting on upholding protesters’ rights is not helping to alleviate this gossip. As Chung’s purpose in Sri Lanka is to strengthen bilateral relations and not as a commentator of internal affairs, she should set the record straight.

When the Police prevented the anti-government protesters from demonstrating at the Galle Fort Cricket Stadium, Peiris was quick to issue a statement condemning the Police action. He warned suppressing people their voice could lead to dire consequences. Peiris, who was the former head of the Office of Missing Persons utterly failed to execute that entity’s objectives and served his term timidly. However, as the BASL President he is very vociferous. Just as Chung’s tweets, Peiris too issue regular press releases advocating protesters’ rights.

Yet, both Chung and Peiris along with all others that promoted the protesters’ rights are mute over the hooliganism, vandalism, desecration and theft of State property by these so-called peaceful protesters. It must be underscored that it is not only the rights of protesters that need to be protected but also that of the protested.

Same Wine, Same Bottle

Mismanagement of our foreign affairs was the main reason for the downfall of both Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration and the Gotabaya Government. Both times, the ministry was in the hands of the same minister.

Last time, the blame was placed on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s loyalist Sajin Vaas. This time, the blame is apportioned to Milinda Moragoda. However, if the minister cannot take responsibility for his ministry then he should not take that portfolio – especially of one as crucial as the Foreign Ministry. Yet, this would only result in the leaders having to deal with one more thorn.

President Gotabaya has resigned after having lost political support. It is now up to those as the aforementioned to steer our country out of the current crisis. Thus far, their attention is not on the deteriorating economy but on power grabbing. Hope is bleak when the very ones who wanted to abolish the presidency are now fighting to be the next president.

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(The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ceylon Today)

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe