Eternal Vigilance, Price of Liberty

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The recent resignations, first of SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa as Premier, as well as his Cabinet on 9 May, followed, two months later on 14 July of younger brother Gotabaya as President, is a reflection of ‘people’s power’ (PP).

In Sri Lanka’s 74-year history of independence, only three leaders have succumbed to PP. They are Premier Dudley Senanayake due to the 1953 Hartal and now, the brothers Mahinda and Gota.

Globally, however, there are a number of cases, mainly dictators, succumbing to unarmed PP. In recent times, the first was Iranian dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, seven years later, Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and in 2011, the ousters of three North African and Middle East dictators, beginning with Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and ending with Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.

The Shah of Iran was a puppet of both the UK and the USA, responsible for his advent, by disrupting Iran’s peaceful elections in 1953, which, if allowed to have run its full course without interference by the UK and the USA, the Shah would never have seen the light of day and probably by now Iran would have been a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country. Meanwhile, both Marcos and Mubarak  were puppets of the USA.

In the local context, the ousting, first of Mahinda, followed by Gota, saw the emergence of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, originally as Premier and subsequently as President, with the backing of the SLPP, which has 145 out of a total of 225 MPs in Parliament. Wickremesinghe, constitutionally, is empowered to serve the remaining two years of Gota’s term.

It was record high inflation, shortages led by fuel and cooking gas, due to the country being bereft of US dollars robbed by the Rajapaksa family, resulting in days and miles long queues for such essentials and the ban on chemical fertiliser imports (since removed) which scarred harvests led by rice that led to the fall of the Rajapaksa brothers.

However, since the election by secret ballot by Parliament of Wickremesinghe as President last month, though inflation is still at record highs, shortages and queues for essentials have eased considerably due to better management. These developments have brought about a sense of political and socioeconomic stability in the country. Sri Lanka is currently negotiating an IMF loan to tide over its foreign exchange crisis.

Post 14 July, there have been at least two attempts to destabilise the SLPP Government of Wickremesinghe. The first was on 9 August and the other as recently as Thursday. Both attempts failed to achieve their desired objectives of being launching pads, seeking the removal of Wickremesinghe, in attempting to replicate ‘9 May’ and ‘9-14 July’, where the latter culminated in Gota first fleeing the country and subsequently resigning from Singapore, while the former saw Mahinda fleeing ‘Temple Trees’, one of two of his official residences in Colombo, to the Trincomalee Naval Base, from where he, together with his Cabinet, resigned.

While previously, peaceful protesters, in  bloodless struggles, ‘hounded out’ Mahinda and Gota due to their insensitivities to people’s hardships, brought about by their looting the country’s dollar assets, coupled  with infantile policies, similar to what took place in Iran, the Philippines, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya previously, nonetheless, there is another section of the masses, swayed by ideology and not necessarily for socioeconomic reasons, adamant on ousting Wickremesinghe, despite a semblance of normalcy in the country, compared to the chaos that prevailed, previously.

Therefore, the masses as a whole now need to be  vigilant in respect of the machinations of a few, who, using a section of the gullible youth of this country as pawns, are attempting to overthrow Wickremesinghe’s SLPP Government, before it may successfully turnaround the economy, brought to the brink because of the Rajapaksas’ greed and infantile policy making.

Wendell Phillips’ quote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” may currently be apt to describe Sri Lanka.