Damitha’s Fight and Sajith’s Protests

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Ranil Wickremesinghe Government’s tough stance on the anarchists continues. On 9 September 2022 Lahiru Weerasekera – another who was at the forefront of this movement to oust the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration was arrested. Two days earlier the Police arrested popular actress Damitha Abeyratne. She was leaving for home after yet another protest. 

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa took exception to Damitha’s arrest. He visited her while in Police custody. Later, he used the valuable time in Parliament to register his protest over this arrest. 

“She was requested to be present at the Police Station on the 9th,” Premadasa explained the circumstances that saw her arrest. However, she was arrested when taking part in a protest opposite Diyatha Uyana.”

Speaking further on the matter, the Opposition Leader noted, “Following these events, we cannot even fathom standing by the Government. We request the Government end the suppression.” 

Damitha’s arrest

Opposition Leader’s stance on Damitha’s arrest is quite perplexing. The actress was arrested on the specific charge of forcibly entering the Presidential Secretariat on 9 July 2022. This is an illegal act. No one has the right to force themselves into even the humble abode of another. In this case, Damitha was part of a crowd that rowdily crashed into the State’s highest office. Therefore, there cannot be any confusion over the legality of her arrest. 

Though marketed as ‘peaceful protestors’, those who thus illegally entered the State buildings behaved atrociously. It is noteworthy that these ‘protestors’ were armed with long poles and other objects with the clear motive to bodily harm anyone they opposed. On top of their target list was the then Executive President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife. 

Their vandalism and desecration of the premises have been extensive and appalling. While it will take millions of Sri Lankan rupees to repair the damages, it is questionable if the historic value can ever be restored. It is indeed ironic that those who took to the streets over mismanagement and misappropriation of tax payers’ money have left the tax payer with such a large bill and irrevocable loss.

Opposition leader’s most pressing problem

Therefore, it was amoral and hypocritical of the Opposition Leader to speak against Damitha’s arrest. As MP Namal Rajapaksa queried, the Opposition Leader surely cannot be condoning this illegal behaviour. It is contentious that at a moment of economic crisis as at present, the Opposition Leader should prioritise Damitha. While it is true that she is an accomplished artist, she behaved as an illiterate. 

As a politician aspiring to be our president, Premadasa would not want this kind of anarchy to be established as the norm. It is noteworthy that these protests did not begin with the shortages of essentials. It began with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s gazette to ban agrochemicals. 

Before that, there were few nudges to flaunt the health regulations to counter the spread of Covid-19 virus. While there were few incidents, it fortunately did not come to life. 

The agrochemical ban had its own problems, which are besides the point for this discussion. It is noteworthy that certain political elements including the JVP and its breakaway faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) along with west funded civil societies capitalised on the real concerns of the farmers to engineer protests across the Island. The then government however managed to ignore these protests. 

When the Covid-19 immunisation programme commenced, the health workers engaged in trade union action. This threatened to cripple the vaccination programme but was saved by the military. 

With the military’s intervention, the vaccination programme was successfully implemented and the country was set to recover from the pandemic. It was at this juncture that the teachers and principals agitated over their salary anomalies – an issue that had prevailed for a quarter century. Against the better judgement of economists, this matter was resolved. This left a huge dent in the State coffers and a surge of Covid-19 patients by the unbridled protests. 

The anti-government protests over shortages of essentials and imports as milk powder began a few months after resolving the teachers’ salary anomalies. As this grew in strength, our country’s ailing economy became weaker. The then Government’s efforts to revive the tourism industry that collapsed in the Easter Attacks’ aftermath were challenged by these protests. 

Premadasa a beneficiary of RW’s intolerance 

Premadasa must understand this new strategy of anti-government forces. This modus operandi, using real concerns and social issues, mobilizes people to negate the Government’s efforts to redress both immediate and long term issues. In effect, real concerns are used as a front to undermine that Government’s rule and power. 

Allowing these movements to gain traction by accepting it as ‘components of a strong democracy’ only makes the country ungovernable. Premadasa cannot be ignorant of this stark reality that was witnessed by recent events. 

Therefore, more than any other parliamentarian, Premadasa ought to appreciate the tough stance taken by the incumbent government. By disallowing these disruptive acts from gaining legitimacy, this government is also ensuring the rights of its successors to govern without the threat of anarchy. 

Does Damitha have a point? 

Speaking at the last protest before her arrest, Damitha’s remarked that corrupt parliamentarians are taking advantage of the Wickremesinghe government to continue with their self-serving agendas. Therefore, she vowed to continue with the protests. 

However, if these MPs had committed fraud or acts of corruption, the place they must be sent is not home but prison. As such, those who make these accusations must take the clear course and bring the weight of the law on these individuals. It is not an impossible feat, especially as the significant support of the law fraternity is with Damitha’s fight. 

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is on record that he is in possession of evidence of these acts of corruption. Lawyers have shown their unequivocal support to those who took cudgels against the Government. Then, their hesitancy to actually enact the law against these accused is questionable. 

Instead, the only effective outcome by engaging in these protests is the harm it brings to our country. These protests that disrupts daily economic activities causes uncertainties in investors’ minds. In effect, these protests kick the midriff of our gasping economy. 

While harming our country in this manner, it is futile to cry for milk powder. Talented artists like Damitha must put their creative minds to envisage viable solutions that will strengthen our economy.  Finally, Damitha appeals from fellow supporters not to allow their victories to be wasted. However, the Aragalaya is without any victories. This is evidenced by their continued protests. While they did change the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, they could not install the government they wanted. The lion share of the new government is filled with the same faces of Gotabaya Rajapaksa government. 

The only system change we saw was that the Executive President was selected by parliamentarians and not citizens. Until then, the strength of the current system was that every citizen over the age of 18 years had a say in electing the country’s leader. This voice of the masses was silenced by the Aragalaya. This is not a victory. 

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

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe