By Ananda Jayawickrama –
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka with an overwhelming support from majority of the Sinhalease community in November 2019 and the same Gotabaya Rajapaksa was overthrown form the presidency and forced to leave the country by massive crowds led again by the Sinhalease majority in July 2022. The reason for the outright rejection of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime was his arrogant dictator-type decision-making and undemocratic practices, such as nepotism, corruption, ad-hoc choices and appointment of cronies like Ranil Wickremesinge to vital posts. Simply, arrogant and undemocratic ruling practices of Gotabaya Rajapaksa plunged the country into the greatest economic and political turmoil in its’ known history. Striking the harder hit people again, Gotabaya Rajapaksa paved the way for Rajapaksa family close ally Ranil Wickremesinghe to become the President threatening further deterioration in democracy and downplaying the wills and aspirations of people.
As the entire country realized that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was an utter failure, the intensity of the peoples’ struggle took a new direction transforming it to a Galle Face based island-wide continuous struggle known later as the Aragalaya which by all means a peaceful struggle to free the country from corrupt and incompetent Rajapaksas. Massive demonstrations fuelled by economic hardships and political instability due mainly to mismanagement, corruption, waste, nepotism, subjugation of democratic rights and all other sorts of evil of Rajapaksa family led all Rajapaksas except Gotabaya to leave their portfolios and ranks at least officially. Yet, Rajapaksas continued to ploy the state mechanism in order to maintain their power grid for safety of their lives, property and political future. Gotabaya Rajapaksa started bending the power structure to protect his brothers and relatives by appointing Ranil Wickremesinghe, an unelected member of parliament, to the post of Prime Minister. The appointment was made in a non-consultative unilateral process and against the parliamentary norm and practices. If Gotabaya Rajapaksa paid at least a minuscule tribute to parliamentary democracy and aspirations of people, he could have not appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. Throwing all democratic practices and public opinion into the dustbin, Gotabaya and other Rajapaksas opted for their best crony, Ranil Wickremesinghe and used state media machinery to justify their unwarranted decision by propagating that the offer given to Sajith Premadasa was declined, thus they have no option other than Ranil Wickremesinghe. What actually happened after July 09 was implementing plan B of Rajapaksas for the protection of their political dynasty. Ranil Wickremesinghe has a proven record of sending Rajapaksa misdeeds under the carpet and protecting them from even legal pursuit and helping their political comeback.
We all know that the last thing that Rajapaksas and Wickremesinghe would like to do is bearing a person like Sajith Premadasa in a responsible and powerful position of the state. Since March 2022 the time that public demonstration and agitation twisted to a new direction, Rajapaksas tried their best to keep Sajith Premadasa aside for obviously known reasons. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa briefly invited Sajith Premadasa to accept the Prime Minister post, he, Sajith Premadasa, acted with responsibility to ensure that any power transfer should target democracy and making aspirations of people a reality. Thus, Sajith Premadasa proposed a timeframe to deliver changes that people asking for and pushed for a workable mutual agreement. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intension was not genuine, as he actually wanted to deceive the country by taking time until things can be twisted towards Ranil Wickremesinghe. In this conspiracy, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinge joined hands against democratic norms and practices of the country and determined to work against the aspirations of people.
Though the opportunity was there to be the Prime Minister as a gift from Gotabaya and other Rajapaksas granted on the condition of their safety and protection, Sajith Premadasa declined that offer referring to his intention to protect democracy and deliver the aspirations of people. The decision clearly put his personal interests aside for national interests, which was viewed as a wasted opportunity by some of his own party men and others. But Sajith Premadasa had no regrets over the decision because his decision was purely on his moral consciousness to stand by the people and stand for the people. Even in present day politics where deceit, lies, conspiracies, games, underhand work, backstabbing, etc. are always playing a vital role in power hunger, Sajith Premadasa demonstrates an excellent example of exception and commitment towards people, true democracy and no deal politics.
Acid test for Democracy
The appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting president with the blessing of Rajapaksas led the country into another acid test of democracy. Knowing Ranil Wickremesinghe’s undemocratic, authoritarian and divide-and-rule approach of politics, public interest was to avert Ranil Wickemesinghe and push for a coordinated parliamentary effort by all opposition parties and Rajapaksa opponents even within the ranks of Pohottuwa.
Though Sajith Premadasa as the leader of the Opposition first announced his intent for the presidency, the decision was later revoked in an agreement with his party heavyweights, intellectuals, religious community and fractions of the Aragalaya paving the way for a candidate who could entice a good number of parliamentarians from Pohottuwa. Though rupees and cents, portfolios, hidden perks which were aspired by parliamentarians above their duty towards people and the country helped Ranil Wickremesighe to secure a clear majority in the crippled parliament, Sajith Premadasa’s intention and effort for democracy and aspirations of the people is remarkably admirable. While Ranil Wickremesinghe, a fantasy champion of democracy, found all sorts of misdeeds and ugly and sneaky deals to grab the power unconstitutionally and undemocratically, Sajith Premadasa, the opposition leader and the leader with a massive ground level support at present demonstrated spirits of a true champion of democracy and a real leader who left his own interest behind the interests of people. Sajith Premadasa’s decision to support Dulles Alahapperuma to block Rajapaksas backed Ranil Wickremesinghe illumines over JVP leader Anura Dissanayake’s self-motive and selfish decision to contest alone. Knowing that his contest will cement Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory in a close contest, Anura Kumara Dissanayake deliberately ignored timely need of the country and proved again the historical hypocritic nature of JVP politics, ‘if not me, no one from the progressive front’.
Another incident that shines Sajith Premadasa’s compassion and concern on masses and their struggle is as follows: When a group of thus belong to a political party assaulted him at Galle Face in May 9, Sajith Premadasa received legal advice to follow lawsuits. But he considered it as a conspiracy attempt of a small group and flatly rejected legal action citing such move will jeopardize and harm the genuine struggle of people. Given Ranil Wickremesinghe’s and Rajapaksas’ conspiracy against the aspirations and desires of people and hypocritic politics of some party leaders, Sajith Premadasa’s commitment towards democracy and delivering due meaning for sacrifices of the youth and masses warrants special courtesy as political leaders of this nature are infrequent in present day politics. Political party leadership are bestowed with the role of protecting democratic institutions and rights of people thus known as gatekeepers of democracy. Leaders who fail to respect for democratic principles and rights of people are destined to be politically defunct and isolated. A leader like Sajith Premadasa, on the other hand, who pays great honour and respect for democracy and stands for rights and aspirations of people at any personal political cost will and should be the hope of people and thus only the masses, not deceit, corrupt, money hunting politicians, can and could promote the political career of such leader to the highest level.
*Prof. Ananda Jayawickrama is a Professor in Economics at the Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Peradeniya. Currently, he serves as the President of the Intellectual Forum for People (Janathavadi Buddhi Mandapaya), a forum of university academics, researchers and experts. He is available for any clarification via email at email@example.com.