20 April, 2024


Anti-Terrorism Act To Prevent System Change

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” ~ John F. Kennedy

If there is one lesson that students of history and politics could learn from the experience of post-independence Sri Lanka, it is the incompatibility between democracy, economic justice, and social cohesion on one hand and a socio-political and economic system built on the edifice of ethnoreligious nationalism on another. That system, whose origins go back to the 19th century, has pushed the country to a state ridden with multiple crises or “polycrisis”, which demands a new system and a new constitution based on secular, democratic and egalitarian principles rather than finetuning the current one by smoothening its rough edges. President Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) is committed to maintain the status quo while prioritizing the economy for immediate attention. 

It is one year since the aragalaya youth detected this critical issue, assembled in Galle Face Green, and called in one voice for a system change through peaceful and democratic means. Because they did not have the confidence on the current leadership to bring about that change, they also raised the slogan, “No 225”. In other words, they wanted a new leadership with statesmanship qualities and greater integrity to regain the lost united Sri Lankan paradise. For nearly four months they agitated with those demands until the old guards who stood to benefit from the existing system lost patience and decided to end the aragalaya by any means. It was ultimately left to RW, the legally chosen President after the previous one ran away from the country, to send those youth back to their homes or prison. Repression was RW’s answer to the call for peaceful change, and the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) that succeeds the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is to strengthen his hands to protect the status quo.   

To achieve that objective RW has chosen two strategies: repairing the economy and ensuring the longevity of his presidency until he chooses the time for an election. To repair the economy, he sought the advice and assistance of IMF, and as Minister of Finance his 2023 budget was a prelude to what was to unfold once IMF releases its financial aid. A policy bankrupt opposition, with no alternative solution to offer meekly endorsed that budget. If there was any resistance it came from NPP/JVP which believes in system change. IMF’s remote-control economy is now fait accompli, and RW can claim credit for it.  

Regarding the second target, the President has decided not to provide any opportunity, until he chooses the time, for the people to express their support or opposition to his program. The saga over the postponement of Local Government Elections (LGEs) and RW’s fear of NPP’s rising popularity are evidence enough for his determination to delay LGEs or any other elections. There is also plenty to worry about the economy itself despite some improvements. Although the release of IMF’s first tranche of $300 million of the allocated $2.9 billion, and some degree of stability in the monetary sector had helped easing few of the economic difficulties encountered by the people, the prospects of a steady and sustainable growth in the long-term are riddled with too many and imponderable hazards.  

To start with, the all-important debt restructuring negotiations with private creditors are yet to begin and no one knows how they will end or how hard would they be on Sri Lanka’s capacity to handle the negotiated burden. Before that the economy is expected to contract by around 4.3% this year, according to the World Bank, which may worsen if the current banking crisis in US and Europe develops into a financial crisis. Add to that are supply constraints arising from the war in Europe and climatic disasters which could turn the financial crisis into an economic one that would dash any hopes of a quick and less painful recovery.  While referring to the global situation, the Head of IMF, Kristalina Georgieva said recently, that “with rising political tensions and still-high inflation, a robust recovery remains elusive,” and “this harms the prospects of everyone, especially the most vulnerable people and vulnerable countries.” Sri Lanka is among the most vulnerable of the countries in the region at present with millions of vulnerable people, and the ensuing economic difficulties, despite IMF’s short-term remedy, could reignite public anger against the regime.

RW is not unaware of these risks and uncertainties although he and his team are basking in the glory of limited improvement from IMF remote-control. But he has repeatedly warned the nation that he would not tolerate any organized violent protest to sabotage his program. ATA is born out of this warning. 

Incidentally, it is worth noting that ATA is based largely on proposals made in 2018 when RW was the Prime Minister but was not enacted into law because of widespread concern over its deleterious damage to human rights and democracy. The previous PTA received worldwide condemnation on the same ground and UNHRC demanded its repeal. ITA is only a disguised version of old PTA, and it has raised the same concern from the legal community, civil society groups, human rights bodies, organized labour, and universities.

The problem with ATA and PTA is their reference to terrorism, a phenomenon that defies any legal definition.  As Sean Roberts argues, “many international actors seek to maintain a vague definition of the phenomenon because such imprecision allows them more latitude to use the label selectively, omitting it to shield those non-state militant movements they support and employing to condemn those they oppose” (The War on The Uyghurs, Princeton University Press, 2020, p. 11). In the case of ATA also such instrumental usage of the term allows the executive president RW to arbitrarily order arrest and incarceration of any group, movement or individual that organize and raise opposition to his program. This is certainly a pathway to end democracy, which is already under attack, and ushering in of dictatorship.  RW, tutored in the art of politics by his grand uncle JR is certainly proving to be a wolf in sheepskin. 

ATA prevents system change to occur peacefully and makes violent change inevitable. It is time the aragalaya youth to sit back and take stock of what it has achieved so far apart from replacing GR with WR and MR with DG. No doubt, some improvement in economic conditions have occurred, but a few flowers inside the glass window does not mean there is spring outside.  

*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, W. Australia

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Latest comments

  • 7

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” ~ John F. Kennedy”
    I am flabbergasted ! The very left-oriented and aggressively anti-establisment advocate of system change, Dr.Ali, couldn’t have chosen a a more bizarre source for his quote. John F Kennedy, son of a prominent political fixer, the architect of the Bay of Pigs, serial philanderer……….Isn’t the author aware that the Kennedy family is rather less deified than they were in 1963?
    The Kennedys personify the family bandyism , hypocrisy, and corruption that Sri Lankan political families are accused of. So, what System Change, exactly?

  • 4

    old codger

    “The Kennedys personify the family bandyism , ….. “

    Well didn’t Kennedy shared a woman named Judith Campbell Exner with Mafia boss Giancana?
    Wasn’t Joe Kenndy the head of Kennedy clan actively bootlegging during the time of Prohibition?

    Now SJ is going to have a field day.

  • 6

    The closet fascist is finally coming out.

    • 7

      Dr. Ameer Ali

      Have you noticed the Sinhala and Tamil new year suddenly has become Sinhala Hindu new year. I wonder when and why the Tamil New Year converted to Hindu religion. Is the Hindutva active among the Tamils?
      Please refer to the first line of Editorial of Sunday Observer

      • 7

        Hindu New Year! All Hindus do not celebrate this New Year so how can this be a Hindu Year? This is an ancient Thamizh festival and the Chingkallams have borrowed it and as usual, do not want to acknowledge this truth and are now trying to concoct and distort history. Just like what they are doing to the ancient Thaamizh Hindu and Buddhist sites in the north and east. Concocting history, and falsely claiming them as their own, as they think they can do so and get away with it. There is the fake Archaeological department that is becoming increasingly the handmaiden of Chingkalla Buddhist racists and the occupying Chingalla armed forces in the north and east to help them These monuments were there long before a people called Chingkallam and Chingkalla language came into existence 7AD. Lots of ancient Thamizh were Buddhist too until Buddhism become extinct in India and in the Thamizh areas of the island by 10AD.

        • 6

          Trying to claim ancient Prakrit and Thamizh Prakrit found in these monuments as Chingkalla Prakrit, when there was no Chinkalla language during this era is the biggest joke. Prakrit was widely used in Buddhism including by the ancient Thamizh Buddhists. Yes, this ancient Thamizh New Year is still celebrated in many parts of South Asia and called by many names but this is a reflection of the remanent of the ancient Dravidian Indus Valley civilisation and it is also celebrated in large parts of SE Asia due to the influence of the ancient Thamizh Chola rule. All these acts are in my view a deliberate attempt to destroy and erase the history, and monument of the Thamizh on the island and their homeland and the immense influence they had on the formation of the Chingkalla people, their language, culture and festivals. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Vijaya story is fictional and that the Chingkalla people are largely descended from the Thamizh both indigenous who converted to Buddhism and created a new language and identity with the arrival of Buddhism down south and from South Indian Thamizh immigrants and invaders and this is seen in their DNA, food festivals but they do not want to acknowledge this truth.

  • 5

    I’m talkin’ about RW.

  • 5

    What really changed in Sri Lanka after replaced Rajapaksas with Ranil and IMF granted loan. The amount of IMF loan was just 2,9 billion dollar of which only one fourth is given. The govt given one third of the given money to settle some of India’s debt. The total amount of debt is now increased. Of course this helped to borrow more to increase the debt. The cost of some essentials reduced but not to the the level that was before the Ranil. I understand there are some deals have achieved between USA and China to create their security zones in some parts of the country. There is no evidence of improvement of employment of unemployed and further shortening of labour force. There is no increase in salaries to match the cost of living or inflation. The political situation is still highly unstable and it may possible for further dragonian measures or otherwise full dictatorship where people have to suffer even harder than ever. Opportunists are waiting for opportunity and even Rajapaksas may come back again. This country had a history of bloodbath frequently and history never fails.

    • 4

      It is time that all concerned about the direction toward a constitutional dictatorship through acts like ATA should be focused on the main game and how to stay the course without distraction? As we explain under another article in CT, what is necessary for all forces that resist this tendency is to unite and deliberate on the future course of action to win electorally.Develop a joint program of action with like minded parties,groups and entities. Pool energies together for a common cause rather than finding fault with each other. The enemy shouold be identified clearly i.e. hegemonic state actors that try to impose its will on the masses. A democratic society should have an executive that reflects popular opinion about who the rulers are? Mainstream parties have vested interests and they are full of family and friend circiles looking for material benefits from the system manipulation.

  • 1

    Ever since independence , Srilankans are struggling to come to terms with their
    adopted mother Democracy . Centuries of Foreign Rule means to the locals ,
    generations came and went . New laws came in to rule us , protect us and also to
    jail and if necessary kill us . Rest of the world too . We do have enough laws to
    live with and also we have Holes in the Law only for the Rulers , For Bending to
    suit them , like The PM getting elected to the executive . Easy Crossovers without
    licence from the voter or the party . Free of obligation to resign , moral , ethical or
    legal under no circumstance ! You can engage in a shoot out with another fellow
    MP right in front of a sizable crowd and report back to duty as if nothing happened
    unless the victim leaves someone behind to shout , scream and fight like hell for
    justice ! Not really common to the eyes of Law Respecting many countries !
    What else are we short of as far as The Laws To Protect Th Innocent Citizens are
    Concerned ? I recommend there should be rules to Restrict Public Nuisance from
    Their Own Roof Tops ! Animals like Elephants and Monkeys Must be Allowed on
    High Roads and Places like Galle face to looking for Food ! And IMF must be
    Generous about these New Developments !

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