By Ameer Ali –
Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa are defiant and determined to stay put where they are against call for them to Go Home from island wide aragalaya. Similarly, “No 225”, had panicked sitting members in the parliament and turned them into a bunch of desperados trying every possible means to extend their career on taxpayer money for the best part of the two remaining years. They are desperate because many of them know that they have little or zero chance of returning to parliament were an election held soon. This in essence explains the hectic inter-party bargaining in the parliament sparked by aragalaya. The declaration of emergency for a second time by the President also underscores this defiance and desperation.
But the question facing the nation is, how long would this impasse go on and at what cost to the economy, which is already gasping for breath. Economic stability and revival cannot be achieved without political stability. IMF assistance, foreign and local investment, new budget and other remedial measures cannot be undertaken without approval from the parliament and that parliament is currently dysfunctional and in disarray. In the meantime, there is no sign of aragalaya losing its vigour. On the contrary, there is every sign of it gaining momentum with added strength from the entry of trade unions and undergraduates. As economic conditions continue to worsen even housewives and farmers would be encouraged to enter the fray and turn aragalaya into a popular uprising if not a fully fledge revolution. All this because of the defiance of GR and MR. What is so worthy of these two brothers?
Minister Ali Sabry described the 2019 tax cuts a “historic mistake”. Wasn’t GR who made that historic mistake? Wasn’t he who single handedly ruined the country’s food production by banning importation of chemical fertilizer in the name of green farming? Wasn’t he who commandeered the Central Bank to support his policies and planted his handpicked men and woman to the monetary board? Wasn’t he who advised government officials that his circulars should be taken as orders? Wasn’t he who militarized civilian administration? The parlous state of public revenue and widening budget deficit, increased prices and shortage of food, and escalating inflation and falling real income are his gifts to the community. Wasn’t he advised and warned by experts from outside his viyathmaga cabal of the dangers of his actions? He showed total disrespect to their advice and blindly went ahead with the so-called alternate route to development that ended in disaster. He has lost all credibility, and how could anyone with sanity justify his continuation as President of this country?
In the same vein, what could justify the continuation of MR as Prime Minister? If there is one thing that future generations of Sri Lankans would commemorate about MR it would be the white elephants that he had created with borrowed funds. Mattala Air Port, Hambantota Stadium and the Lotus Tower among several others would speak eloquently how this man wasted millions of dollars for the sake of personal prestige. Similarly, the express ways and high ways which were constructed in the name of development are now practically empty of traffic unable to recover even the operating cost of these mega thoroughfares. Above all, what fortunes did he and his family amassed out of these white elephants deserve a separate and independent investigation. Why did MR not take any court action against his secretary who stole money by using the PM’s bank card, if not for the fear of the culprit spilling more beans in the court about his boss’ ill-gotten wealth? Aragalaya also demands investigation, not only into his clan’s wealth but also of other ministers and parliamentarians from his political party. On the whole, behind MR’s defiance to resign is the mortal fear that a new regime that would come to power in the wake of aragalaya’s demand for systemic change would do everything within its means to recover the loot. How else could one end corruption in the country that has grown like cancer and bankrupted the nation?
The prevailing impasse reveals that a majority of the 225 parliamentarians would wish to continue with the status quo. One reason for this wish is the that they too would be made accountable by the next regime for all what they did while in power. The new generation that is agitating for change should not be dismissed as an irresponsible and romantic mob of youngsters who would give up their protest once food, fuel supply and other essentials are guaranteed by whatever means. That seems to be the thinking in the ruling circle. They are, on the contrary, an awakened community of matured and responsible adults who are knowledgeable enough to understand the various forces in the past seventy odd years which operated to bring down the country’s economy to its nadir.
Galle Face Green, unless turned into a Sri Lankan mini or mild Jalianwala Bagh by GR’s gendarmerie, should usher in a New Sri Lanka governed by representatives who would be intellectually more capable and morally superior to the majority of members in the present legislature. They would be expected to dedicate themselves to build a united and genuinely democratic republic, free of any ethnic, religious or language bias, and lead the nation to a new, just and prosperous destiny. Sri Lanka’s multicultural polity should once again thrive as it did in pre-colonial past.
However, there are hurdles and hidden dangers to overcome. Already one former minister, Sarath Weerasekera, has tried to rekindle that dreadful Sinhala Buddhist nationalism by maligning Galle Face protest as being infiltrated by Eelam seekers and saboteurs of Buddhism. How preposterous could this claim be given the social amity and mutual respect that is reigning in that place? Another ex-minister had tarnished aragalaya as a sinister plot hatched by outsiders. These malicious accusations are intended to create a political climate to justify the use of force to clear the venue. But the world is watching the developments. GR would be foolish to unleash violence on an unarmed and peaceful clamour for change.
Removal of GR and MR is a precondition to any economic reparation. The desperados in parliament should realize this fact and as their final act take steps to pave the way for a smooth transition before vacating the seats.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia