23 February, 2024

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From Demand For Systems Change To Systems Break

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

A year after the protest movement took off into a mammoth public display of the popular desire for change, it appears to be no more. What appears on the streets on and off is a pale imitation of the mighty force of people rich and poor, from north and south, who occupied the main roads of downtown Colombo for more than three months. The government under President Ranil Wickremesinghe is leaving no room for the people to get on the streets again. This has been through a combination of both efficient and repressive policies that exceed those of the predecessor government.

The government has addressed the immediate causes that brought the people out on to the streets. The crippling shortages of vehicle fuel and cooking gas that caused long lines stretching for kilometers are not to be seen. There is enough to go around now as the demand for these basic commodities has dropped considerably following the tripling of their prices. There is an outward appearance of normalcy that belies the economic difficulties that the masses of people are facing. The three-wheel driver lamented that his monthly electricity bill of Rs 700 was now Rs 3200 which made keeping his refrigerator unaffordable. Government officers on fixed incomes are struggling to survive having pawned their jewellery and mortgaged their lands for survival. 

The government has also shown it is prepared to use the security system to its maximum. This has won some supporters especially among the upper social classes and ethnic minorities who are always worried whether mobs of the under classes will invade their neighborhoods and subject them to looting and violence. After becoming president, President Wickremesinghe showed his resolve in bringing the protest movement to heel by sending the police to break it up and arrest the leaders. Protestors have been warned that their protests should not inconvenience the general public. 

Those who do not heed the police guidelines have found themselves being tear-gassed, baton-charged and arrested. In contrast to the heyday of the protest movement a year ago, any voice of public dissent is liable to be quickly suppressed. A case in point would be that of the unfortunate hooter. As reported extensively in the media, a government minister who was laying a foundation stone for a religious shrine was hooted by a businessman who was traveling in his vehicle. The media reported that “the police acted swiftly, pursuing and apprehending the suspect. He will now be presented before the court for obstructing a religious ceremony.”  

Social Contract 

The contrast with what happened a year ago could not be more stark. The main slogans of the Aragalaya protests was to arrest the rogues who had bankrupted the country and compel them to bring back to the country their ill-gotten gains. The draft Anti-Terrorist law that has been approved by the Cabinet to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act is, in many ways, a more repressive law that will encompass a much wider swathe of social and political life. Clause 105 in it defines a “person” who can be taken into custody under this law to mean an individual, an association, organization or body of persons.” Readers of George Orwell’s classic novel of authoritarian government, “1984” would feel a chill if that new law is passed when they think of protesting against the government. 

A key demand of the protest movement last year was the demand for “system change.”  At its core this was a desperate call for a change of government that had bankrupted the country and accountability and punishment for those who had impoverished the people by their mis-governance, corruption and indifference to the people’s plight. Another terminology for “systems change” would be to say that the people called for a new “social contract.” The notion of a social contract between rulers and ruled was developed over four centuries ago in Europe by Enlightenment era thinkers such as by John Locke in England and by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France who gave the name “The Social Contract” to his 1762 book. 

The social contract theorists argued that people left the state of nature where without government life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (as described by their predecessor Thomas Hobbes). People entered into a social contract with those who would govern them. In terms of the social contract, the people would give up some of their rights and freedoms in exchange for protection and order by the government. In modern democracies, people elect their representatives who form the government of the day and look after the best interests of the people. But in March 2022, the people of Sri Lanka felt hat their government had not lived up to the social contract and demanded they leave office and return their ill-gotten gains.

Systems Breakdown 

Those who continue to come out on the streets in protest demand elections and also demand to know why the government has not made efforts to bring back the money that was stolen. What is visible at the present time is that most of the government members who were responsible leaders of the previous government continue to remain in positions of power, either frontally or behind the scenes. There continue to be allegations of corruption and abuse of power. In one appalling instance, two government ministers resigned from a watchdog committee they were appointed to. They complained that they were not getting the information they required to play their assigned roles. 

Sri Lanka has yet to address the monumental failure of government that took place in the early part of 2022 that plunged the country from a middle income level to a low income level. When the people went out on to the streets to protest and call for a “systems change” they were demanding that the government should step down and go. But it did not go and instead re-arranged itself and continues to be in power. Much to the chagrin of the protest movement, the government they wanted to go has grown stronger under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and is ignoring the demand for “system change” and those who call for local government elections which are overdue. 

Speaking to students at Harvard University last week through the internet, President Wickremesinghe made it known that the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s decision with regard to the elections. A confrontation involving the three branches of government would signify a “systems breakdown” in place of the “systems change” that people fought for a year ago. The president has also taken pride in announcing that the government will soon be passing into law the best anti-corruption legislation in South Asia in parliament soon. The president’s vision of sustainable political stability and economic recovery can hardly be a re-enactment of the Orwellian dystopia of 1984. If so, there needs to be a “systems change”, a plan for the future prepared in consultation with the opposition and civil society and a new “social contract” in which elections would be the first step. 

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Latest comments

  • 10
    1

    “From Demand For Systems Change To Systems Break”


    For whom the bell tolls? …….. For whom the system breaks, Jehan?

    Not for the working-class ……. it was always broken for them …….. they got nothing out of the “system” ………. other than progressively ever increasing misery …….. until starvation and death were staring them and their children in the face.

    I can sense ye unease, buddy ……. after years of freeloading and having it all your way …….. finally the “system” as you know it must be showing cracks …… and ye ruin must be starting to stare in ye face too.

    • 5
      1

      Nimal / Ad, this whole thing about systems / systemic change, systems / systemic breaks, social contract . . . . . . . are akin to a person suffering from a commonly prevalent chronic medical issue (Diabetes or Hypertension), not following recommendations and years after developing multiple complications, going back to his regular doctor, now with serious concerns questioning ” what kind of chronic medical issue that he/she is having”. Of course what ever Lankan politicians do , they always aim for the sky , why limit within South Asia, lets go for ” best in world, Best in Asia, miracle / wonder of . . . . . . . . . . .

      • 6
        1

        Other than the main ones , I have not gone through, the full list of IMF conditions to Lanka. Is there any truelly, unreasonable ones ?? Of course our politicians and many times people are like, those patients we see frequently in routine practice, unhappy and disagree with recommendations of their own doctors like restricted calories, cutting down extra body weight, avoiding sedentary lifestyle, quit smoking, cut down drinking, daily walk . . . . …. ( pretty much all , except for taking prescribed medications , some even that) . But sensible ones know what caused the preventable sickness in the first place. I’m sure there are plenty succumbing, blaming the treating doctors for their own NON compliance / stupidity.

      • 5
        0

        “the full list of IMF conditions to Lanka”

        chiv,

        We have been there 16 times before …… it’s a dead-end road.

        We are being loaded with more and more debt ……. most of which will end up in pols’ pockets. No one talks about accountability. …… Ranil is no thumb-sucking baby like Native: Ranil knows exactly what’s going on!

        A debt-trap we can never get out of – or the West will allow us to get out of ……. and lose their control.

        It’s a slow lingering death that Ranil made a little longer …….. and a wee little bit more comfortable.

        Ranil is the best palliative-care specialist in the whole damn universe!


        We know how to escape: I know many who just don’t know how to ……….. or have the opportunity/means to escape.

        I went and got – just like – one of Ranil’s suits and ties ……. at least there is a silver-lining: gotta always look on the brighter side!

        • 2
          0

          Nimal Fernando

          “Ranil is the best palliative-care specialist in the whole damn universe”

          However what is the alternative?
          Perhaps Ebola viruses, Ranaviruses, Saffronista Virsus, …….

          “gotta always look on the brighter side!”

          Yes being a stupid army man he does not know how, when, where … Karma is going to bite him. He knows he needs Ranil to protect him and his extended family. Ranil has already protected them many times.

  • 7
    3

    …..announcing that the government will soon be passing into law the best anti-corruption legislation in South Asia in parliament soon…

    My foot. Like RR said all are friends. They will be kept protected. RW make too many promises. Like SP said walk the talk… otherwise shouldn’t talk BS.

  • 9
    0

    “The main slogans of the Aragalaya protests was to arrest the rogues who had bankrupted the country and compel them to bring back to the country their ill-gotten gains.”
    It wasn’t rogues that bankrupted the country, but idiots. We have had rogues for ages, but it didn’t bankrupt us. The main reasons for the meltdown were:
    1. The “Modern Monetary Theory practised by Cabral and Lakshman. Cabral actually sold off our gold reserves.
    2. Gota’s habit of interfering with everything, including the Central Bank. He practically ordered money printing.
    3. Over-reaction to Covid, shutting down the economy for months, and totally killing tourism.
    4. Idiotic agricultural policies. Total banning of chemical fertilizer on the advice of ignorant monks and even more ignorant “doctors” affecting local food supply and export agriculture.
    The Aragalaya was a bit late. They should have started in 2019. Didn’t they read Gota’s manifesto?

    • 5
      3

      OC
      A sizeable section of the participants were motivated by the queues and shortages and when they seemed to die down, they took the first opportunity to throw in the towel.
      A thing like Aragalaya to succeed should have a clear agenda, which will be political to a considerable degree. “Gota Go Home” is a good campaign slogan, but not a good substitute for a political programme, about which the ‘sponsors’ were not very keen, in fact, rater hostile.

    • 2
      0

      old codger,
      Superficially speaking, rogues cannot be got rid of. They are born.
      Truly speaking, it is ‘they’ who bankrupted the country.
      Metaphorically speaking, the pith had been long rotting before the tree fell.
      Check with leelagemalli.

      • 3
        0

        old codger

        “Metaphorically speaking, the pith had been long rotting before the tree fell.”

        True, since or just before 1948.

    • 3
      1

      old codger

      “3. Over-reaction to Covid, shutting down the economy for months, and totally killing tourism.”

      What about other days, weeks, months, years, and decades, it was and is like shutting down the economy, …. the functionaries were and are not working, ….

      The country suffers from bottled up inertia.
      The bureaucracy believes and behaves as if its responsibility in most cases is to protect crooks, aid and abet Saffron crooks and thugs in their efforts/pursuits to grab land and power, expand Sinhala/Buddhist presence in all parts of Sri Lanka, tie noola on war criminals (forgetting the basic idea of Buddhist teachings and practices, Sila, Samathi and Prajna), if possible stir up racial and religious disharmony (in fact since or before independence), blessing and supporting fascistic ideology and fascists (like Nimal & SJ although both do not wear Saffron garments), … rewarding the most unsuitable person, political leaders and their supporters thrive on competitive racism, ….

      It was said truth was the first causality of war however in Sri Lanka truth died many many decades ago. There is direct connection/relation between not telling the truth and country’s destruction.

      One cannot destroy a country in one or two years, it requires a sustained attack on its structure, people, institutions, …..nation building, values, … Lets go back to 1948.

      One way of dealing with it is to break the state and rebuild it, not by replacing a crook or dumb by another,….

      • 3
        0

        Native,
        You must have heard the phrase “a perfect storm”. In this case, covid was accompanied by an idiot in charge, and more idiots who thought they could manage without going to the IMF. If just one of these factors was missing, we probably would have limped on as usual.
        “break the state”
        You can’t break a Sinhala Buddhist state. It would be against the ICCPR.

  • 4
    4

    I doubt now that the “Aragalaya call for system change is an artificial creation to change the ruling power by the world powers similar to Easter bomb. The world powers and their local agencies are playing their games with people’s stomachs.

    • 4
      5

      A
      You, make an interesting point: can you kindly name the world powers that you consider were behind the “Easter bomb” and “Aragalaya”?

      • 1
        5

        SJ,
        One is China and other one is USA

        • 1
          4

          That is interesting.
          You really are a minefield of false information.

  • 5
    2

    It’s getting ever more important for us to focus on the most important aspects of the issues that face us. Sometimes we have to own up to sending others off on wild goose chases.
    .
    Am I doing that here?
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64WW51eKLcY&t=3073s
    .
    Kumar Sangakkara: Former International Cricketer | Full Q&A | Oxford Union
    .
    Almost an hour; I’ve just seen it and heard bits. The guy is always interesting to listen to, but,…..
    .
    Or do we conclude that more straightforwardly “political issues” are more significant?
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=az0Gd1GRwPk&t=13s – 30 minutes
    .
    NPP Press Conference | NPP Srilanka | 2023.03.28 – Vijitha Herath in Sinhala, but I find that his English is creditable for Bandarawela MMV where he knew me.
    .
    We cannot understand everything that we see. This can be read in English: Handunnetti:
    .
    https://economynext.com/sri-lankas-npp-slams-imf-claims-board-approval-was-hurried-fearing-npps-popularity-116610/
    .
    This has become (unpaid!) full-time work for this village teacher named Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

    • 3
      0

      Dear S-M: Thank you for the link. To one question by the young girl referring to “Aragalaya”, Kumar said: “The doors are closing fast, and if get closed it would be very difficult to get it opened. So we have to work fast to prevent the doors from getting closed”

      Good observation by Kumar. He also said his wife has complained that he has not done “Enough” to S/L. Earlier he said, now after retirement, he sees a lot of “Opportunities” and in advising the audience he wanted them to use “Wisdom” through “Learning”. Unfortunately, no one questioned “What” opportunities he speaks of and “Wisdom” he would use to grab those opportunities in S/L.

  • 5
    0

    Are there any who were and are yet involved in the “Aragalaya” to examine the “46” conditions attached to the IMF Loan Agreement, because those “Terms” agreed upon by the Government go deep into “System Change” that they were claiming?

    For example, the “Anti Terrorism”; “Anti Corruption” and “Central Bank Reform” Legislations to be passed are all arising from those “Terms & Conditions” of the IMF Agreement. The President in tabling the “Agreement” wanted it to be passed in Parliament so that he will be equipped with a “Legal” document to go ahead with the proposed changes that aim to effectively “Change the System”.

    Are the “Aragalaya” participants aware of these “Changes” and would their “Silence” means “Approval” of the “Change of Systems” that would come within the next “48” months? Aren’t they aware that this President is being given a “Shield” to protect and implement the “Changes” and most definitely go beyond his “Personal Wishes”?

    It is time for all to make a serious note of this “EMINEN GRISE” as otherwise, it will be too late to fall a tree grown beyond its size.

    • 4
      0

      Thanks, Simon.
      .
      You’re right.

      .
      I will not examine the “46 conditions”. No time. Lack of knowledge.
      .
      However, there are authorities on these matters whom I trust. We are a team who will break up the task amongst us.
      .
      Inherent risks in this? Yes. But we’ve got to be realistic.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

      • 4
        0

        My Dear LM: Thanks. At the beginning of the clip, I knocked it off, because the subject of “Washi” is not one that evokes my interest.

        • 0
          0

          Dear Simon Mahath(m)ya,
          .
          The reason I am interested in it is the impact that it has had on the culture of Sri Lanka. It belongs to my fact-finding mission. No one who has lived outside understands why the people are being bullied under Mahinda’s rule.
          .
          Mahinda and others provoked the nation by performing sorcery all over the country (remember, valampuri, sensui, galthanna kapuwa etc). There are facts that Mahinda himself has worn more than 40 nooses and belts to cover parts of his body (including invisible parts of the body). Every time he’s on stage, you can’t believe it, he’s practicing hitting a ball the size of a tennis ball.
          :
          Please do some self research going back to the years before the Rajapakse tyranny and get your facts right. Also, during my childhood there was no witchcraft like today.
          I mean late 70’s to late 80’s. If you talk to bazaar people you can update about this rather than ignore my request. I have no interest in knowing why the Sinhalese man behaves like a stagnant youth as ever. He did not add a single question regarding his worshipers recently.

  • 6
    0

    In 1970 , I was living three lanes away from Ranil’s . Our kitchen was fired with
    firewood . People didn’t have fuel fired kitchens at the time . All suddenly
    changed. Whole country at a short notice went gas fired kitchens . People in
    rural areas watched TV powered with car battery . Majority of them now have
    electricity . And so are the other developments saw sudden sky rocketing .
    Well , countries need to prosper . But there’s a way for everything . Prosperity
    is not cheap ! It got to be hard earned and sustainable . System Break Up
    is a cancer since independence . One party obstructs the other party leading
    the country to progress under whatsoever ideology . Any system can work for
    our country with honest leaders who will not act as agents to outside pressure !

    • 2
      1

      WW,
      .
      are you sure, that it was in 1970 ?
      .
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_in_Sri_Lanka

      • 3
        0

        L M ,

        What is your question exactly ?

        • 3
          0

          ww
          It is a burning question– it is about fuel for cooking I guess.
          Kerosene had invaded most urban kitchens by then. But firewood was used where readily accessible.

          • 3
            0

            SJ ,

            I guess not , it should be about TV arrival . Kerosene came into
            existence in 60s but still many households disliked its smell ,
            so continued with firewood . I mean urban dwellers.

            • 1
              1

              ww
              Kerosene cooker technology was pretty good by 1970.
              There were good inexpensive kerosene stoves by then and I had one indoor in my house in the 1970s and smell was no issue. (Spillage by sloppy handling of the bottle is another matter. But rarely an issue.)
              It certainly was a blessing compared to firewood, but a little more costly.
              *
              When did the TV arrive (in 1978/79?)? And when did it reach the villages?

              • 1
                0

                SJ,
                “When did the TV arrive (in 1978/79?)? And when did it reach the villages?”
                Yes. But it didn’t reach the villages because the signal was so puny that it could barely cover Colombo suburbs. And of course a TV then cost as much as a used car!

              • 0
                0

                SJ ,

                Of course anything that makes life easier is a blessing . Yes ,
                TVs came in 78 and TV broadcast started 79 in my memory .

              • 0
                0


                When did the TV arrive (in 1978/79?)? And when did it reach the villages?”

                This led to my question above. I think it was much later it became familiar to the villagers…

    • 2
      0

      ww
      Countries need to prosper. True.
      But what we had was high living on borrowed money.
      Then we also had a parallel war-driven economy that made some really prosper at the expense of the rest.

      • 2
        0

        True SJ .

        • 1
          0

          Thanks

  • 3
    4

    As PM he did nothing to prevent the 2019 Easter Bombings in which over 240 people were killed and over 500 were injured in churches. When questioned why his government took no action despite being warned, his response was that there was no law to arrest those who were returning to the country after getting training from ISIS. Now as President he doesn’t allow you to even hoot as you drive by a government politician attending a “religious ceremony.” He’s framing law after law to set up “the best anti-corruption legislation in South Asia.”

    • 6
      4

      ASD
      Interesting theory– just interesting.

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