By Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka –
The peaceful protest at GotaGoGama was finally invaded, not by law enforcement but by provincial politicians of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp with their supporters. Escalation of the situation was instantly made inevitable.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, miffed at his brother’s attempts to scapegoat him for the country’s increasing instability, brought in thousands of his supporters from the provinces to the city on Monday 9th May, proclaiming their demand for his continuance in office. They rioted violently in the streets, clashing with the original, peaceful protestors, smashing the temporary structures that those young people had erected in protest sites in front of the PM’s residence and at the Galle Face Green. They have succeeded in putting some of them in hospital. The police intervened with tear gas and water cannon to stop the marauding hordes of MR supporters from their scorched earth intentions at Galle Face Green and beat them back for now.
The People’s response came swiftly and massively. Politicians of the ruling party SLPP, both parliamentary and provincial had their houses set ablaze within hours and some fell victims to outraged mobs, hunting down the morning’s perpetrators of violence on peaceful protesters.
The callous misreading of the people’s misery, and consequent mistreatment of their restrained protests, have now unleashed anarchic violence by those people. Like an injured bear, they now hunt those who refused to acknowledge and even cynically dismissed their suffering caused solely by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s unilateral, shortsighted policies.
The President owes it to the People to prevent this emerging situation from deteriorating into further chaotic blood-letting in a land that has already seen far too much of it. He and only he, can end this nightmare, instead of continuing to embody it.
He needs to admit that to save the country from the disaster that he was primarily responsible for, he needs to leave. He must know that he never really quite got the hang of being President.
A Nation’s Nightmare
It is not unknown in history that a single ruler was the cause of a nation’s downfall, the obvious case in modern times being Adolf Hitler—an elected leader—one of the best known among a collection of reviled names scattered throughout history as examples of the evil that power can degenerate into. In each case they mercifully failed to prevail in the end.
On this island, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has become that nightmare for its people, just two years after he was elected as head of state, a feat not easily achieved.
Meanwhile, the parties of the Parliamentary Opposition need a deep going reckoning to understand why some of them were rejected violently at the protests sites today, and some welcomed, as they attempted to solidarize with those young people under attack from MR supporters. As the aspirant government, they need to self-examine and re-position fast, just as the protesters must not descend into anarchy by rejecting even those on their side in Parliament.
The abyss stares back
The predictable trajectory into an economic abyss at the President’s hands, starting with a whimsical overnight ban on chemical fertilizer following a massive centralization of power in the Presidency, to other eccentric policies leading to multiple dysfunctions in every sector, saw the hapless citizenry plunged into sudden poverty, dying in gas and fuel queues, as everything from milk powder to printing paper became scarce commodities very quickly due to a dearth of dollars in the treasury.
Despite all his attempts to divert attention to other factors, including through pressure for his brother the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to resign, the people he rules over saw as clear as day that the President himself was the primary cause that plunged a once middle-income country into such privation and despair that children in neighbouring India began breaking their tills to send a few thousand rupees to alleviate this country’s needless misery.
The continuing nightmare for the people however is that despite the desperate protests in every province with one clear message contained in a single ubiquitous slogan of ‘Gota Go Home’, the President appears to have no intention of doing the one thing that could instantly commence the country’s rapid recovery.
It is not as if every mode of protest, every possible platform, traditional and digital has not been used to ensure that the message reached him.
A recent social media post of some women from Chilaw ranting against the President in absolute rage, showed them employ swear words that probably had not been strung together in quite that manner against any ruler anywhere. Most of it was disturbingly bloodcurdling, being the more pitiful due to her claim that as a cancer patient, she no longer had the medicines to treat her condition. In her invective, the rage extended to the President’s many relatives in Parliament but left little doubt as to who would be strung up in public by a nether body part if one of those women got her hands on him.
Exacerbating the already crumbling situation are those Members of Parliament and officials loyal to the President who excuse his every blunder with inane explanations. Delivered with sycophantic fervor, they only serve to incense the people even more.
The President’s rapidly decreasing supporters’ solution is to demand that the Prime Minister leaves and the Cabinet with him. They claim that there would be no point in the President resigning because his replacement will have to be appointed from the now despised 225 MPs in Parliament who failed to prevent the country’s decent into bankruptcy. They refuse to see that such a replacement, any replacement, would be welcomed with cheers and firecrackers by the people. Those protesters at the many GotaGoGama sites made that amply clear by promising that as long as the President stays, so will they.
Every day now, people gather on the city streets with their empty gas canisters, blocking the roads in protests. Feelings are running high and the tension among the crowd is palpable, as minor skirmishes break out intermittently. A 100 gas cylinders were forcibly acquired recently by people who waited for days for a sighting of the trucks carrying them and pounced on it to grab one any which way. People have also turned on each other as they stand in line for essentials. It is clear that serious rioting is only a hair’s-breadth away. Today’s incident initiated by MR supporters ensured it.
Revolution is not the only solution
What does the President see when he surveys the land? His pet initiative, the organic fertilizer decision has collapsed, and taken a land once self-sufficient in rice with plentiful vegetables, a thriving, world renowned tea industry and a prosperous rural community into irreparable failure in the short to medium term. Similarly, the economic mismanagement has resulted in the desperate shortage of dollars in the treasury impacting every aspect of life. The permanent protests have now passed a month and continue to grow.
The trust in this regime’s integrity is dwindling as the Easter bombing of April 2019 which instantly lifted the chance of this President’s election to office as the candidate of law and order, is now increasingly been seen as having been used to propel the candidacy on the fears of the people. The Cardinal himself has expressed his misgivings of a possible grave conspiracy, endangering the Catholic community and other worshippers engaged in prayers on that fateful Easter Sunday. The Cardinal’s entreaties to the Pope himself have evoked concern in Rome about the massacre. The many bereaved and injured who suffer to this day have yet not had justice delivered, despite the powerful presidency and a security apparatus with a huge portion of the nation’s budget.
The President’s party has practically thrown up its hands in defeat, starting with the newly appointed Minister of Finance. The President has been forced to call for the establishment of an all-party government to replace it. No party is jumping at the chance, and talks are on-going with professional associations intervening with proposals for recovery.
The President has been unable to appear in public since the protests started.
A no-confidence motion against the President and Prime Minister has been submitted to Parliament by the Opposition. Wrangling within the governing political circles between the President’s and his brother the PM’s supporters as to who should resign is being publicly played out, while living conditions of the people are deteriorating dangerously.
And now, the country is under police curfew after a night of violence on the ruling classes by the people put mercilessly through the wringer by them, with politicians in hiding or fleeing the country for fear of their lives. The Prime Minister, the more experienced, has finally tendered his resignation in a much-delayed dawning of reality. The President has yet to do so.
The existentially besieged People ask only that the President makes the all-important decision to resign, together with his regime, if he has any regard for them or the country. They are convinced that the solutions to all else will flow from that.
SJ / May 10, 2022
“Adolf Hitler—an elected leader—etc… In each case they mercifully failed to prevail in the end.
A world war, tens of millions of deaths, gas chambers…?
I may have been a different story altogether if the USSR hadn’t entered the war.
Neo-Nazis are still alive and kicking and are backed by the US and its partners.
RBH59 / May 10, 2022
Prime Minister on a visit to Anuradhapura, Blessing reap to Focus on your strengths to erase the starving situation agenda but his action shows is to fullfill the purpose to use militant solution to peace full protesters the when he left the temple tree there should have been queues suppose to be We should all be thankful for those PM singing farewell songs but he can see what he did for the country achievment on his leaving leadership plunged into sudden poverty, dying in gas and fuel queues, as everything from milk powder to printing paper became scarce commodities very quickly due to a dearth of dollars in the treasury.
VanguardII / May 10, 2022
It is sometimes difficult to follow the reasoning that is put forward by the opposition. If the calls for resignation are due to mismanaging the country, that is one thing, however that is a call for retribution, not a call for leadership. If a minister makes costly mistakes, he may well resign, but, as we can see, there are many capable replacements, and the position is not as critical as that as of a President. That is why replacing a President is constitutionally difficult.
If it is a case of which is better for the country, to resign or stay, the case is not so clear. Past mistakes: not ‘going to the IMF’ and the fertilizer ban have now been reversed to a program that has no partisan or ideological bias except to save the country. Remittances may improve depending on Central Bank policies, which appear to be correct. The Pandemic is not a concern at the moment, and it was handled reasonably well, as with the vaccination program. The President has a vested interest in having all the current efforts succeed, not fail.
If the President resigns, a replacement has to be found in the existing talent pool within parliament, as I understand it. How do we know that the new President will listen to advice?
Rajash / May 10, 2022
your Hubby Dayan was a big fan and promoter of Gota as President.
ane what happened?
SJ / May 10, 2022
She can only speak for herself.
Is she not entitled to her views?
Anpu / May 11, 2022
Is Rajash not entitled for his views?
Rajash / May 11, 2022
just saw this – kudos to you Anpu
But SJ likes to poke fun at me – I don’t take him seriously
chiv / May 12, 2022
Rajash, Lankan retards never got the hang of being voters.
SJ / May 12, 2022
Read what you wrote.
There was no need to bring DJ into this to discredit the writer.
I do not poke fun at or personally abuse any. For that there are plenty here who call people all manner of names and insult races and countries. I need not name names. Look close to home.
Sorry that I cannot resist the temptation to laugh at silly comments and ridicule nasty ones.
SJ / May 11, 2022
Whoever questioned it?
I only pointed to the implications of his comment. (Read it when you find the time.)
Now by your own logic one could ask you “Is SJ not entitled to his views?”
Rajash / May 14, 2022
SJ I only pointed to the implications of his comment.
Implication on what?
I dont think any ones comment in CT has any implications – it’s just a comment a point of view an opinion.
This guy SJ is a nut to believe that comments we make here will have implication’s in Sri Lanka political landscape
Adam Barborich / May 12, 2022
You think it’s not hubby writing for her? Look closer at the style.
Rajash / May 13, 2022
They work as a Team.
It’s like the Rajapaksa family.They choreograph their social media postings.
Captain Morgan / May 10, 2022
“A recent social media post of some women from Chilaw ranting against the President in absolute rage, showed them employ swear words that probably had not been strung together in quite that manner against any ruler anywhere.”
I saw that post and forwarded it only to the rough and tough male contacts in my circle. Those were not swear words really but simply raw and utterly filthy, vulgar words. Never have I heard a woman abuse someone using such shocking and appalling language. If President Gotabaya Rajapaksa possesses one milligram of self-respect he will resign instantly, dig a hole in the ground and bury himself!
Ashan / May 10, 2022
It looks like there efforts maybe by the usual suspects, to set the Sinhalese people against the Muslims, and start race riots, or attacks on Muslims once again. Hope this time people have the wisdom to not be swept away by false rumors, and made up conspiracy theories, and will reject these efforts, and not be fooled into acting violently once again. The Rajapaksa’s are using their thugs and goons to cause divisions, and stoke racist tensions. Anything to take the focus away from their failed leadership.
Kalay / May 11, 2022
The sad part of it there are people blindly supporting Gota. Gota have to go. May be he got to go to Trinco and hide there with his brother MR. Sorry bunch of nuts. Karma is chasing the brothers. Luckily MR son left the country. MR other son’s family left 3 weeks ago. I am sure he will be joining his wife and children soon. Namal got 4 million US dollars from building 2 hospitals in SL. He bought his neighbor’s house. I understand he force them to sell it to his buddy. They have houses in California. I am sure they are going there. Now the new problem is Basil US authorities. The other three owns property in US too. US justice department is under pressure to start the investigation how they got 27 million to pay for a house. There are more but I am siting only one. They cannot run away from US authorities. They will freeze all their assets. Basil cannot go back home to California and cannot stay in SL. Where will he go? Where will all the clan go? Well young protesters stay on the message and do not turn to violence. They want you to turn so they can eliminate you. Pretty soon white vans will be coming. Good luck.
Thanga / May 11, 2022
The problem is not with Mahinda Rajapaksa, although he was bragging that he will be the prime minister in an all-party coalition government, he will not resign his post at any cost since he still enjoys the support of the majority of MPs in the parliament and the president himself will not ask him to resign.
Mahinda Rajapaksa also boasted that he has 50 years of experience as a politician, prime minister and twice president. That he has faced worst crisis, but what he failed to take note of is that to save his own job, Gotabaya Rajapaksa will throw him under the bus.
World changes, new generations are born and rulers who surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men fail to take notice of it.
This is true not only with the Rajapaksa clans, most dictators and authoritarian rulers lose touch with the people and take for granted their support come sun or rain. Libyan dictator expressed disbelief when he heard his subjects had started protesting.
The protesters at the Galeface and elsewhere are youngsters and educated. When they found that the country’s economy had gone down the precipice, they turned their wrath against those responsible for it.
Thanga / May 11, 2022
They found the Rajapaksa clan did the maximum damage by building white elephants, a Mausoleum, and a Museum at Medamulana for their father D.A. Rajapaksa at state expense (the structure cost Rs.81.2 million and Gotabaya Rajapaksa paid only Rs,33.9 million (the original estimate) and refused to settle the balance Rs. 47.9 million to Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLRDC).
The Chinese-controlled Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT) said it paid nearly 20 million rupees (USD 150,000) to Pushpa Rajapaksa Foundation, the wife of the then Minister of Economic Affairs Basil Rajapaksa
A report in the New York Times claimed a $7.6-million money transfer from a Chinese firm to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the election campaign.
Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa gifted a golden statue of Buddha to the Sandahiru Maha Saya in the presence of Maha Sanga in Anuradhapura. The statue was made out of 8 kilos of gold confiscated by the Customs and handed over to the Rajapaksas.
Basil Rajapaksa built a house at Malwana for Rs 250 million on land owned by his sister’s husband Nadesan. When investigation commenced during Yahapalana time, Basil promptly disowned the house!
Such massive and shameful corruptions can be multiplied many times! This is why the protesters called them “thieves”, asking them to “go home” and even “go to jail”.
nimal fernando / May 11, 2022
We never got the hang of Gota ever being a suitable president ……… so didn’t advocate for him.
Some of us had already reached the end of the journey ……….. even before the journey began.
You guys are late to catch up ……… catch on! :))
Balanced View / May 11, 2022
If the author thinks that a single man, GR, was single-handedly responsible for the economic collapse of the country, the author is mistaken. The political, social, economic rot has started a long time ago and the successive governments each have a part in it. Let’s not leave out the corrupt bureaucrats, intellectuals and professionals who sing hosannas to bankrupt politicians. It is true GR and COVID-19 accelerated the downfall, him having no knowledge of economics, science or common sense. It was going to happen sooner or later, it happened in his watch.
SJ / May 11, 2022
Too many mistakes in too short a time and some against sound advice.
It was not really the mounting debt crisis (half the loans from private lenders!).
It was a finance crisis caused by mismanagement. Look at the mishandling at every turn.
Precautionary steps were possible at least 18 months ago.
Should we also thank the imported ex Finance Minister and ex Governor for what the country has been put through?
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / May 11, 2022
If this is Dayan’s wife, I wonder if they have some conversations at home about what is going on, and how it has come to be. I feel there would be very strong disagreements in those views. The current catastrophe also has a history. The pent-up anger of the people, whose relatives die unnecessarily from easily treatable conditions in hospitals due to unprecedented lack of basic medicines; the unbearable sight of children crying from hunger, malnourished and weak, unable to study or attend school; and they come upon vast opulence, massive mansions of greedy parasites who had been insensitive to their plight. What would you do? Hold placards? Shout slogans? No. Exact revenge, come what may. Unfortunately, these are the realities and human nature is simply that.
SJ / May 11, 2022
There were the Kripalani couple in India in the 1950s and 60s: husband Praja Socialist, wife Congress. The two parties never got along. The family was a happy unit.
Anpu / May 11, 2022
Rajapakse did not take anything from this speech 11 years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN27DUmAgww
Plato / May 11, 2022
……………..The President has been unable to appear in public since the protests started……..
Dont worry too much Sanja; He declared Curfew for himself first by example before extending that benevolence to the rest of the country a month later.
Eya thamai hondata kere…..