By Ameer Ali –
“Every second you protest on the streets”, said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his televised address, “our country loses opportunities to receive potential dollars”. It was an address which followed soon after a clash between pro and anti-government demonstrators in Chilaw, a worrying phenomenon that had disrupted an otherwise spontaneous and peaceful mass movement spreading island wide. The Galle Face Green is slowly turning into Colombo’s Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators vowed to stay until Gotabaya and his regime go home. Meanwhile, the opposition neither wants to take charge of the demonstrations nor in a position to provide an alternative to the current stalemate. With a situation threatening to descend into total chaos the regime obviously has panicked, and it was that panic which must have prompted MR and not GR to address the nation this time. In that address he also reminded the protestors how the armed forces defeated the separatists in a 30-year war to bring peace and protect the sovereignty of the country. In this reminder was a hidden warning to protestors not to test GR’s and MR’s patience.
In my previous piece, GR Presidency a Colossal Liability, I referred to the two pillars of support, military and monastery, on which the regime is relying for its survival. There is of course a third, the pro-regime rabble that would be willing to stage counter protests on behalf of the regime if called upon. In fact, the clash in Chilaw was caused by the counter protest organized by that rabble. Of the two pillars however, the second had kept unusually silent so far, other than appealing to the government to attend urgently to the immediate needs of a suffering people. Apart from that the Sangha had said nothing about the legitimacy or otherwise of the ongoing street protests. Voices of erudite minds like that of Ven. Galcanda Dhammananda, whose ideas on Buddhist governance, the most needed political advice at the moment seem to have disappeared in the wilderness. True, Buddhism does not support any violence let alone violence in defence of or against a ruling regime, but history had demonstrated that Buddhist priests had been in the forefront of encouraging violence as was demonstrated recently in Myanmar. Coincidentally, it was MR, when he was the President, spread the red carpet in 2014 to welcome one such monk Ven. Ashin Viratu from that country, who the Time magazine described as the “Face of Terror”. The military of course, at least the top rank had promised to uphold the constitution, which means that they would not tolerate any extra-parliamentary attempts to overthrow the present regime. However, whether all the six regiments and their rank and file would obey orders from the top to make the confrontation bloody is not certain. I had given my own reasons for that pessimism in my previous piece and reckoned the support from the two pillars wobbly. However, the regime, backed by pro-government rabble, gendarmerie, and at least sections of Sangha, decides to clear the streets and centres of protest with violence and bloodshed that would be the regime’s Swan Song. Prime Minister’s address to the nation is predicated on that sad reality.
Even if the streets were to be cleared of demonstrators, would that help to solve the economic crisis? It is highly unlikely and has become even more difficult with the official declaration of bankruptcy by CBSL. International credit rating agencies would downgrade Sri Lanka’s credit status further which in turn would drive away foreign investors, depreciate the rupee more and induce another round of price increase. All this could have been easily avoided with less pain had previous CBSL governors, particularly Professor Lakshman, put their foot down and insisted on GR for an early approach to IMF. Now that the inevitable has happened and any bloody confrontation with demonstrators would worsen an already prevailing negative international opinion against Rajapaksa regime. IMF is also bound to stipulate more stringent measures to repair the economy. As the new chief of CBSL said quite rightly the other day, economic stability, and from his point of view, macroeconomic stability is contingent upon political and social stability, and political stability imposed through force and blood is no stability at all but a precursor to future confrontations.
More importantly and from the point of view of the gasping economy, CBSL’s reversed monetary policy must operate in tandem with a set of fiscal and trade policies enacted by the parliament. Apart from the revenue reducing fiscal measures of GR, one of the most serious obstacles that retarded implementing revenue raising fiscal and trade policies had been the cancer of nepotism and corruption. How could one expect a corrupt regime like the current one to eradicate these anti-growth evils? Even IMF underlined its willingness to assist by insisting on tackling these evils. When MR said that each moment streets were occupied by demonstrators, potential inflow of dollars was disrupted, he should have made it clear to his listeners as to what happened to the millions of dollars that came in all this time. Shouldn’t dollars wasted on white elephants and went into pockets of ministers and their contractors be accounted for? Will this regime have the resolve to clean up corruption starting with the first family itself?
The Prime Minister and his political party are still failing to understand that the slogan “Gota Go Home” is not simply one that demands the departure of President GR alone, but more than that it encapsulates a clear Vote of No Confidence by an awakened citizenry, which is angered and frustrated at the way this regime and its predecessors had exploited Sinhala Buddhist nationalism for decades in order to gain political power and enrich themselves through organized loot and cheat, all in the name of economic development. Also, the slogan “No 225 in Parliament” is not a rejection of the democratic system as MR misrepresented in his address, but to make democracy more meaningful with fewer but more capable and honest elected representatives, who would at least “understand the difference between a sovereign bond and James Bond”, as remarked by MR’s immediate predecessor Prime Minister. In political terms therefore, these slogans imply an immediate re-amendment of the 20th Amendment with previous 19th Amendment and more, abolition of the executive presidency, re-empowerment of parliament and a new constitution based on freedom, equality and justice. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason why this regime should continue even for a day more.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia