19 April, 2024


Is Sri Lanka Heading Towards The Myanmar Model Of Governance?

By Sisira Gamanayake

When we look at the latest scenes coming from Colombo streets where peacefully protesting university students are confronted by the police, special forces, riot police with helmets, batons and water cannons, later charging and arresting a dozen, they remind us that the approach by the new President to such matters is quite the opposite of what the protesters in aragalaya expected a few weeks earlier. Scenes on the streets last week naturally take us back to the era when there was the war with Tamil Tigers. Then there were roadblocks and barricades even in the capital Colombo expecting bombs to explode in public places or in buses and trains. That was over 12 years ago. Today Sri Lanka is not facing similar threats from so-called terrorists attempting to divide the country or dismantle democratic way of government and establish a monolithic, ethno-centric administration. As this article will elaborate any such threat to its democratic governance can come from State terrorism perpetrated by a deep state with a security mentality and associated media campaign designed to preserve the rule by a few for the few. 

It is the people and various segments of society such as farmers, students, workers, civil activists affected by the on going economic crisis who are protesting on the streets when the state declared emergency law two weeks ago to give more powers to the security forces to arrest and detain protesters.  Why then is this need for the current President and the government of which he is the head to adopt such a harsh and stern approach to protests instead of listening to the demands of protesters and responding in a democratic and consultative manner?  Without delving into the matter too much, in short the reason is the aragalaya (struggle or protest movement) from the people affected by the economic crisis and the political changes created as a result including the departure of the former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the fear among rulers that it can get out of hand like before.  In view of the recent events, the rulers seem to have determined that it is in their interest to strengthen their own position in comparison to those who are in the struggle at any cost. More on this later.

This article is not about these events against the protests and protesters per se.  It is about another concerning aspect of the current trend, namely the fact that even though the war ended many years ago in 2009, the war mentality continues to exist among the leadership circle, those manning important positions in the government, security establishment and the ruling party alliance in the parliament. The current President who assumed office on a technicality due to the constitutional provisions after one President leaves office is simply giving full expression to this security mentality and associated actions held by the security establishment plus those with power in the parliament and the government i.e. Podu Jana Peramuna MPs and Ministers influenced by the Rajapaksa family.

Look at the measures adopted after President Wickaramasinghe was elected by the Podu Jana Peramuna party MPs to the position of president only a few weeks ago:

1. Attacking peaceful protesters and chasing them away from Gall Face aragalaya site in Colombo using various precarious laws about public property. Banning further protests from the same site even though the previous President had gazetted it as an official protest site for the public.

2. Using the notorious Criminal Investigation Department Officials (C.I.D) to summon those who took part in previous protests and occupation of government buildings and take statements from by using photos (social media and police) and CCTV footage.

3. Using the police to arrest protest leaders and activists, detain for interrogation and produce before courts on trivial charges. Such detainees can be kept under police custody until the person is produced before a judge and bail is granted.

4. Arresting selected trade union leaders on trivial charges such as damage to public property or evading court orders (when such orders have not been communicated properly to the person arrested): rewarding loyalist trade union leaders even when they also violated similar laws.

5. Attacking protesters with water cannon, batons or tear gas followed by further arrests.  Chasing the protesters away from public spaces near the former protest site Galle Face. Now it is a prohibited zone for the public.

6. Monitoring social media posts by activists and using the same as evidence of unruly behaviour or behaviour harmful to the State in legal process

7. Using social media and regular media to paint a picture of protesters and activists as either funded by foreign sources, drug and alcohol users, or they simply engaged in such activities for personal gain rather than common good.

8. Letting the protesters, unionists and activists languish in notorious police stations manned by officers who are mostly political appointees and in the slow moving legal process administered by the court system.

9. Through all of the above creating fear among future protesters and organisers of protests including those affiliated to aragalaya and even some political parties e.g. JVP and FSP.

These and other actions by the police and other security teams who are well trained and equipped to fight an internal war over a decade ago are being used to give a message to the potential protestors that the government under Wickramasinghe means business and simultaneously provide renewed energy to those in the deep state including the ruling elites mainly from Rajapaksa led Podu Jana Peramuna (PJP) to be able to control renewed and expanding popular protests.  This new approach severely curtails the rights of Sri Lankan citizens to peaceful assembly, expression of dissent, civic and political rights.  This also shows the weaknesses of the ruling junta at this particular time because issues that need to be resolved at the political level are being transferred to the police and protesters to battle it out.  Unlike the police force, university students are unarmed and poorly protected.  All the lethal power including firepower is in the hands of the police and other security personnel. It is believed that the tear gas used by police is out-dated and harmful to human organs. Yet the police action continues unabated.

Why are the rulers fearful about such peaceful protests and prefer to unleash disproportional force on university students?  Do they not fear the growth of further protests by their very action?  Do they not fear international reprisals on human rights grounds? Do they think that the IMF and Western countries will pay a blind eye to such state action against citizens? I questioned above why the President and his government is adopting a hardline approach to protesters at this time when they need international cooperation, especially from the IMF and other lenders as well as Western governments?  According to some reports, Sri Lanka maintains a security force today even larger than during the wartime.  Private security agencies are making millions by providing security to private establishments. Some who own such agencies are affiliated with the ruling politicians. During the attack on peaceful protestors recently in Gall Face Gota Go Gama, it is believed such private security personnel were also involved in navy uniform.  Many of those who are functioning in high posts in ministries and departments etc. are ex-military people. 

Reasons for adopting a hardline approach to Protests and Creating a Security Mentality can be manifold:

1.  Protection of foreign investments in the country, especially Chinese investments including the Port City, tourism and real estate ventures, finance, investment and insurance related ventures in Colombo and outlying areas.

2. Preserving the status and role of the ruling junta from threats by popular uprisings

3.  The need to rebuild the profile of the President’s party, UNP during the remaining period of his Presidency before the next election

4. The need to swing the pendulum in favour of the President’s and his supporters way as against the protesters way and rope in more MPs from the opposition to the government side by way of a so-called All Party Government –not an interim one.

If the police like this confront peaceful protests, the inevitable outcome can be that some of the protesters may resort to violence.  Is this what the ruling junta desire so that it can use the situation to rule the country with emergency law barricades and even by proscribing legitimate political parties in the opposition? 

In this context, it is useful to quote from a recent statement by a group of academics, professionals, clergy and civil society organisations ‘condemning the abduction, arrest, detention without due process, and other acts of abusive Presidential and State authority committed against persons who participated in the Aragalaya Peoples’ Movement’ as well as the false propaganda launched by the State about aragalaya with the title Say No to Authoritarian Governance:

Respond to the current situation in the interests of the nation but not in such a manner as to ensure the continuation of the Pohottuwa Cabinet and government. We expect them to also respect and advance the fundamental rights of the People. They must take a stand on repealing the Emergency and in particular in supporting an interim All-Party government that does not seek to deny or restrict the right of dissent and protest of the People. This must be their contribution to helping the All-Party Interim government this country needs at this time. Co-operation with a discredited government is not a solution to the current economic and political crisis though it is advocated by some religious leaders and some media.

Aragalaya activists and leaders from a cross section of society including religious leaders, civil society organisations and trade unions, demanded a system change because they were not happy with the existing system of power and control as well as the way the rulers managed the economy leading to a disastrous situation. The new approach to civic protests and the government agenda seems to be to create fear among the people in the name of maintaining law and order and assert the rights of security forces over citizens allowing the former to dictate what is acceptable and not acceptable?  The hidden intention may be to create a conflict between the protestors and security forces and legitimise further stern action against the protesters. To say the least, this is an absurd and convoluted approach and a concept of rule of law not suitable for a country professing to be democratic.  Most of us familiar with the way law is administered in the country know that there is one rule for those in the ruling parties and government and those who are outside including in the opposition.

When the government is seeking the assistance from IMF and Western countries, it is surprising that it is resorting to re-establish a security state in the name of law and order and punish those resorting to civilian and peaceful protests. This needs close scrutiny by the UN, other multilateral and bilateral agencies. Any support provided to the Sri Lankan government must be made on condition that it protects human rights, civic and political rights of the citizens and the moneys made available are made for economic revival not the revival and maintenance of a large security establishment not suitable for peace time.

If the current trend – hated by those participated in aragalaya – continues, we can expect the government to open several rehabilitation/re-education camps for those involved in the struggle as for the Uighur population in China, proscribe a few political parties that he considers as a threat to his project of undoing major gains of aragalaya and reinstating his and his government’s authority even by the use of disproportionate power and losing some degree of reputation internationally. After al, the tactics the President and his government is adopting against the protesters are those used by Sri Lankan governments in the 70s, 80s and to some extent in the 90s. Not the ones suitable for 21st century for a country with a long democratic heritage. Aspirations of the so-called silent majority for a better society and governance mechanism need to be respected not only by the present rulers but also by international agencies dealing with Sri Lanka. People are questioning the legitimacy of the mandate received by current government at the last elections –both Presidential and parliament.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    ” Today Sri Lanka is not facing similar threats from so-called terrorists attempting to divide the country or dismantle democratic government and establish a monolithic, ethnocentric based administration.” Is this person for real? By these words, the author of this article, in my opinion, has proven that like most Sinhalese he is racist anti-Tamil bias . It is because of the state-sponsored terrorism and marginalization of the island’s Tamils from the time of independence by all Sinhalese-led governments, and the horrific violence, pogroms and war crimes committed on them, that gave birth to the LTTE and a cry for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east to safeguard the island’s Tamils from further Sinhalese racism, especially from the state. It was not the Tamils who were trying to create an ethnocentric state but it was all Sinhalese-led governments who were trying to create a chauvinistic Sinhalese Buddhist-only state, from the time of independence and are still trying to do so, even 13 years after the death of the LTTE proving, who are the root cause of the problem.

    • 8

      Democratic! Sri Lanka is not democratic. Just a chauvinist majoritarian, ethnoreligious, racist state that is pretending to be democratic. If you really want to see how democracy works and how successful multi-lingual, multi-religious states and societies work go to Europe and the west. The just struggle of the island’s Tamils to gain their just rights, that was denied to them by the Sinhalese-led state from the time of independence and a call to self-determination and federalism, that is not a crime but a just right, is terrorism, however, what the Sinhalese state did to them and the war crimes committed on them in the name of Sinhalese Buddhism is not. Similarly, Sinhalese who elected this war criminal racist, and his government, which promised them some sort of racist paradise on the back of marginalised Tamils and could not provide this but only economic ruination and misery, now protesting and demonstrating is democratic and just and not terrorist. Nothing will change and nothing will improve.

      • 1

        Democratic! Sri Lanka is not democratic. this is true. It’s like a place where a family has robbed everything. I mean everything. Think of the mindset of many people caught up in today’s crisis. Even though everything is created against the people today, no significant parts have gathered to hurt the Rajapaksa. Can you imagine how the MOB vandalized private and public properties on May 9 just because Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to step down as Prime Minister? If it was a democratic country… with basic democratic values… would its judiciary behave like that? Ranjan is in jail, but nothing seems to be working against Mahinda, the corrupt man in Sri Lankan politics?
        Who owns the Malwana land if not Basil? How did they buy it? Etc. Why was it not caught in court today?

        srilanken judiciary should offer a huge compensation to Ranjan Ramanayaka… that is what I think it should be done right at this moment. He was jailed for nothing…. while the very same judiciary allows thousands of Rajapkshes criminals let be without any punishments for their real high crimes. This is travesty of justice.
        This country is hell, Rajapaksa’s ghost has been roaming the city for so long. A mild struggle will not achieve the right, but a real revolution is needed to oust Rajapakse and his henchmen criminals.

        All Sri Lankan diaspora should help rebuild the nation… that can only be achieved fully… building peace among us. Whether they are Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others we must cover to be one force today. .

  • 3

    One time Martin Niemoeller’s poem was frequently cited in these pages, more than Jesus or Buddha or Mohamed or any other philosopher or prophets’ words, by both Sinhalese and Tamil writers and commentators. But not that frequently anymore. It is not because the communal Sinhala Intellectual(Viyathmaga )had used it well for their resurrection. Rather, the Viyathmaga has been arrogant and adamant to listen to that but labeling anybody who were quoting it as Tamil Kottiya or Sinhala Kottiya or Suthu Kottiya or some other Kottiya. There is a saying in Tamil: “the patient who is going to die will not cooperate with the doctor and drink the medicine.” (Sahiravan Marunthu Kudiyaan), So these pages have given up quoting Martin Niemoeller for the reason the Langkang had passed out of the phase that advice could do any benefit to Sinhala Buddhist Viyathmaga, anymore. Now the cancer has passed the radiation- Chemotherapy stage. It is only on Morphine sedation. Now the Langkang has to be left to die and take a rebirth, so it can have washed all its Karma as per the original Buddhism. Sorry Mr. Niemoeller, your prophetic call, the advice will not help Sinhala Buddhist Modayas, anymore. It is over!

  • 3

    In1956, the Telugu-Tamil- Christian- Kallathoni – Thanchai Nayakar, the Sinhala Buddhist Solomon West Ridgeway brought a law called Sinhala Only to convince the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas that it was for their benefit. Earlier, another one called Don Stehpen, of the same class of SWRD, of Thanchai- Tamil- Telugu – Christian- Kallathoni Nayakar disenfranchised (1948) the upcountry workers and made them unemployed and without any citizenship (like the Gothapayal’s status, now), too said it was for the benefit of the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas. Federal Party was formed by Tamils and explained to Sinhalese, that if Tamils are allowed to contain their commercial and economic activities within their religion, Sinhalese need not to pass Indian Pakistani Citizenship like acts, which debilitated the Estate Industry and eventually bankrupted the country without Forex. But the other Kallathoni Nayakar who wanted to keep the Sinhala Buddhists on his side to win the elections, passed the Sinhala Only. Federal party MPs sat on Satyagraha in Galle Face Green. SWRD sent his henchmen to beat the Federal Party MPs out of Galle Face Green. Tamil MPs went into the Parliament with their bloody dresses and wounded bodies. SWRD, the PM of that time, sarcastically laughed at them that they asked for blood and got it. Viyathmaga, didn’t even dream of Martain’s poem, never thought the same thing would happen to their kids in 2022.

  • 3

    When the country got the freedom, it had unlimited potential to go on its own, without Britain’s governor Generals directing it. So Western Media described it as the future Switzerland in the East. Three years later the Galle Face Terror unleased on Tamil MPs by Sinhala Chauvinist Viyathmaga, in a big terror for the entire world, the young democracy’s PM was gun down in his official resident by the Yellow Thavani Dressed snakes whom he was feeding milk. The incident was seen as the death Knell for the hope for the young democracy, which was welcomed with much enthusiasm by the international community. On 12-14-1955, Langkang sought admission to the UN, promising to preserve and protect the Human rights, which the good office of UN was promoting. Hiding it ill will, by this trick Langkang hoping to milk from the international community’s organizations, like IMF, World Bank, and others. The two Nayaka Kallathonies led a new era not simply violating UN prescribed Human Rights but allowed to germinate a new species with a new culture, called Sinhala Buddhist Viyathmaga. Result is devastating. This new class with its unlimited greed, engineered political corruption and spread chauvinist goals to feed its hunger. Soon Annual Celebrations of pogroms introduced to loot, rape, murder, and arson Tamils properties. Whenever the country stuck on chaos, the Viyathmaga’s income rises faster.

  • 3

    While the poverty level and loan per capita was increasing unlimitedly year after year, education sunk lower, & morality touched the lowest bottom. The country has nothing to export. But sex is the fastest growing industry in the country. Chitanta Royals faked tourism, but promoted high end prostitution with Ukraine, Thailand, and Chinese girls. Internally, children, elderly, pregnant all are abused & then frequently murdered for safety. When Vijayakala, the Women and Children affairs minister pointed out that in Tamil areas Sinhala Police inaction and or partaking on the rape & murder of women and Children, parliament labeled her as a LTTEyer and dismissed from cabinet. She still has a pending case on that issue. Rapist Army went for a higher technique to wipe out the evidence, planted bombs in the private parts, after rape and murder. Langkang Army is rated as one in the 22 nations use rape as weapon, by UN. Not just only locally, but when this army was recruited by UN, they raped children in the countries where they were deployed. A larger number of women are forced go aboard on jobs lower than prostitution. There are many times, they very cruelly treated, raped killed, bodies not sent back, no compensation for the small children hoping & waiting that their mommy would send them money to buy food.

  • 4

    The new nasty species, the Viyathmaga or the Sinhala Buddhist intellectuals, destroyed everything the country was one time proud of. They spent more than $400B on annihilating Tamils and deposited copious quantities in their foreign Banks. The country, which was the richest nation in the hemisphere in British time, started a financial problem with unlimited spending on annihilating Tamils. Loan after loan was obtained to buy Chinese fireworks. Now babies are nibbling the mothers’ empty breasts. A group of young people started to protest calling that UNP-SLFP political corruption is enough and leave the space for them so the country can take a new Avatar. But as in the case of King Nalan, the Addamaththan penetrated into the majestic king’s every action and debilitated him, the Viyathmaha penetrated the young people’s protest too. Viyathmaga started a counter campaign that protesters had no plans and Anarchy was glooming over the country. (Come on man, is this the first-time anarchy has spread in the country? Isn’t democracy left the country with the last vacating British Governor General?). The strange species Sinhala intellectuals brought the country to this stage by cutting the branch they were sitting by disentrancing the upcountry Tamils, it was who toiled for Viyathmaga’s free rice. Even when Tamil Nadu donated a lot of free food, they cheated upcountry & North East, but shared within them.

  • 4

    “Scenes on the streets last week naturally take us back to the era when there was the war with Tamil Tigers.”
    Things were very bad, but have a sense of proportion.
    Analogies are made with all manner of countries at the drop of a hat, with no thought to the relevance or applicability.
    At least check the historic sequence of events for a start.

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