The People have spoken. They no longer regard their Parliamentary representatives with any kind of trust and respect. Read their placards. Listen to what they say. No longer is Parliament a repository of hope and expectation. In their reckoning, you, their elected representatives in parliament, have let them down and they are done forgiving and forgetting. Instead, now awakened by unprecedented economic hardships, they mean to hold you accountable.
Our country has gone from being the “Resplendent Isle” to being the Basket Case of South Asia. It’s in all sorts of trouble. People have died in fuel and gas queues. Basics are in short supply and now, for many, unaffordable. Essential medicines are unavailable. No one is looking forward to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in a few days.
The people’s disgust at most of you who represented them for many years in Parliament, is clearly and unambiguously displayed for all to see at the on-going protests. They blame you for the manner in which they have been cheated, deceived and wrung out in every possible way. Corruption, mismanagement, nepotism have been rife amongst a large part of the ruling elite and the People believe that either you benefitted from it or didn’t have the courage to stand against it.
The People have seen through the “whitened sepulchers” inhabiting the temple of democracy in which they had placed their trust. You have treated that trust with contempt. Now the People have nothing but frustrated contempt for you!
The conduct of many of you in parliament over the last few days, at such a decisive moment of this country’s history, with on-going agitations by every social group and community, was a shameful revelation of your total disregard for the people, their voices and their welfare. Instead, you displayed your supreme preoccupation with your own interests. You didn’t impress them and their desperation only increased.
The President, whom the people want gone, like yesterday, is not planning to do anything of the sort. He doesn’t hear them. That much was proudly announced in Parliament, so as to leave no one in doubt. While the ruined lives of the less fortunate and their livelihoods are steadily heading towards complete collapse, it looks like the rulers are carefully stepping around the remains and plotting the continuance of the rest of their terms of office.
The People, out on the streets are in no mood to accommodate them. Added now to their cries for the President’s departure is the growing demand for the 225 to be gone as well, together with “the system” which they say has created and enabled this present situation where the people were clearly the losers and will continue to be so.
The government’s record as revealed during the current debate in parliament has only confirmed the suspicions of the people of the ineptitude of the legislators: more than 18% of children today are malnourished. It also revealed that military spending as a percentage of government expenditure is only second to Israel! The people saw that the government chose to fatten the military and starve the children. Surely those responsible deserve all the insults they are getting on the streets today.
The people had heard the experts repeatedly warn that unless the government changed their path, the country would go bankrupt. But the government was beyond listening to experts. The unilateralism which started with the fertilizer ban continued through the international bond payments. Never mind the cost. There were always the downtrodden to pay the bill. They are no longer willing to pay quietly for the numerous mistakes of those they elected to make things better for them. They demand that the perpetrators pay for them, starting with those who have looted the treasury.
The people, together as one, are calling for the change that they see as necessary to save their country, and themselves. Waving constitutional and legal arguments at them, however valid, as to the unviability of their demands has only made them more determined in their agitation. They expect the parliament to come up with a solution, and their unrelenting pressure has finally extracted a number of proposals from the legislators.
The proposals in themselves, don’t seem to have reassured the people. They have a basic demand which they don’t seem to want to give up, that of the President leaving. The government is clear that such a demand will not be accommodated in any shape or form. A gridlock replete with danger, given the mood on the street and the numbers gathering along them. One hopes it will be resolved in some peaceful form. It is hardly possible to comprehend the casual dismissal with which this unprecedented phenomenon is being regarded by the government. They do this at their own peril.
As for their second demand, the proposals offer options for an interim administration which goes some way towards addressing the crisis and the insistent chants of the people. It’s best if the parliament acts quickly to make those proposals work inside the citadel before matters devolve entirely to the street. It is not unknown to have happened outside parliaments (and Constitutions) in other parts of the world.
Once the immediate crisis is addressed, and the economy is stabilized to the extent possible, the people demand a newly elected President and representatives in parliament. Elected by a now ‘woke’ population, sick and tired of being pawns in an unsavory game that they had been unwittingly part of. I would say it’s no great prediction that at such a time, a change is certainly going to come.
It’s up to the legislators now to decide on how to deliver what the people demand. Their current concern with their own agendas is rapidly losing them the little respect that remains. The time is now, for those few legislators who actually care, to display courage and concern for the multitudes waving flags and placards, screaming their appeals for meaningful action to bring about real change.
The sooner those with the power to legislate get their act together, the better it is for them and any plans they have of continued participation in politics of this country. If they choose to do so, this is their chance to prove to the people of Sri Lanka that they are the exception to the broad-brush impression of an incompetent, uncaring and dishonest 225.
A Movement was born out of the misery of the people. No curfew, no masked motorcyclists carrying automatic weapons, no threats and intimidation has been able to stop the Movement. It’s been swelling at the edges as every sector, every professional group has been inspired by the courage of the people who chose to protest. Lawyers protest outside the attorney-general’s department, doctors and hospital workers protest lack of lifesaving medicines, priests and nuns, teachers and 5-star hotel employees, students and day workers, entrepreneurs and the super-rich are all part of the Movement, chanting the same slogans, simple enough to be understood, powerful enough to reflect their bitter anger.
And now, they have come to the city, in their thousands or tens of thousands, and have gathered opposite the Presidential Secretariat, filling the roads all around it to drive home their message. They have come to the heart of the city to confront their President and his power-structure in a show of unity and strength, unseen since the moment of Independence 74 years ago.
It is to this generation that another kind of struggle, one to free themselves and their country from their own elected rulers, has fallen. They are proving that they are equal to it.
Will those parliamentarians who assert that they are different, stand alongside and play their part? Are they equal to the challenge of navigating their constitutional space in parliament to offer the change they demand? The opportunity to respond may be time-bound.