7 June, 2023


President Has To Try Harder To Re-Establish A Legitimate Government  

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The election of President Ranil Wickremesinghe by a large majority in parliament gave a momentary sense of hope to the general population that the political and economic chaos of the past four months would end. In his victory speech he invited the opposition leadership to join hands with him, even naming some of them. There is recognition that the new president has both the intellectual wherewithal and years of experience in governance to stabilize the ship of state in the current storm. The population in general, apart from those who are activists, are getting tired of the endless struggle on the streets and in their daily lives in queues and are looking for a respite. This recognition was given at least indirectly by the leaders of the protest movement when they agreed they would respect the court order obtained by the police and vacate specific areas of the protest site they had held for 104 days.

In the light of these positive developments the combined military-police attack on the protest site in the wee hours of the morning and 12 hours before the voluntary move-out by the protestors from the protest site is difficult to understand. They have shown the iron fist within the velvet glove. The ferocity and sheer ugliness of the thrashing of the unarmed and young (and old) protestors at the site, and the acts of torture perpetrated upon them, has come as an unexpected shock. There is suspicion that a third force was also present, with allegations that some of those who were there along with the uniformed security forces personnel were in a state of intoxication. The term a third force is often used when there appear to be excesses or lapses in dealing with security related encounters with civilian groups. If there is a third force, it needs to be identified and neutralized.

The attack was sufficiently outrageous to merit immediate condemnation by the Human Rights Commission which described it as a “brutal and despicable attack on the peaceful protesters at Galle Face vicinity by the Military in the early morning hours.”  Further, while being itself a state body, it advised the state “to identify the perpetrators and take appropriate action and ensure such actions by the Military or any action within the control of the State to violate the fundamental rights of the people will never occur in the future.”  It also said it would conduct its own investigation to ensure that rule of law is maintained. The possibility that this attack was a trial run for future forcible interventions to deter mass protests needs to be precluded.

De-Escalate Tensions

The failure of the government to give the protestors the few extra hours to exit has opened it to criticism and put it on the defensive. The coordinated attack by police and military on peaceful protestors and acts such as preventing ambulances and medical personnel from gaining immediate access to the site of attack has brought international opprobrium at a time when the country needs international financial assistance. Both the IMF and EU have made their assistance conditional on the following of human rights norms and principles of accountability. The EU statement has reminded the government that the continuing receipt of the GSP Plus tax concession is conditional upon meeting human rights obligations.

In this time of heightened emotion, with the danger of polarization growing, it is necessary for the government in particular to de-escalate tensions. The president’s media unit has issued a statement that the president had reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to upholding the right of peaceful and non-violent assembly in a meeting with the diplomatic community. The availability of several places within Colombo for such protests was also pointed out which do not give visibility to any protest movement as the Aragalaya at Galle Face Green was able to generate in a peaceful manner in a much more open space. The president had also shown his awareness of international practices, for which he is much reputed, by citing the American Civil Liberties Union’s position on the occupation and blocking of government buildings, which he asserted was not permissible.

The use of military might or the stick may seem to be useful at a point but where people’s movements are concerned they only delay the result which would be unfortunate. The better way of dealing with the protest movement and their continued protests would be to address their concerns, which are also the concerns of the larger population that has backed the protest movement. This would restore the legitimacy of the government. It is necessary to keep in mind the participation in the protest movement of a wide cross section of the population that has spanned the generations and ethnic divides. It has the ability to melt into the homes of the people, giving the impression of a return to normalcy, and then re-emerge as a massive tide of people out on the streets when the occasion demands and a date is fixed.

Re-Establish Legitimacy

Ironically, it is the very success of the protest movement that gave President Wickremesinghe the presidency. It would be transformational if he could view the protest movement in a positive light rather than as his foe as it is the force that has brought him to power. With the economic factors that brought them to the fore still very much in evidence, they remain a potent force. No sooner was the election result announced that they called for his resignation. But the main demands for reform they have made are reasonable. They consist of a systems change that would ensure accountability and put an end to corruption in government which is also what the international donor community, specifically the IMF, is also seeking.

In addition, the parliamentary majority that elected the president is based on an electoral mandate given three years ago. The problem of legitimacy of the newly elected president and the government he has appointed at the present time, which consists of the ministers of the previous government, is compounded by the allegations that swirl around the election of the president. Following the election, one of the presidential candidates publicly alleged that votes were purchased just like teak trees are. The margin of defeat of the opposition candidates was unexpectedly large. Since then there have been social media posts that enormous sums of money were negotiated to cross party lines and vote.

The questionable nature of the government’s mandate today is the reason why both former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and President Wickremesinghe when he was prime minister pledged to form all-party governments. The inauspicious start of the new government will make it more difficult for him to achieve the all-party government that has been widely seen as the panacea to the present crisis of legitimacy of the government. The president has to try still harder to re-establish a legitimate government that could both engage with the protest movement, the opposition and with the international donor community. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has an opportunity to rise above the party divides, including the political party that voted him into power. The alternative would be to go into confrontation with the protest movement, an inkling of which was seen recently, and hopefully not repeated again.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    The title of this essay is………..
    President has to try harder to reestablish a Legitimate Government.
    But is the President legitimate? Elected by the People?

    • 3

      President need not try harder as the elected president is coming back.
      Latest News:
      Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the country from Singapore, Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunewardena said today.
      Before that President is focusing on as Previous did:
      Counsel Suren Fernando appearing for President Ranil Wickremasinghe today moved Supreme Court that his client should be discharged from the Fundamental Rights petitions filed over Easter Sunday attacks, owing to the presidential immunity.

      The country only needs a President to save their past crimes and robberies.

    • 4

      (Part I)
      Good morning
      Elected constitutionally and duly elected according to those provisions!! So considered legitimate?? If one is contesting legitimacy of the constitution, they need to file a Fundamental rights application to challenge such provisions and remediate it??
      Why none of the emancipated citizenry have not or did not have the gumption, intelligence and intellect to do so all this while???
      Since 1981 – 40 years ago – ALL THESE PATRIOTS WERE ASLEEP AND DEEP SLUMBER?!
      The country used this provision in 1993 and elected D B Wijetunga as EP until end of term of RP’s presidential term to elect new President at a Presidential elections CBK in 1994?!
      Is there a different scenario now?? NO. None!! Except that some personally dislike individuals!!
      Personality clashes cannot be part of constitutional provisions and should never be??!!
      For instance 18th amendment was Klept•oc•racy, self-serving for MaRa “dynastic continuation”!?
      It seems that going into ‘deep slumber’ is an acknowledged Sri Lankan pastime and as a Hobby!!
      Going by the fact, that the last President was also in deep slumber for 2+ years, when agriculture was being decimated by his ‘Organic fertilisation rule’ banning chemical fertiliser, without scientific

    • 2

      (Part II)
      Agricultural based decision, instead on the advice of a Paediatric Neuro-Surgeon, who knows very little, if not NONE of SOIL SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY being the sole advisor!!??
      That is single primary reason for import of rice and food items, cause of inflationary tendency of commodities and starvation in this country, since December 2021??!! None else!
      God save Sri Lanka from Buffoons running amok as Saviours/Patriots!
      Vistas of prosperity and Splendour??
      Who’s Foot in the mouth??!!
      No “failed President” can take responsibility??
      Not in Sri Lanka or in Sri Lankan culture or lexicon??
      Funny country and culture and citizens to boot!!

    • 3

      Good morning.
      The election of DBW in May 1993 was fine and legitimate until April 1994 because he was acknowledged as 2+2 = 22, being ‘dubbed as Deaf, Blind and Dumb’ too??!!
      What is the difference??
      This seems familiar, because the Opposition whip in end 2019 sang a different song to when he became Leader of the House in May 2022 and after that being elevated to Prime Minister on his view on RW??!!
      Everyone changes the tune with the time to suit their Goals and Objectives, helped by senility??!!

  • 4

    Well done Jehan, finally you spoke with some fire in the belly without sitting on the fence! ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wvXB7jEe3g

    • 1

      The election of President Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a momentary sense of hope … ?
      The population in general, apart from those who are activists, are getting tired … ?
      Well done Jehan, says nimal fernando of all people. ???

      • 0

        Oh c’mon Nathan! ……… Don’t split hairs; you’re worse than Sinhala_Man. :))

        As usual, I didn’t read Jehan’s article …… my comment was about the video clip ……. how he spoke there ……. with some fire and indignation about the attack ……

  • 4

    The author has not highlighted the attack on Journalists, including BBC journalists even after they proof their identity. Are they terrorists, extremists, thugs, Criminals? This is the justification for his action. The anger he showed on international journalists proof that he is not suited to govern people. Ranil damaged the image of this country and proved that the Politicians are the great barriers to the stabily. Another Minister speaking of armed struggle. Recently Rajapaksas told LTTE attack. All this tell us they are planning for a mass murder which is a subject they are experts.

  • 1

    There is no way an illegitimate president can establish a legitimate government.

  • 1

    What kind of nonsense is this, Jehan Perera? Ranil Wickremasinghe is just a lap dog of the Rajapakses and will never have legitimacy in the country after cominginto the parliament through the back door and getting elected thanks to the fascist constitution (yes, call a spade a spade, this is a fascist constitution as it bestows authoritarian, arbitrary powers on the president) steamrolled in by the Rajapakses. And what was legitimate about the introduction of the 20th Amendment when most of the MPs were bought for large sums of money (dollars at that time unlike this time around for Ranil’s elction when they had to be content with rupees)?

    Until the presidential system is abolished and a new parliament is elected there will be no solution to this crisis. Yes, an election now will cost money but not having an election will cost much more money because the current instability will invariably continue. Nobody with any sense is going to lend money to a government run by an incompetent set of crooks.

  • 3

    “The election of President Ranil Wickremesinghe by a large majority in parliament”
    When the election is conducted under secretary ballots, its EASY for MPs to be bought over by higher bidders. Money used are all ILL-gotten. It should have been an open voting. MPs from opposition parties were tempted by the money that was being offered. So the SELFISH corrupt politicians had their way to the utter disappointment of those who want a SYSTEM CHANGE.
    I do hope that there will be complete OVERHAUL of the People in charge of Defence. There should be drastic REDUCTION of the Tri-Forces.
    Ranil W should replace some of SLPP ministers with able clever MPs from SJB, TNA. He could bring in Technocrats through the National Lists. Ranil W should pardon Ranjan Ramnayake and bring him back to the Parliament.

  • 1

    Dear Dr. Jehan.

    Legitimacy is conferred by the constitution. Popularity is not, so the solution to an unpopular parliament is to dissolve it. At present the earliest we can have elections is after February 5, 2023. Remember that that the 19th amendment to the constitution prevents the President from dissolving parliament in a short time after the last election, if I am correct, President Chandrika Bandaraniake Kumaratunge dissolved parliament after only 1 year after elections. This entire problem would not arise if not for that change.
    Previous parliaments were changed frequently, like the filter on your car (no offence to parliamentarians). It is not possible to hold elections until we get the fuel crisis sorted out anyway.

  • 4

    You cannot build anything legitimate on an illegitimate foundation.

    This like a drug dealer saying that he has a thriving business.

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