By Neville Fernando –
Shortages of essential food and medicines, daily power blackouts, unavailability of cooking gas and petrol, and high inflation have led to an unprecedented collective anger in the people of Sri Lanka. The present economic crisis has plunged Sri Lanka into the status of a beggar nation, seeking international help to avert a total bankruptcy.
Sri Lanka has been under the political rule of the Rajapaksa family virtually since 2005. Drastic decline in the economy of the country happened since then due to their corrupt family rule. Egregious nepotism and large-scale plunder of the resources of the country have created a pitiful nation. Still, the main reason for the acute meltdown of the economy is the massive unpayable loans from China for wasteful vanity projects presented as ‘Development Projects’.
Peaceful protests and rallies against the Rajapaksa regime, happening in almost all cities around the country are now a daily feature. The largest protest movement is in the capital city of Colombo, and is ongoing at the beach promenade Galle face. That location, designated as ‘GotaGoGama’ has been transformed into a 24-hour, month long occupation by thousands of citizens from all segments of the society. They comprise of enthusiastic, energetic, independent and non-violent protesters. Most of them happen to be youth who are clamoring for major changes in governance which has failed them. Their main demand is the resignation of the President, with the rallying slogan – Gota Go Home.
This simple message belies a spectrum of demands, including;
* Rajapaksa family to be eliminated from holding power.
* Changing the Constitution to eliminate the concentration of power in the President, and distribute it more evenly between the President and Parliament.
* Rejection of all 225 members of the Parliament, who the people believe are collectively responsible for propping up the corrupt Rajapaksa regime.
The protesters hold an idealistic view of Sri Lankan life, based on a united Sri Lanka, which rejects divisions among people on ethnic and religious lines as well as traditional party politics.
During the 74 years since Independence, Sri Lankan politicians had displayed a lack of ability to properly manage the affairs of the country. Traditional party politics had ignored the need for intelligent handling of the economy. On the contrary, blunders in governance were many. Misguided ethno-religious policies had resulted in many serious setbacks in the country. Among them were the “Sinhala Only” policy in 1958, a 30-year war against LTTE terrorism and 2019 Easter bombing by an ethnic group. These were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. It is no surprise that currently, the country is in such dire straights.
Opinion polls show a rejection of the regime by 87-89 % of the people. Although respondents have cited the corrupt dealings of the Rajapaksa family as a whole, the main figure responsible for the current disastrous state has been singled out as the former President and later Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had craftily created the image of a congenial, father figure, a true champion of the common man and a devout Buddhist. For decades he was able to camouflage his real persona — a calculating self-serving person out to enrich himself by stealing as much as possible from the country. In the process, a whole slew of family members, close supporters, associates and officials too were able to reap immense rewards. Methods used by the Rajapaksa family to stay in power included ignoring democratic principles, using autocratic methods and crafting divisions among the masses on ethnic and religious lines.
However, the dire situation in the country has also created a golden opportunity for a wholesale and systemic change in the culture of Governance. Among the changes needed, are:
* Elimination of waste, fraud and abuse of public wealth.
* Abolition of nepotism.
* Meritocracy in appointments.
* Reinstation of the Independence of the Judiciary, and strict and equal application of the law.
* Accountability and transparency in all Government activities.
* A vision for a robust economy
* Strengthening of state institutions.
* Changing the electoral system, which has produced low caliber Members of the Parliament
* Official decoupling of religion from Government Affairs.
There is an urgency to bring about these changes, and such a ‘system- change’ should be comprehensive and should not leave any loopholes from where the previous flawed features could re-emerge. The current Government has a mandate which is due to expire in two and a half years. But it is clear that the current situation has exposed a dead end in the status of the economy resulting in public disgust. Every day the current regime stays in power is seen by the people as another day of struggles and hardships.
Misleading and deceiving the public had gone on for decades. But it was destined to collapse sooner or later. The achievements by the GotaGoGama movement have brought about numerous fundamental transformative changes in the collective mindset of the people, including the diaspora. Most important among these is the highlighting of the fundamental concept in any successful democracy, that Supreme Power or Sovereignty is vested in the People. Stated differently, the people are the real bosses. In the past, lack of this realization had led to unquestioning deference to corrupt politicians. The result of that has been the economic disaster we are experiencing today, and its expression in the present island wide protests.
Protests are ongoing and the situation in the county is dynamic and perilous. At the time of writing there had been violence as a result of an attack on peaceful protesters by the thugs sponsored by the Rajapaksa regime. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister along with the Cabinet has resigned and he is holed up in a remote island on the east coast obviously trying to flee the country.
So much for man who was considered a revered hero. Now he is basically a fugitive. His brother Gotabaya (Gota) who is the President is now relegated as the sole power to deal with this political and economic catastrophe.
Undoubtedly every possible intervention and help especially from non-political experts will have to be pursued. It also involves a long process of recovery of stolen money stashed away in many foreign countries.
In the aftermath of the demand by GotaGoGama for a total political reset, it is difficult to envision the Rajapaksa Dynasty from ever regaining power in Sri Lanka. It is unquestionable that aspirations of GotaGoGama have unleashed an unprecedented force for good.