3 December, 2022

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Repression Without Addressing Root Causes Will Add To Misery

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The economic situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate on multiple fronts though slowly enough for people who can afford to pay higher prices not to notice too much. For the past four months or so there has been a relatively steady supply of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. The long queues are no longer to be seen. The rationing system for auto fuel has been effective at curbing demand for it and at conserving dollars. Cooking gas is freely available. The prices of all these essentials have escalated three fold giving rise to inflation. But those who can afford to pay at least double or triple the prices they used to pay, because their income levels are high, are satisfied that they do not have to wait in long lines as in the past. Most of them are no longer members of the protest movement. Indeed, some of them have even become supporters of the government crackdown on the Aragalaya.

At the height of the protest movement, rich and poor alike got together on the streets to protest against the acute shortage and non-availability of fuel, gas and electricity. There was a unified countrywide demand for change that brought down the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. That unified demand no longer exists because those with money in their hands can afford to pay the higher prices and get on with their normal lives. They would prefer a life without protests on the streets as they can make ends meet. But for those who cannot afford their previous lifestyle, which is the majority, there is much dissatisfaction which will undoubtedly take a rebellious turn as witnessed in the continued protests by students.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken over the reins of the state in which a principal feature is the crackdown on the protest movement. Since his advent to power, prices have continued to soar which has made life unsustainable for wide swathes of people who were surviving at the margins prior to the economic collapse. It is reasonable to believe that the university students whose street protest in Colombo was violently broken up this past week, with over 80 of them being arrested, are representatives of those people whose incomes do not permit them to have a normal life anymore. At the present time, the most optimistic scenarios give five years of economic hardship before there is a turnaround. The president and his supporters need to consider whether five more years of repression is possible or desirable.

The problem is that the government is trying to alleviate the symptoms of the crisis by borrowing more and continuing with the practices of the past. The government is failing to address the root causes that brought the Aragalaya into being, as much as it failed to address the root causes of the ethnic conflict. Repression in the latter case led to three decades of war, but with no political solution, as evidenced by the difficulties the government is facing today in Geneva. The hoped for peace dividend at the end of the war in 2009 did not materialize and the military budget got bigger which contributed to the budget deficit.

Banning Repeat 

The student protestors who are being subjected to police attacks are those who would be finding it difficult to live with dignity amidst the severe cost increases. By utilizing water cannons, tear gas and baton attacks and arresting the students and charging them before the courts, the government is sending a message to the larger society that protests over economic hardships will not be tolerated. The government’s concern may be two-fold. First, that if the protests are not nipped in the bud, they will grow again due to the increasing hardships people are going through and become an uncontrollable protest movement as in the recent past. The declaration of High Security Zones in Colombo is a sign that the government is taking maximum precautions. Second, an IMF requirement for funding is political stability.

Previously High Security Zones, were promulgated in the North and East at the height of the war to safeguard the military bases from enemy attack. The Bar Association has condemned this move as inimical to democracy and said that it will be carefully studying the provisions of the order issued by the President and will take appropriate legal action to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people are secured. The strength and popularity of the Aragalaya during the period of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa showed that the government had lost its popular mandate to rule. This can be seen even now in the fact that its leaders cannot step onto the streets to mingle with the public unless accompanied by large contingents of bodyguards. They will see their survival through the prism of national security.

During his last days in office, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to form a small all-party cabinet comprising 15 ministers who would work together to address the immediate problems of economic crisis, come up with a mutually accepted national economic plan and hold fresh elections in six months. This was the statesmanship that was expected of President Ranil Wickremesinghe when he became president. His focus on crushing the protest movement came as a surprise but was justified on the basis of the need for law and order. It was expected that he would similarly crush corruption and self-seeking practices which also violate the law. But these expectations are yet to materialize.

Jaffna Example 

The reappointment of the same set of politicians who were in the seats of power under the former president and failed to stop the economic crisis, cannot inspire hope that they will provide a solution. They seem to have no idea of a solution to the overall national crisis. They are adept at speaking about the problems but not at presenting the solutions. In this context, the appointment of a large number of ministers at a time when there is hardly any money available for development projects is seen by people as unjustified. They are seen, with mounting hatred, as being part of the problem that will not go away until that entire set of politicians goes away.

In this bleak situation, academic staff at Jaffna University have set an example that the government can follow in winning the hearts and minds of students instead of punishing them so severely. It started when one of the faculty members observed his students come for his morning class without having had their breakfast. He started with giving the students in his class crackers and bananas. Next he was able to motivate two more of his colleagues to contribute to providing a free meal. This was three months ago. Today, the community action has increased to a level where they are able to supply more than 1200 students with a meal every day.

At a time when the government is being asked for evidence of its commitment to reconciliation and justice at the 51st UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the Jaffna academics have shown a spirit on the ground that the government needs to take on board nationally. Their establishment of a community kitchen for their students who are from all parts of the country and of different ethnicities and religions is national reconciliation in practice. As in the case of civil society initiatives, the academic staff at Jaffna university have shown on a micro level what the government needs to do at a macro level. Civil society can generate community support. It is the duty of the government to provide systemic support.

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Latest comments

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    The government is sending a message to the larger society that protests over economic hardships will not be tolerated.

    Economic hardships will lead to protest because stomach will not tolerated hunger .Way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. He who does not mind his stomach will hardly mind anything else and appointment of same parliament is for Ranil strategy he wants to show the world I was the president of Sri lanka and put in the history books

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      Dr. JP: This week, mysterious fires break out in Colombo, Norochcholai power plant breakdown, and a train goes off the rails .. All these staged disasters and hacking of the Energy, Electicity supply to ensure power cuts so it may be privatized,. all to destroy public Transport is all part of an operation and pattern… This is planned Sabotage, like the Sabotage of the Russian gas pipe line in the Northsea..Hybrid War style.. Cyber war is ongoing..
      Sri Lanka was formally subject to hybrid economic war is the 2019 CIA staged ISIS claimed Easter attacks on tourist hotels and churches. There is a cyber hybrid war on to destroy the county so the Rogue State and IMF can colonize it fast.. All these disasters happened after Aeroflot Russian Airlines flights to Lanka were set to resume…
      The MCC wanted the Transport and Energy infrastructure of strategic Sri Lanka which is now being put up for sale with the Debt Trap and Washington Consensus IMF Firesale.. These are not random accidents but All part of the pattern of hybrid war style operations to wreak the economy and Colonize Lanka… the Biggest Rogue State and Human Rights hypocrites operatives are clearly in town again…

      • 0
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        Human Rights hypocrisy is the name of the Western game! No Talk about Economic Rights, Debt cancellation and debt justice although Human Rights are indivisible .
        The biggest war mongers, weapons manufacturers like the Economic Criminal Vulture Funds like BlackRock get US GOvt funds, but the as U.S. Ambassador Cindy McCain wont talk of about cancelling the odious debt, rather she’s in town to promote Humanitarian Disaster Capitalism with the UN whose WHO, UNICEF and FAO are funded by big corporations to promote corporate take over of food and health security… What a game but the truth is coming out!

    • 0
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      How can you protest when you got what you asked for.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FBtwcVKTo

      LOL

  • 6
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    However pro-Chingkalla Poutha racist protests, with regards to grabbing lands from the Thamizh and destroying/converting ancient Hindu temples to Buddhist, using fake concocted history will be tolerated and allowed. Like the recent one in the so-called independent square.

  • 0
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    “an IMF requirement for funding is political stability”
    Prior to granting of IMF Funds, the IMF should make sure that root causes of Ethnic wars AND Economic break down are tackled by GoSL.
    The IMF should insist the GoSL to tackle bribery and corruption ESPECIALLY over the last two decades and bring the culprits to courts. We should encourage people like the Academic Staff of Jaffna University who are helping the poor undergraduates.
    Public too expect the Law makers [Parliamentarians] to lead an exemplary life styles and give up the earlier thuggish corrupt life style

  • 1
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    The IMF should not waste time waiting for Langkang Kings to bring the changes. While IMF is asking for root cause fixing, Appe Aanduwa would not fix even the tip of the iceberg. The IMF should use its area of authority and tell the Evil Emperor to resign and conduct a people’s election, scrapping all the fake election laws and constitution. He is reviving the economy without visiting debtor nations to negotiate debt restructuring. He did not attend UN & UNHRC conferences, the country’s leader’s job. His personal Coole Lawyer Ali Sabre went to UN & UNHRC. Evil Ranil is going to the Queen’s funeral. He is going to PM Abe’s funeral. He is going to an ADB Bank Governors’ meeting. He did not go to China or India, the two most important lenders. He did not attempt to meet and talk with the American Investment Bankers who are suing Langkang for full dollars for all their bonds. Did he try to hire a consulting firm to make the companies withdraw the lawsuit so the IMF can go ahead with the employee level agreement?

  • 1
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    Nobody in the whole wide world knows what the IMF wants to give a loan, or what the other lenders want to restructure their loans. Evil Ranil covered it all with his “Secret Solution II.” If Evil had arranged a special trip to Japan for the sole purpose of engaging Japan into the restructuring process of other lenders’ loans, the Langkang Modaya Masses may know where he is and what he is doing. He purposefully wasted all the valuable time until now, to speak to Japan. Come on Man, why all these dramas; it is Japan; it is dying to do some help for Ceylon people. Evil Emperor pretends to be a hi-fi, classy beggar, so he could not take a separate trip in time for the loan negotiation. So, he went to Japan masquerading with another purpose, that is attending the Ex PM-Funeral. Is that a suitable time to ask countries in the funeral service to give up their loan, which is their citizens’ tax money, and that we have stolen to deposit in our Royals’ foreign bank accounts?

  • 1
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    The trick here is if have won the consent of debtors’ he wants to claim he did and if he fails, he wants to brush off as he did not try because he went only for the funeral. Is this a sincere, honest, full-fledged method to restore the country’s economy? All what he did so far in the name of restructuring the economy is giving 75 rowdies and murderers the nations’ highest employment of Minister ships. This Evil Emperor is such a classy beggar, so he is fully nude even not wearing the Amude. What the Langkang masses should do is, Backs and Whites, atheists and theists, shorts and longs, babies, and elderlies should flock all the roads in the country starting October, until Ranil releases his choke hold on the country. Otherwise, he will not release the country until he destroys it like he effaced the UNP out of the parliament.

    Let us give a piece of advice for the Ceylonese. If the 75 years curses of the Royals & the Emperor Families are not get ridden, rest of their history going to be dire by famine, crimes, and fights. Thus, get together and act decidedly, without getting caught in Evil Ranil’s traps

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