By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Part 26: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: Taking Dictatorial Steps to Control Public Sri Lanka
The fundamental issues in Sri Lanka and a few other developing countries affected by economic disasters have similar situations. These include (A) the lack of “law and order,” (B) honesty of those who were elected (people were misled and uninformed) as politicians (greed) at all institutes, (C) disregarding what the country and people need, (D) lack of long term plans and policies, (E) public interest is met with greed, turn into deals for personal benefits and commissions, (F) enact laws and abuse existing laws (PTA-see below) to protect themselves and their wrongdoings and to suppress an uprising by the public, and (G) refusal to do the right things that benefit the country and its people (e.g., sustainable development, prosperity, poverty alleviation, etc.). Besides, in recent years, the abuse of power by politicians in Sri Lanka has escalated beyond all reasonable limits.
Why Sri Lanka is at its current sad status
Politicians continue abusing loopholes in the awful 1977 constitution for personal gain, which worsens the characteristics mentioned above. Thus, there is an urgent need for major changes to the political system and the introduction of a new constitution. For accountability, the new constitution must have mechanisms to make accountable and bring those who break law and order and violate the constitution, including the president, to justice, enabling them to recall and replace inefficient or corrupt politicians.
Despite some continuing, it is impossible to justify “how and the ways” politicians and senior administrators bankrupt the country: evidence and the perpetrators are apparent. Nevertheless, there will not be any justice until a new set of younger politicians replace the entrenched older, corrupted lot. With the new constitution, if any new politicians or administrators misbehave, they will be brought to justice— penalties and jail sentences, as happened last week with the former prime minister in Malaysia.
The administration had many opportunities since 2019 but failed to take any initiatives. There is no tangible initiative yet put into practice to cut down governmental expenses drastically (over-blown numbers of government servants in every department and ministry) and/or revitalise production, supply chain and exports.
As some pundits insist, the consequence of having an early general election without resolving the fundamental political and economic issues will be more severe for Sri Lanka than it is current issues. It would undoubtedly convert a peaceful situation (except for the current government-sponsored terrorism against people) into violence from both sides: further exacerbating the misery for people and economic calamity.
Regression of the progress—development, economy, social status, and law and order
If any advances and growth Sri Lanka gained over the past several decades were regressed within the past decade under the past three presidencies, especially since 2019. The negative impacts on all development-related indexes and indices, prosperity, gross national (un)happiness, and the welfare of the society. Meanwhile, the blatant lack of law and order, especially by the rulers and the police, stealing, and law-breaking by the elected and unelected government officers and their servants, led to increased food insecurity, poverty, robbery, crime, and murders. Leaders of these administrations need to be made accountable and brought to justice under the new constitution.
The escalation of government-sponsored terrorism—abusing power, especially since July 9th, 2022, led loss of trust of people against the president and the international community. The root causes of the current situation are extreme greed (daylight robberies and looting of the treasury), poor governance, bad judgments, and inhumane behaviour of politicians. Their extreme selfishness, the attitude of maintaining “power at any cost,” materialistic gain for themselves, families, and their cronies, and unethical selfish activities, have now spread to corrupt government servants in all institutes and departments.
Excess power corrupts—but the “fear of loss of power” corrupts the most
The fear of loss of power in conjunction with extreme greed by the rulers has resulted in a vicious cycle of abuse of power, nepotism, and embezzling of public resources at every level of central and peripheral governments and administrators across the county. Because of extreme fear of losing power (the current president is one such example), they have taken extreme steps to control the public— declarations of emergency and, now, the ridiculous PTA in the absence of public violence.
If there is terrorism in Sri Lanka, it is staged by the government against the public. Supposed, if there is law and order in the country, the president, ministers, politicians, heads of police, secretary of defence, etc., who give unconstitutional orders to their subordinate staff to violate the law (currently under the disguise of the PTA) and should have been arrested. However, Sri Lanka has not had law and order for a while. Thus, such arrests will not happen in recent days.
Abusing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the absence of terrorism
Since the unnecessary emergency declaration by flustered president Wickremesinghe had expired, he opted to rely on the erroneous PTA to control the public and prevent people from protesting purely to maintain his power. Although people have 100% right to protest and freedom of speech, the right to gather and protest against any government wrongdoings, including demands for changes to the rotten political system and to fix the bankrupt economy.
The current president lost his parliamentary seat at the most recent general election—shamefully, only one free seat was provided to his party. He was ineligible to enter the parliament as his name want not on the national list of candidates. This illegality (i.e., entering the parliament through the back door) is currently under review by the Supreme Court.
Despite the lack of a mandate to be in the parliament or govern the country, he began to abuse the people’s fundamental rights immediately after assuming the presidency, with only 134 votes out of millions of constituents. After failing to maintain control of the populous with his emergency declaration, he is now using artificial and inappropriate PTA to control people and strengthen his unelected dictatorial position. His pathetic and desperate actions would likely hit the final nail in the coffin on preventing the extension of the GSP+ privilege offered to Sri Lanka by the European Union.
Who is terrorising Sri Lanka?
It was not protesters, but the president continued expressing rebellion against the youth, indiscriminately arresting them without reasons or evidence. Blatant desperation of the government, particularly the president, has become evident from continued failures and inability to govern the country. To cover up these and to protect himself, he desperately strengthened his power at the expense of the public and public funds. He and his cronies have unacceptably revamped the PTA and used it against people.
At his instructions, the police are looking for and manufacturing crimes to link those to youth who have (and will) protested against the government’s failure. What an absurdity! This fabrication of the PTA has resulted in the breaking of law: it has allowed law enforcement and the military to break rules with impunity. Besides, it has authorised the police to target people who are exercising their democratic rights to protest against an autocratic government that bankrupted the country.
The changes in the PTA, section 2(1), were enacted to prevent misuse of it by autocratic governments. These include but are not limited to improperly and unnecessarily arresting and detaining persons unconnected to any terrorism-related activity. Thus, the government is violating the constitutional rights of the people. It willfully breaks the laws of the country, harming the public. Recently, there have been some incidences where the PTA should have been applied against politicians who colluded with terrorist groups (e.g., providing funding illegally to known terrorist groups); but to date, no actions was taken. This video discusses one example of a major violation: