By Siri Gamage –
By now, it is clear that the current government has lost the confidence of a majority of people in Sri Lanka. Various protest marches on roads and other public places by the people-young and old- affected by the current economic and social crisis provide ample evidence to this statement. Angry people have started to block roads in various towns in the provinces. It is reported that in Rambukkana one person has died and 24 injured as a result of a clash between the protesting people and the police. Curfew has been declared in the police division. If this is trend continued, Sri Lanka will soon be engulfed in unacceptable level of harm to people and property. The situation can become uncontrollable due to the hardships experienced by the citizens and rising anger among them.
The police and security forces have a special responsibility to safeguard the interests of the people -though they have a responsibility to protect the elected representatives also in the face of increasing anger among the people about the way country was governed in the last 71 years, in particular the last 2 years. It is a high balancing act for the police and security forces but they have to remember that this is not a normal situation. In times of significant change or transformation, the way the security forces and the police act have to be to keep one eye on the institutions of power on one hand and the welfare of the general population on the other. In other words, not follow the directives of those who are in power discredited by the people per se. Will the police and security forces in Sri Lanka have the wisdom to do so? Only the time will tell. But the protesting masses need to emphasise this fact on every occasion.
In addition to the young middle-class protestors gathered around Gall Face GotaGo Home village and similar places around the country and the National People Power (NPP) protestors, the academic staff of Sri Lanka’s universities have also started a march from Kandy to Colombo. People affected by the current crisis throughout the country have started to come to the streets and block roads with buses and other vehicles. Their anger is partly about the shortages of fuel, gas, food, medicine etc on one hand and the corrupt and inefficient government on the other. Other professionals such as nurses, artists, journalists, cinema actors have also joined these protests.
The parliament is discussing the way forward in the current session. Hopefully some legislative amendments to the constitution will emerge to coincide with the demands of protesting population to reflect the current mood on one hand and remove the extreme powers entrusted upon the executive President with the 20th amendment. These are signs that the system in place for the governance of Sri Lanka is not suitable for a democracy in the 21st century and the ruling elites/class has enacted legislation and transferred powers to itself contrary to popular expectation. A kingly system-in symbolic and real terms- that maintains political families of various sorts is not suitable for today when the country is hurting and burning. Discontent among the majority in the population is evident everywhere.
Present rulers and the institutional set up backing them need to heed the popular demand coming from all sectors -whether it is academic, political, religious and diasporic. They need to act in the best interest of the people and their interests rather than saying that 69 million people voted them into power 2 or more years ago. The situation that existed two years ago was quite different from the critical situation facing the country today. Current situation is a highly volatile one and one which is fast moving. It cannot be arrested by the power of the gun. There needs to be a political solution in the first place to create some semblance of stability. Such stability cannot be established without the government getting the necessary support from the opposition lawmakers.
All elected officials and parliamentarians need to think about the long-term national interest more than the short-term preservation of their own power. If the rulers decide to use force to curtail popular protests -whether it is in the Gall Face or elsewhere in the country- I am afraid that more blood will have to be shed before normalcy can be restored. Even foreign intervention is to be expected if the situation is not handled patiently, collectively and correctly. Any force has to be used proportionately by disciplined foot soldiers -unlike in the past. An idea for the protesting population is to set up “citizens committees” in various parts of the country to keep peace. If necessary members of the police force can be included in such committees. Local leaders not aligned with political parties per se need to take the leadership.
So, my appeal to all lawmakers is to dialogue and negotiate an acceptable solution to the large majority of people and a majority of lawmakers in the parliament. As a first step, an interim arrangement with an interim government has the potential to calm the agitated population. However, the second step should be for the President and the PM to resign and fresh elections conducted within a time frame of 6 months to one year the latest.
Sri Lanka cannot be the laughing stock of the world. It is important to find solutions to the economic crisis but without solutions to the political and social crisis this will not be viable. Insisting on the former requires the current governance system to continue with the current office holders. This is not acceptable to the protesting population whose livelihoods and very existence have been made difficult due to the economic and political crisis.
In the name of national interest, welfare of the people, future of the young generation, and international respect and credibility a better alternative for the short term and long-term governance of the country is absolutely necessary. May all the lawmakers, the President and the PM have the wisdom to take immediate decisions with this in mind!