Hours after taking oaths as the President of Sri Lanka, the real Ranil Wickremesinghe stood up and exposed himself as the fascist that he had accused Sri Lanka’s protesters of being.
It is clear that underneath the smooth-talking civilized image he had cultivated as cover, hovered a dark and menacing force which was held in check only until he secured through parliament, the safety afforded by the apex position of power as President and the means to impose that violence on the people through his authority over the defense establishment.
Unelected by the people for good reason, appointed by the deposed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a last inimical act against the people before he fled, Ranil now sits in the seat he coveted for so long. The party of the Rajapaksas, his political opponents until now, fulfilled his cherished dream of becoming the President of Sri Lanka by voting for him in parliament, the first time that an unelected leader was thus appointed to lead the country.
Unable to restrain his tendency towards violent repression, the new President unleashed a reign of terror soon after midnight as the people slept and the protesters at Galle Face prepared to vacate the premises in the morning, some even having announced that they were prepared to give Ranil a chance.
A massive military and police contingent descended on the unsuspecting protesters, beating them up and grabbing their phones, and even beating up lawyers who were there to represent them, as well as journalists there to report on the protests. By morning, reports and videos of this inexcusable attack on peaceful protests were circulating widely on social media.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka instantly issued a statement calling it a “brutal and despicable attack” and “a total violation of the fundamental rights of the people by the Executive”. An investigation is to follow. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) also issued a statement in similar vein as did several foreign envoys, concerned at this unexpected turn of events.
The protests which were to disperse have now gathered new momentum, and will only increase. Sri Lanka, going through its worst economic crisis, bankrupted by politicians consequently imposing unprecedented hardships on the people, is about to undergo a nightmare of violence atop the economic misery. Given the disposition of the new President laid bare in the light of day, this seems inevitable.
Already incensed by the living conditions they have been reduced to, the people are going to take it full-on, undeterred by the guns and batons arrayed against them, until they oust the new President, just as they did the last one only days ago.
Ironically, it is the same political party dominated by the Rajapaksas, the SLPP, that created the conditions that brought the entire country out in protests due to policy mismanagement, which has now imposed far more lethal danger on the people by a move it thought was strategic genius so as to to retain power for itself. It voted almost en-bloc, for an unpopular, unelected former political opponent with a penchant for violence as the new President. Ranil Wickremesinghe has since proved that he is far more trigger happy than the former soldier, Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the way he responded to peaceful protests.
This entire situation where the parliament no longer represents the people, and is therefore using every desperate move to prolong its life against the wishes of its constituents, is a bomb waiting to explode as the inevitable austerity measures are imposed as part of the recovery package. It is hissing along the fuse already, ignited prematurely by the arrogant display of force by the new President.
As this is being written, the main railway station in the city of Colombo is swelling with protesters against this new tyranny, as the President appoints a PM from the SLPP. His call for an all-party administration is in tatters as the Opposition uniformly condemns this horrific attack. The President has lost his legitimacy in a new and unexpected manner, having overcome the lack of a mandate through a technicality in the Constitution, and the unstinting support of a now deeply discredited SLPP administration.
How will such a President and the SLPP administration to which he is now indebted for his rise to the top, be able to convince any donor, let alone the IMF, that he will be able to make the painful but necessary economic measures acceptable to the people he has needlessly incensed at the very start of his presidency? Who on earth could be persuaded into thinking that Sri Lanka under Ranil Wickremesinghe will be a stable democracy? It has just become more volatile than it has been since the 30-year war which ended in 2009.
People are already calling for fresh elections, since President Wickremesinghe could not have engaged in affording us a sneak preview of his style of governance if not for the composition of the current parliament which had such little regard for the manifest wishes of the people who sent them there. That preview was prefigured in his first visit to a government institution after giving oaths, which was to the headquarters of the army where he met the commanders of the tri-forces, the Secretary/Defence and the Chief-of-Staff of Defence forces. It didn’t take long after that, for the crackdown to commence.
Given the darkening mood on the street, the Government would do well to hand over the administration to the Opposition and exit gracefully, if they cared about either the country or its people. They have proved beyond doubt that they are not part of the solution in any form or shape whatsoever. Giving up power though, is something way beyond their capability, given their leech-like habits towards power.
It is now up to the people, especially the young, and the parliamentary Opposition, the civil society institutions and the international community to combine to save this island from this manic, maniacal grasp at power by a group of old politicians and former opponents, exploiting to their benefit the dire straits they themselves have brought the country to.
The People however, left with little choice, will in all likelihood attempt to do it themselves with or without anyone’s help, just as they successfully did the last time with only strength and spirit, songs and solidarity as their weapons. It will be a blessing indeed if matters stay confined to these.