Citizens’ anger boils over as rulers continue to display ignorance
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
Unable to bear the absolute ignorance and insensitivity displayed by Cabinet Ministers and members of the Rajapaksa family to the soaring cost of living and being deprived of basic needs required to lead a decent life, the citizens took to the streets, chanting “enough is enough.”
Citizen groups through social media platforms have started mobilising masses to a countrywide protest at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, 3 April. While it appears there is no political influence or affiliation behind this campaign, some leaders in the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya were evidently attempting to hijack the momentum. On the other hand, given the numerical projection of the date chosen for the protest being 4 and 3 (3 April) some speculated if MP Champika Ranawaka’s 43 Brigade was behind this movement.
However, other opposition parties and rebel political parties in the Government, distanced themselves from Sunday’s protest in no time. The protests will be held under the theme ‘Rise against corruption as a nation.’ The hashtag #EnoughIsEnough was trending on social media since early last week.
Silent protests were held in the past few days in several areas, of which the biggest was near the President’s residence in Mirihana on Thursday evening (31). Nevertheless, concerns were raised on who was actually involved in subsequent violent behaviour in Mirihana that ended in setting ablaze a few vehicles and damaging properties.
The UNP said it will not participate in the protests on Sunday.
“The UNP will not be joining any protest organised by anonymous groups. We are committed to conducting our Sathyagraha campaign around the country. The next Sathyagraha will be held in Matara on 6 April,” the party tweeted.
The Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) warned the people to not be misled in such a crucial situation.
“The country is indeed in a deep crisis. Everyone should show their objection against the present government, which has placed the country in this abyss. The public has every right to protest against the Government. However, we request the public to be careful about unorganised protests. Because there could be dangers even in such honest attempts when protests are unorganised,” the JJB said, adding it would never take credit for independent citizens’ protests against the crises in the country.
Eleven constituent parties in the Government also said they have no role in organising the protests on Sunday.
In a statement, National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader MP Wimal Weerawansa said reports that he supports the protests are completely false.
“Rajitha Senaratne and Sajith Premadasa are openly inviting people to participate in the protests. Therefore, we can assume that these protests might be organised by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). We will never ever support protests organised by the SJB, because they are the ones who laid the foundation for this crisis. We request all the citizens not to be victims of a Sri Lankan version of the Arab Spring,” Weerawansa said.
Meanwhile, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara clarified that the SJB is not organising the protests on Sunday (3), but will only support it.
“We are only coming to the protests to support the people who have organised them on social media,” he added.
Meanwhile, the National Security Council meeting took place at the residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday (1). It has been decided not to deploy the military where protests are being held.
Speculation was rife within political circles that PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has been asked to either retire from politics or resign as Premier.
This was due to PM Rajapaksa having repeatedly claimed in the recent past that he has no intention of retiring from politics anytime soon. However, political analysts have pointed out that there could be a hidden agenda behind the recent claims made by the PM.
Presently, even those who are extremely close to the PM have begun to discuss the issue in light of the latter having regularly announced in the past few weeks that he will not be quitting politics. The PM had also reiterated that the confidence placed in the present regime by the people has not been lost despite the myriad of problems faced by them. Does this mean that the people have lost the trust placed in the bigwigs of the present Government? One of the close contacts of the Rajapaksa clan, former Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera recently revealed to the Media that certain SLPP MPs had pushed the PM to the wall at this critical juncture, and dictated terms to him. DEW is known to air his views responsibly and this remark by him is worth pondering over, as it provides food for thought.
Meanwhile, on 30 March, SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe, who hosts a daily morning political talk show, inquired from the PM about the veracity of claims made that he will be leaving politics soon. After reminding the PM about his father’s birthday, which also happened to fall on that day, he inquired from the Premier regarding retirement from politics. The PM responded directly, dismissing the speculation and insisting that he has not had such notions. He said those who engage in politics will never opt out of it and insisted that those who had been rejected by the people will leave politics and certainly not him. The PM maintained that he continues to be among the people. It is pertinent to mull as to why such speculation has been rife in the local political circles.
Especially when the PM has continued to insist steadfastly that he will not be leaving politics, it would be worth finding out whether anyone has urged the PM to consider either retirement or resignation. But, this is a time when all should put politics on the back burner and think about the country, as its problems are starting to boil over. The PM at an event held at Temple Trees on 30 March said this was not the time for political games and instead time to focus on overcoming the issues faced by the people.
Say no to Basil
The most notable slogan or banner that is visible these days throughout the country is for the Government to step down and for the removal of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The Buddhist clergy that had taken the lead in the formation of the present regime has been at the forefront of this latest clamour for the ouster of the Government and the removal of the Finance Minister. One of the most prominent Buddhist monks in the ascension to power of the incumbent President, Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, during a meeting held last week, publicly urged the top brass of the Government to entrust the PM with the Finance Ministry portfolio.
During a meeting held at the Abhayarama Temple, Narahenpita by the Pevidi Handa Organisation, Ven. Ananda Thera said if the President is unwilling to rectify his mistakes and chart a new journey for the country, they will be forced to rethink backing him or look elsewhere for leadership of the country. Prof. Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera claimed that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who had worked to unseat former President Mahinda Rajapaksa seven years ago, was presently striving to do the same to the incumbent President.
The monk not only spoke about the President, but also about the Government and the controversial role played by the Finance Minister. He criticised them virulently. Some of the points raised by the Thera at the meeting are as follows. He said the Government had not heeded instructions given by the Buddhist Clergy not to accommodate clauses to facilitate the entry of dual citizens to Parliament when introducing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
He said those who were clamouring to oust the present Government were not squeaky clean. The Thera added that those who had assumed power had failed to grasp the hopes and aspirations of the very people who had voted for these leaders. Ven. Abhayatissa Thera said all promises given by the President to the Buddhist Clergy to dispense with the clause of dual citizenship via the formulation of a new Constitution are yet to see the light of day. He said though the President had tweaked the Constitution to accommodate his younger brother Basil Rajapaksa, who is a dual citizen, the people was unwilling to embrace the Finance Minister. Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera also criticised the Rajapaksa Government and warned that the county’s Buddhist Clergy will shortly take some startling decision against the present Government. Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera also said the Government should not consider the low profile maintained by monks as timidity. He also said the main reason for the present political debacle is inviting foreign nationals to Parliament. Though there are another three more years for the present Government to serve, the country’s Buddhist Clergy have decided to take the lead in spearheading the protests of the masses against the Government due to day-to-day issues having reached a boiling point. Also, it must be said that despite issues coming to a head, there are no signs of the Government striving to tackle the issues of gas, fuel and electricity by any stretch of one’s imagination. The signs are that these protests could intensify throughout the country against the Government during the coming weeks, as there does not seem to be any resolution in sight to the economic downturn in the country.
Ranil meets an old friend
UNP Leader MP Ranil Wickremesinghe met party activists last Sunday to discuss the country’s present economic woes. At that discussion, the leader spoke on the report compiled on Sri Lanka by the IMF and explained to them in detail regarding the serious proposals included in it. Following this, the leader assured the activists that he will be seeking a two-day debate on it in Parliament.
Wickremesinghe then contacted Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardene and sought a two-day debate in the House on the IMF Report. He then mentioned the same to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.
Gunawardene was also urged to convene a Party Leaders’ Meeting at the earliest ahead of taking a final decision on it. Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando contacted the leader and guaranteed the latter that a debate on the IMF report will be allocated during the first Parliamentary week of April.
Following this, a Party Leaders’ Meeting was fixed for 1 April.
Wickremesinghe and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar are old friends. Jaishankar, representing the BJP, had been known to Wickremesinghe since the early 1990s. The leader in his capacity as a PM and Opposition Leader had met Jaishankar on each visit to India. That was due to Wickremesinghe having known beforehand that Jaishankar was destined to come to the fore within the BJP circles.
Jaishankar became the External Affairs Minister of India when the UNP Leader was not serving in the PM post, Opposition Leader post, or even being an MP. This time around the Indian External Affairs Minister had decided to set aside time to meet the leader when there had been serious discussions taking place here due to Sri Lanka’s present economic downturn. Both the leader and Minister Jaishankar had discussed at length regarding Sri Lanka’s economic upheaval as well as on personal matters. They had also exchanged views in the absence of the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and that discussion had primarily been confined to the duo. Even during the past week, the leader was kept busy due to several TV stations, newspapers and websites having sought interviews from him. Also, businessmen, professionals and trade unionists had also sought time from the leader to discuss the country’s economic debacle and they had subsequently exchanged views with him pertaining to the said issue.
UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, National Organiser Sagala Ratnayake, Chairman Vajira Abeywardene met the leader at the party head office on Tuesday and Wednesday. They primarily discussed the Sathyagraha organised by Deputy Chairman Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and the leader then commended all those involved with its successful organisation. The leader then advised the party activists not to rest on their laurels. He stated that they need to formulate their next strategy towards winning over the public to the UNP. He added that the enthusiasm of the party supporters should not be lost at this critical juncture. They then decided to spread the Sathyagraha campaign throughout the rest of the country and to continue with the party membership drive programme at village level with renewed vigour.
The party activists then decided to press ahead with a Sathyagraha campaign out of Colombo before the Sinhala-Hindu New Year festivities and to take it forward from town to town after the New Year period. Deputy Leader Wijewardene then wondered what alternative the people would have with the Government deciding to impose a 13-hour power cut. He said it would be impossible for the country to move forward under the present circumstances and compared the plight of the citizens to the situation in Lebanon. Range Bandara too agreed with the Deputy Leader’s sentiments and observed that the people were presently feeling sick and tired of the present regime. Chairman Abeywardene too remarked that scarcity of fuel would imperil the forward march of the country. The leader then explained at length the economic instability of the country and warned that if the Government fails to address the situation effectively by end June, the country could nosedive economically, which could even lead to people taking to the streets against the present Government.
Pic by Amith Thennakoon