Sri Lanka: Anachronism of All-Party Government to get over national crisis
Col R Hariharan a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90 writes of how an all party government in Sri Lanka is not the solution to the national crisis. Have a look..
The Rajapaksa’s – President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda – are fighting a losing battle to retain their hold on power, after public protests demanding their removal gathered momentum. During the first half of the month Sri Lanka went bankrupt, when the government announced that it would temporarily default on $35.5 bn in foreign debt as the war in Ukraine aggravated the country’s economic woes. Officially, Sri Lanka has requested emergency financial help from the IMF as bailout talks got underway in Washington. Finance Minister Ali Sabry is leading the negotiations with the country’s creditors on restructuring loans, which is required for an IMF package.
As the Sri Lankan media headlined it was confusion, confounded, as both the President and PM played political hopscotch to form an “all-party government” (APG) as though it is the panacea for the national crisis. The President convened a meeting of leaders of all parties to discuss the issue. But it seems to have made no breakthrough. Former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena speaking to the press after the meeting, said “President Rjapaksa agreed to appoint an interim government and also a cabinet of ministers without the current PM.” Is ‘interim government’ different from ‘APG’? Or are they the same? Who will lead it as PM, if Mahinda is out?
The political talkathon on the subject even within the ruling SLPP coalition partners and 42-breakaway “independent” MPs from the coalition, has yielded no firm results. More time seems to have been generated on pulling the rug under the feet of the elder Rajapaksa to remove him as PM, while some others wanted both of them out. With political jabberwocky dominating the news, few things seem certain. For the time being, PM Rajapaksa seems to be reconciled to quit, if the President so demands. At least for the time being, Mahinda seems to have blinked in the eye-ball to eye-ball stare‘athon’. He has also lost the support of Mahanayaka Theras, Buddhist prelates. But the moot point is do these political manoeuvres help in overcoming the national crisis? The short answer is zilch.
Even if the APG is formed with some under the table manoeuvres so common in Sri Lanka politics, does President Gotabaya have a plan ready for the government to implement? After all, one of the first things the President did on his election was to arm himself with full executive powers through the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, breaking the fetters imposed by the 19th Amendment. He had his elder brother as PM and the Rajapaksas controlled the key ministries. In spite of this, the President compounded his errors of judgement, by implementing his grandiose election promises and now the country is paying for it.
The Gotabaya government’s clumsy handling of the burgeoning public protests during the last three weeks, conflated them into a national anti-government mass movement, with all sections of society – students, consumers, tradesmen, trade unions, medical and media men, lawyers and even clergy – joining in. If we go by this example, it is difficult to be confident about the chances of success of any national recovery plan, the President may have up his sleeve. In any case, the APG may never come through, as two no confidence motions (NCM) – one against the President and the other against the government are to be submitted by the opposition in the first week of May. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will be moving the NCM against the President while the main opposition party SJB is the sponsor of the NCM against the government. Even after two NCMs are passed in parliament, what do opposition parties propose to do? As of now, they do not seem to have come together to evolve a consensus, let alone a plan.
The total loss of public support to the Rajapaksas was demonstrated by hundreds of bhikkus who gathered in Colombo. Once staunch supporters of Gotabaya, they called upon the President and the government to resolve the current economic crisis by implementing the Mahanayaka Theras proposal. If the proposal was not implemented the Mahanayake would issue a Sangha Convention edict calling on monks to shun politicians. They called upon PM Rajapaksa to resign forthwith to make way for an interim government of all parties. Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera asked President Gotabaya to beg for forgiveness from the people for all the bad decisions he made, causing much harm. He also criticised PM Rajapaksa for showing open disdain for the Mahanayaka Theras request to step down and make way for the appointment of a new PM. On the opposition parties, he said they were only interested in using the crisis to come to power instead of thinking how they can help “douse the flames” and bring some relief to the people.
In the rat race of politics, the common man (like Indian Penal Code, man includes woman) seems to have been left on the fringe of national discourse by politicians. But that may not reflect the ground situation. The massive protest movement is gathering more strength as politicians dither, like a distant thunder before the squall. The continuing Aragalaya (struggle in Sinhalese) at Gota Go Gama at the Galle Face promenade in Colombo has become the focal point of the anti-Rajapaksa struggle.It showed that regardless of caste, creed, religion and language people have lost faith in the political class, who are trying to hitch a ride on the public protests. Can they succeed? As Sanja Jayatilleka wrote in Colombo Telegraph, “It’s The People vs the Political Class, in the Aragalaya. The People are winning because they are clearer, more intelligent and are way ahead of the politicians. The parliamentarians who can’t seem to get what the people have crystal clear, can play silly buggers only the people stop them.” High time the politicians realised this is testing time for democracy and if they fail the people, democracy will be in peril.