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Sri Lanka: Instability, Crisis, Chaos to Feral State

Sri Lanka over the past six months has deteriorated from instability political and economic to crisis of governance and law and order, into chaos which came in two phases on May 09 and July 09 and now increasingly into a feral state which has fallen to the wolves so to say with mobs ruling the seats of governance including the Presidential palace.

Clearly this downfall is the outcome of an elite which has been purblind to reality who continued to fill their coffers even as the people on the streets were lining up for fuel and struggling to muster funds for food. The details of the financial crunch including forex have been well documented now.

Failure of a Corrupt Elite

What is lesser known is the elite’s continued resistance to bring relief to the people. The outcome is a President who had to flee in an Air Force aeroplane to Maldives and is now moving towards exile either in Singapore or UAE where he and his family have adequate money stashed to make a luxurious life even as the masses over which they ruled is picking crumbs from the ground.

Even as the President has fled the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is equally unpopular and with the people now demanding his resignation has taken charge and imposed an emergency and a curfew.

The president had fled the presidential palace in Colombo under naval protection, shortly before thousands of protesters stormed the building. Both Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have said that they will resign once a new government is formed. This comes even as immigration officials withdrew from operations as former Minister and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brother Basil Rajapaksa tried to leave the country.

This comes after protesters demanding his resignation attempted to enter the Prime Minister's Office on Flower Street. The Police also fired tear gas to disperse a group of protesters near the entry road to the Parliament as per the Colombo Page.

Who are the protestors?

The crowd is led by a mixed group with leaders such as Wasantha Mudalige, convener of the Inter-University Student Union, are now calling for order “Therefore, the struggle should be carried forward in a planned and purposeful way. Let all the strugglers who are near the parliament come to the Galle Face area and strengthen the struggle,” he pleaded.

All eyes are on the parliament as the constitutional crisis can be only solved by the members. Former Election Commission Chief Mahinda Deshapriya said this crisis can be solved only through the Parliament. “Surrounding it is a nod to a military junta. I request the youth of the struggle not to be deceived by a so-called leader and avoid surrounding the Parliament & speaker’s house,” former Election Chief said as per the Colombo page report.

General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defense Staff who is accused of human rights abuses himself has now called for the people in the country to support the three-armed forces to maintain peace in the country.

Silva said, "We request all your dear Sri Lankans to allow the armed forces and the police to maintain peace in the country without destroying private or government property." He asked the people to help preserve the country’s peace until the next president is appointed.

As per the Colombo Page “Sri Lanka Army has been empowered to legitimately exercise their force, in order to protect the lives of the people and state property and key installations from harm and damage”.

Role of Parliament

But it is not clear if the parliament can provide a solution. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) block led by the Rajapaksa’s has 100 seats in the 255-seat parliament and thus is the largest party. SLPP has been holding a majority in tandem with several members who are technically in the opposition but support the government from time to time.

Ruling SLPP is expected to continue to attempt to take advantage of being the largest party and stick to reins of power with a nominee who is acceptable to the parliamentarians as well as the masses – a difficult proposition thus who that is remains to be seen? These groups will prevent alternatives from emerging.

Formation of a new government has been delayed as the Rajapaksa family continues to hold the reins of power and thus can pull many strings. Speaker of the parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should be the President. He is an out and out Rajapaksa loyalist.

Sri Lanka’s main opposition party will nominate its leader, Sajith Premadasa, as the country’s next president when elections are held in parliament on July 20. Will he be able to stem the chaos remains to be seen?

The Buddhist clergy always an important voice in the country with a Sinhala Buddhist majority have issued a joint statement. Chief Prelates of the Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters, Amarapura and Ramanna Maha Nikaya all party leaders to convene Parliament and establish a systematic governance as per the Colombo Page. The Page continued to state, that, “The Chief Prelates said at this critical time, the need has arisen for leaders of all political parties to focus on the expectations of the people and convene the parliament to build a systematic governance within a democratic structure in a way that does not harm the image of the country internationally”.

India’s Cautious Role

While India has been supporting Sri Lanka over the past one year and more, collapse of governance particularly the higher leadership in the country in the past two months has proved to be a major challenge. Delivery of assistance is based on a common understanding arrived at the highest level of national leadership.

With a vacuum at the top, as the President is persona non grata and the Prime Minister is lamenting the loss of his house with a library with hundreds of books instead of emphasising with the people, there is no one that New Delhi can rely on to deliver. The High Commission in Delhi is no doubt active but the response in Colombo appears to be uncertain. As a result, what has emerged as a bottomless pit which over $ 3.5 Billion aid from India has not been able to fulfil.

Meanwhile the bogey of Indian troops landing in Colombo is used by some of the opposition groups from time to time to keep the situation destabilised and unless there is a new power arrangement made the country will continue to remain in shambles.

Conclusion – Road Map for Stability

The road to stability in Sri Lanka is long and will have many speed bumps, most importantly replacement of the political elite and investigations in their ill-gotten wealth must be launched immediately to meet the anger of the masses which is spilling over on the streets and may continue to do so if they find the Rajapaksa’s or their nominee Ranil continuing to hold on to seats of power. The next stage will be replacements through the Constitutional powers granted to the parliament and those who emerge must be constitutionally and politically acceptable.

Thereafter a technocrat government will have to be formed to take the people into confidence, share their privations visibly and lead the economy out of the morass.

At present this appears to be a tall order.


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