• Condemnation for GGG attack exceed congratulations
• President makes Sri Lanka a human rights pariah
John F Kennedy once said that those who make revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country’s new president by default, is on a slippery slope.
Within hours of Wickremesinghe’s induction to Office the Sri Lanka military’s brutal crackdown on unarmed protesters at the Gota Go Gama site in Galle Face went viral and global. GGG as it is known, more fondly than furiously, is no ordinary protest site. It was set up more than 100 days ago with several goals. First among them was for former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. GGG which has now come to symbolize peaceful citizens protests has become a global brand.
Wickremesinghe’s folly, as the commander – in- chief of the country’s forces was his failure to stop the attacks. The error has been a costly one and is coming back to bite him.
The brickbats from around the world that Wickremesinghe got for the attack were far more than the felicitations he got on his appointment as President. America’s ambassador in Sri Lanka Julie Chung who has been meeting the leaders of Sri Lanka’s political parties, met the President to convey her country’s ‘grave concern over the unnecessary and deeply troubling escalation of violence against protesters overnight’. The president and cabinet have an opportunity and an obligation to respond to calls of Sri Lankans for a better future, she tweeted.
Despite worldwide condemnation, Wickremesinghe’s response to the attack has been lukewarm in contrast to the rap on the knuckles he gave Chung about Americans storming the Capitol building.
If the hacked cliché is to be used, when Wickremesinghe gave a Chung a piece of his mind he forgot that beggars can’t be choosers. Last week the Samagi Jana Balwegaya leader Sajith Premadasa hinted at sanctions by the West for the GGG attack although the moral difficulty for the Americans will be how to do it without hurting Sri Lanka’s people.
Wickremesinghe’s juggernaut of repression did not stop with the attack. Days later his backers in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna gave him a free hand to extend the state of emergency. Their vote in parliament was seen as one to repress protesters and protect parliamentarians. Speaking in parliament during the debate to extend the emergency National Peoples Power MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya said parliament is neglecting the causes and reasons for the peoples’ protest. ‘There has to be a threat to national security or public security for emergency to be declared and that these conditions have not been fulfilled for it. The imposition of the emergency is not proportionate to the situation outside. If there is a threat, it is not the people who face it but the 225 people who are inside parliament and it is them that the emergency is being used to protect. Let’s not hide behind what’s constitutional. She called on parliamentarians to do the right thing by the people.
A former human rights commissioner Ambika Satkunanadan filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court challenging the declaration of the state of emergency and the emergency regulations alleging violations of several articles of the constitution. She cited the attorney general, the current and former secretaries to the president and the secretary to the ministry of defence as the respondents in the case.
Wickremesinghe has been blase about the witch hunt and arrest of frontline aragalaya figures. Like the attack on the protesters, there has been a resounding denouncing of the witch hunt and arrests by the global community. The SJB leader also warned of potential sanctions against Sri Lanka. While it is rumoured that Wickremesinghe could be considering granting a pardon to those who have been arrested the question is what crime they have committed for a pardon to be forthcoming.
For months the SLPP has been turning Sri Lanka’s political and economic crisis into a chicken or egg situation. Its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam has insisted on a resolution of the economic crisis before the political one despite clear indications to the contrary. The latest have been the missives from the World Bank and Fitch. In its latest statement the World Bank said it does not plan to offer new financing to Sri Lanka until an adequate macroeconomic policy framework is in place. The World Bank said that to date it has disbursed about USD 160 million to meet urgent needs of the people. ‘We are working closely with implementing agencies to establish robust controls and fiduciary oversight to ensure these resources reach the poorest and most vulnerable. We will continue to monitor this closely’, it said. Fitch, more forthright, said political risks still challenge Sri Lanka’s emergence from default. “The government’s parliamentary position appears strong, but public support for the government is weaker. President Wickremesinghe was prime minister in the previous administration under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was brought down by protests. Parliament and the government also remain dominated by politicians from the Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance, which is closely affiliated with the Rajapaksa family.”
The credit rating agency pointed out that this may increase the risk of further destabilising protests if economic conditions do not improve and/or reforms generate public opposition.
The overtures that Wickremesinghe is making to the opposition to form an all -party interim government will be one way for him to legitimize and give an air of respectability to a government which is reeking of rot. The state media reported recently that 94 MPs don’t have an ordinary level education. In an endless list, the skeletons in the government’s cupboard have become replete with bribery, corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
The Ven Omaple Sobitha during a press conference soon after the President’s customary visit to the chief priests in Kandy after he assumed office, questioned the President’s sincerity about forming an all -party government. ‘The President’s actions don’t match his words. If he was sincere about an all- party government he would have appointed a prime minister from the opposition instead of giving it to someone from the SLPP. It is still not late for him to reverse his decision’.
The fact of the matter however could be that the SLPP has Wickremesinghe in a stranglehold to do their bidding. Yesterday Nimal Siripala De Silva, a parliamentarian in the ruling party, was re -appointed a minister after an inquiry into allegations of bribe taking from a Japanese company linked to the construction of the Colombo Light Rail Transit. Sri Lanka has a dubious record with State inquiries and investigations, with the findings and recommendations rarely made public.
It was also yesterday that the Cabinet approved the draft of the 22nd amendment to the constitution. At the time the draft was initially floated to the public during the time of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, critics said it does not reflect the 19th amendment which is the aspiration of most including Wickremesinghe who has been promising to restore its provisions. The Centre for Policy Alternatives which reviewed the draft said it does not curtail the powers of the president nor introduce checks and balances in any meaningful manner. In a statement it issued as recent as on the 30th of June this year, the CPA said that the draft is contrary to the demands of the people of Sri Lanka. ‘In the absence of any genuine attempt to address the inherent problems of governance this attempt at reform will only worsen the existing political and economic crisis and destroy whatever little remaining faith citizens might have in constitutional governance’, it went on to say. In another recent development Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga appointed Nimesh Herath as the Chairman of the UDA. Herath reportedly, is Ranatunga’s son- in -law.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile surrounded himself with his usual band of men all of whom lost their parliamentary seats at the last election. They are Sagala Ratnayaka who was appointed his Chief of Staff, Ruwan Wijewardene and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam who were appointed presidential advisers and Vajira Abeywardene who was rewarded with the national list seat Wickeremsinghe vacated on becoming president.
Until Abeywardene’s appointment to parliament, Wickremesinghe was the only UNPer having entered it through the national list after leading his party to a resounding defeat at the last parliamentary election. He himself lost his parliamentary seat having polled a mere 19, 241 votes. These appointments will shore up Wickremesinghe but will not take away the cloud he is under about his legitimacy to be in parliament.