‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’ Karl Marx
‘Go home madmen’ are not my words; they are the words of the protesters.
Failed family government
People in Sri Lanka have been facing worse ever economic and political crisis after the independence and, the country has gone bankrupt due to the trade deficit and the budget deficit. On 12th April the government announced that it was going to default all external debts, which is $51 billion.
We came to this situation because the authoritarian regime never wanted to listen to the voice of ordinary people, intellectuals and professionals; instead, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa relied on the family cabinet including Basil Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the retired high ranking military officers such as Major Generals.
People from all backgrounds and ages; school children to university professors, ordinary workers to doctors, lawyers etc regardless of their ethnicity and religion came to the streets to protest against the authoritarian government and soaring cost of living, and have been demanding food, gas, fuel, fertilisers for farming. The protesters have been chanting Go home Gota, Madman! Madman!!… Mahinda Rajapaksa, Tsunami fund robber, ‘Mynah (a Sri Lankan bird)’ go home; Basil, Basil, Basil, Basil, Kaputu Kak, Kak, Kak… (Crow).
Their corruptions, frauds and killings of innocent protesters, prisoners including one of the protesters among the people protesting high fuel price at Rambukkana and the villagers in Rathupasvala who demanded clean water have been exposed repeatedly in the island-wide protests and at the presidential secretariat at Galle Face Green: Madmen! Robbers! Give us the money you robbed! Gota, Madman…. the same slogans can hear from every corners of the island. Thousands of parents joined the protests with their young children and even the children were chanting the same without any fear: Go home Gota, Basil, Basil, Basil, Basil, Kaputu Kak, Kak, Kak.. It is crystal clear the attitudes about the Rajapaksa family regime have been entrenched among the vast majority of people including little children in the country and the Sri Lankans who live abroad. They also have been chanting the same slogans from France, UK, and USA etc. Now Rajapaksa government must understand they can no longer govern the country with respect.
Arab Spring in Sri Lanka
Certainly, Arab Spring, the wave of pro-democracy protests and uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2010 and 2011, challenging some of the region’s entrenched authoritarian regimes have inspired our creative younger generation in the digital age to launch well organised protests using social media, with the massive support from the public from village levels to the heart of Administrative Capital Colombo by surrounding the Presidential secretariat and Temple Trees. Coincidently the protests were started in the Spring of Sri Lanka. I am proud of the creativity of our people. I enjoy their funny creations to mock Rajapaksas and, singing and traditional dancing to entertain the protesters and the public.
The Government is about to collapse
The widespread protests have almost toppled the government. President was forced to remove his family members and his most loyal members in the previous cabinet. Although the president reshuffled the cabinet while keeping his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, the protesters ridiculed the move chanting ‘Go home Mynah!’ (Nickname for Mahinda Rajapaksa) as they know that Mahinda Rajapaksa was the mastermind responsible for the current situation. On 26th April, Mahinda Rajapaksa has agreed with representatives of Maha Sanga led by Ven. Prof Omalpe Sobitha that he was willing to resign once the interim government was established.
The former minister of Rajapaksa government, Udaya Gammanpila, who joined the opposition, announced on 25th April, the opposition could easily form a government as it already has support from 120 MPs and some are waiting to join. According to credible sources government could only survive for few weeks.
Sri Lanka owes $51 Billion foreign debts and $8.6 due this year. But all its foreign reserves is less than $1.8 billon and how could the government do it? It is beyond imagination unless independent experts come forward voluntarily with their wealth of knowledge to address the situations without interference of mad politics.
Strengthening 19th Amendment is the solution
Sri Lanka owes $51 Billion foreign debts and $8.6 due this year. But all its foreign reserves is less than $1.8 billon and how could the government do it? It is beyond imagination unless independent experts come forward voluntarily with their wealth of knowledge to address the situations without interference of mad politics. Former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe expressed his willingness to give his expertise to address financial crisis. The only way to get their active involvement is go back to 19th amendment which was created, after public consultation by the respected professionals led by Dr Jayampathy Wickramarathne. I also sent my views and thoughts to the constitutional reform committees suggesting an ideal power balance between the parliament and the president, giving examples from the French and American constitutions and the history form the Roman Era. I am sure various professional bodies, political and pressure groups those who contributed to create the 19th amendment are passionately willing to participate to address the current economic and political crisis for the democracy and the prosperous future of the country.
Did Gota listen to professionals?
When proposed 20th amendment was published, I wrote a feature article, ‘20th amendment, The dark clouds of dangerous dictatorship’ to an online newspaper warning the citizens and the MPs about the dictatorship they would have to live with if it was passed. I personally urged from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, sending an email on 18 October 2020, not to go ahead with it as it could lead to a dangerous editorship in the country. Please see the link of the article I published on Lankaenews.
By now he must have realised, had he honoured the plea he wouldn’t have faced this situation. I also talked on the phone to former minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and told him ‘Die with honour, Do not vote for 20th amendment to bring another dictator’ reminding him about the four decades of bloodshed of the nation due to the dictators. I also talked to MP Dayasiri Jayasekara (Then state minister of Batik) and emailed the article asking to share it with the MPs of his party. But they both had voted for the 20th amendment.
During Presidential election campaign Gotabaya’s Motto was Viyath Maga, Professionals for Better Future.’ Did he really want to listen to professionals?
Here are some other examples:
When Sri Lanka agreed to purchase Chinese Sinopharm vaccine for Covid-19 at $15 for a jab while struggling with dollars I contacted Oxford/AstraZeneca Company in the UK and published an article to inform the public and the government that Astra Zeneca jab could be purchased from UK between $3-5 and informed the government. Prof Channa Jayasumana contacted me to get more information but nothing happened.
When Sri Lanka had been struggling to pay foreign debts I published a feature article with the title after meticulous research and consultations with world’s top class Professors and experts of the subject.
‘Sri Lanka could overcome the recession by legalising and exporting medical cannabis.’ But it was ignored.
After he became the President, Sri Lanka reported highest number of elephants and human deaths due to the Human-Elephant conflict. So I published the following feature article giving my thoughts about the viable solutions. ‘Forgotten Black Panther and President Gotabaya’s blind eye on the tragedy of the wildlife’
Despite the protests from the locals and nature lovers, and environment experts, demanding to save wild animal habitats and the shrinking green space, 65,000 acres of land in the Dehigama area in the Rideemaliyadda Divisional Secretariat Division are to be handed over to Gazelle Ventures of Singapore for a sugar production project. The proposed land belongs to the historical Uva plain, which has several major reserve forests such as the Nilgala Medicinal Forest, Maduruoya Reserve Forest and the Senanayake Samudraya Reserve Forest located.
Criminals get protection
It is a well-known secret, who were behind the Easter-Sunday terror attack? But no one has been punished. Ranil Wickramasinghe was accused of robbing billions of rupees from the Central Bank but he gets highest protection from the government. The courts cases against Basil Rajapaksa and the government supporters such as Choka Malli were withdrawn. People have been watching these helplessly. Finally when severe shortage of essentials such as food, gas, electricity, and petroleum hit the kitchen and the households, people came to the streets to protest.
So people must be vigilant about politicians who try to exploit victorious struggle. Going back to elections is not the priority when the country is facing grave economic and financial crisis.
Need ideal power balance; remember about the dictatorship in Parliament!
Peoples’ power, the popular uprising, has almost toppled the government. But we must be careful not to allow opportunists to fish in trouble waters. Former President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe, who made fertile ground for Gotabaya to become the president, now try to appear as heroes after declaring themselves as independent MPs. Some political parties such as Samagi Jana Balavegaya led by Sajith Premadasa and Jathika Jana Balavegaya/JVP led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the professional bodies like The Bar Association of Sri Lanka propose to abolish executive presidency and to get all powers to the parliament like the powers Prime Minister/parliament had before the 1978 constitution. Sadly they all had forgotten the past and the dictatorship in the parliament.
Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike ruled the country as a dictator after the 1971 armed uprising until 1977, notoriously known as ‘7 year curse’. I grew up under the Sirima’s dictatorship rule and still remember the economic hardship people experienced due to famine: shortage of food including bread, sugar and having Chilli and Rice barriers (Miris polu, hal polu), in the rural farming areas. She extended the life of parliament by 2 years without a public mandate. Nearly 7 years she ruled the country under state of emergency. The dictatorship rule reflected in stage plays such as ‘Eka Adipathi (Dictator)’ by Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and ‘Suba saha Yasa’ by Simon Navagaththegama. Some newspapers like ‘Davasa”closed forever and Lake House, The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited was taken over by the government to frighten media organisations.
During the debate in the parliament after the shooting and brutal police attack on Peradeniya University students at Dr N.M. Perera said (12 November 1976)
‘I speak with agony, why the police had to fire live ammunition on unarmed protesters when they could use tear gas and baton charge to disperse the crowd. There are reports about police brutality; almost everyday a suspect in police custody had been killed. I think it was Hon member for Kolonne Mr Vimalanaga raised that question yesterday.’
M.P. Mr Vimalanaga: ‘Yes, and the answer was that the man collapsed.’
After the brutal police attack on the Peradeniya university students killing 1st year student Weerasuriya and injuring hundreds including monks, protests broke out through the island and the government collapsed. J.R. Jayewardene used the opportunity displaying blood stained cloths and robes on political stages to become the worst dictator in the country. Sirima’s dictatorship rule led the worse dictator to become the president. That is why we need to have an ideal power balance between the parliament and the president. Executive presidency is vital to ensure the unity of the nation. Therefore, President must not be just a rubber stamp. 19th amendment ideally balanced the power between the president and parliament. Maithripala Sirisena cannot claim credit for the democratic change. He openly criticised many time about 19th amendment and expressed his displeasure. He promised to punish Rajapaksas for the corruption and crimes. But he and Ranil did everything to ensure protection for Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya and created fertile ground for them to get 69 million votes.
The great political philosopher, Karl Marx stated in his article, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (German: Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon), written between December 1851 and March 1852, ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’ He gives a vivid description about how and why on December 2 1851, followers of President Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon’s nephew) broke up the Legislative Assembly in France and established a dictatorship.
So people must be vigilant about politicians who try to exploit victorious struggle. Going back to elections is not the priority when the country is facing grave economic and financial crisis. Priority is strengthening the parliament and forming an interim government without corrupt politicians in the cabinet who are dedicated to bring back economic stability and establish democracy.
DR Rajasinghe Bandara