What is happening to Sri Lanka?

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United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory in  Wednesday’s Parliamentary vote for the election of the President was a victory for the Rajapaksas as well. With this victory Wickremesinghe saved the Rajapaksas from being pushed to the political wilderness for the second time within a little longer than two months.   

First, he, by accepting the Prime Ministerial portfolio on May 12 gave a helping hand to the beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who then seemed to be about to give up his position following the resignation of the then Prime Minister and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 9.   

Nine seemed to be a dreadful number for Rajapaksas in recent times. Exactly one month after the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Premier, Basil Rajapaksa, the youngest in the Rajapaksa family resigned as a Member of Parliament on June 9, apparently due to the stress heaped on the family by the continuous people’s agitation against the government led by them. The pressure on the government and the Rajapaksas came to a head when massive crowds converged on the Capital and occupied the Presidential House, Presidential Secretariat, Temple Trees – the Prime Minister’s official residence and the Prime Minister’s office on July 9, forcing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to go into hiding and announce his resignation.  

 

First, he, by accepting the Prime Ministerial portfolio on May 12 gave a helping hand to the beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who then seemed to be about to give up his position following the resignation of the then Prime Minister and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 9

 

Basil Rajapaksa, three days after President Rajapaksa announced his resignation was forced to return home by air passengers at the Katunayake International Airport when he attempted to leave the country, apparently for a long time. Reports said that he had planned to return to the country in March next year according to his air ticket.   

Media reported that President Rajapaksa, after announcing his resignation was also rejected a visa by the US, the country where he had been a citizen until 2019 and had to use an air force flight to travel to Maldives and a Saudi jet thereafter to fly to Singapore from where he tendered his resignation on July 14. His next destination was not known till the time this article was written. This was the situation the Rajapaksas were in when the Parliamentary vote to elect a new President was announced by the Speaker’s office on July 15.   

However, their security has largely been ensured and for some extent the prestige was also restored with the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the 8th Executive President of Sri Lanka on Wednesday. With the forcible clearance of the Galle Face Green of protestors by the armed forces and the police in the early hours of yesterday, the situation has further turned favourable to them.   

On the other hand, the dependency of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s standing as the Prime Minister on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) also ended with him being catapulted to the top most post of the country.

Constitutionally, he could be ousted now only through an impeachment motion which is very difficult under the present circumstances, as it involves a judicial process as well, even if all parties in Parliament wanted him to go.   
Politically, it is the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) that is going to be affected most by this new turn of events as there is a possibility of many MPs of that party being attracted by Wickremesinghe who was their leader until the last Parliamentary election in August 2020. It will also help Wickremesinghe to strengthen his party, the UNP which was reduced to a single national list seat in a 225 member parliament at the last general election.   

The turn of the country’s mood by 180 degrees within a week has to be attributed mainly to the very nature of the public uprising against the government apart from the special influence of certain individuals. The uprising which was largely spontaneous against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic crisis that affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people did not have the direction to a political destination.   

It sprang with a popular slogan “Gota go home,” but the leaders of it who were mainly social media activists did not have a political strategy to implement when “Gota” really went home. Even the leaders of political parties who backed the Aragalaya as it is popularly known had to be just onlookers when the traditional political parties that were directly or indirectly responsible for the economic downturn during the past seven decades took the affair in their hands and attempted to apply their own agendas to the situation.   

Besides, Basil Rajapaksa, after he was prevented from leaving the country seemed to have changed his strategies. Despite his brother, President Rajapaksa who was helplessly struggling to find solutions to the foreign exchange crisis which had brought the country to its knees having offered the premiership to Wickremesinghe in May, Basil, it was rumoured was not happy with the decision. It was also rumoured that Basil was attempting to remove Wickremesinghe from the premier post. However, after the Katunayake saga the strategist of the SLPP seems to have chosen to take the bull by the horns by using Wickremesinghe to challenge all their adversaries who had joined hands in the Aragalaya. In fact, after Rajapaksas were forced to go into political hibernation, the SLPP did not have a strong leader to challenge the situation. Thus their inevitable choice was the UNP leader.  
Interestingly, SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa told media after the conclusion of the Parliamentary vote for the election of the President that he voted for Dullas Alahapperuma, the main rival to Wickremesinghe. And Wickremesinghe in his turn confronted a foreign journalist who suggested that he was a friend of Rajapaksas and rejected the claim. These were two more occasions where one would have been at a loss to prove the truth, even though it was obvious to him.  

The basis for the political alignments that were hurriedly made for the Parliamentary vote for the election of the President was not policy, but the need or greed for power. There is no fundamental policy difference among Sri Lankan political parties, except for a few which are very small. The basic policy of almost all political parties has been the open market economy. No party has put forward or implemented so far an economic policy or a strategy that would lay the foundation for a stable and sound long term economic development that could withstand local and international economic storms in the future. Their own development projects become sell out of national assets when others come to power. All parties have placed the next election and their political survival above national reconciliation. They fight against corruption committed by others, but not prepared at least to admit those committed by people on their side, even if they are proved in a court of law. Everything is decided on the basis of what one would gain or lose  

Thus, SLPP was able to choose Wickremesinghe for the Presidency irrespective of how they portrayed him in the past, even two months ago. Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila were comfortable in a coalition to support the candidacy of Dullas Alahapperuma, with the SJB and TNA. The third candidate, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna/National Peoples Power contested alone.   

With the attack on the protesters by the armed forces and the police yesterday, uncertainty in politics again has come to the fore. The Governments intention  is
 not clear yet as the protesters had announced on Thursday that they would leave the protest sites yesterday.

However, this was unfortunate and dangerous at a time when the country is engulfed by an unprecedented severe economic crisis and the IMF has been stressing the need for political stability in the country.     

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