Time for ‘System Change’ By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
The Seventh Executive President of the Socials Republic of Sri Lanka, Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa RWP RSP, finally had to leave the country after a public campaign that commenced on March 31, 2022 at his private residence in Mirihana, Nugegoda.
On June 9, followed a rampage when protesters at Galle Face were allegedly beaten up by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters, with iron bars and sticks. Among the protesters were looters and thugs who misbehaved engaging in looting and arson where substantial modern houses of Parliamentarians and Government Ministers suffered heavy losses, including their luxury vehicles.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was given a grace period of one month to step down from the Presidency. After a month, on July 9 large crowds made a forced entry into the President’s House at Fort, Colombo just before the President left the President’s House. ‘GotaGoHome’ was the slogan protesters used.
The CID has so far collected ‘clear facial images of 20 suspects involved in the arson attack on the private residence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe at 5th Lane, Kollupitiya on July 9, 2022. The CID has managed to collect these images from the videos and photos released to social media by people who were present at the time of the arson attack from the unedited footage obtained from media organisations.
The CID has also found out that one of the suspects has gone to the UK via Dubai. The CID requested the public to assist them with identifying the suspects from their personal smart phones. Accordingly, photos are to be made public from the Police Headquarters. Apparently, the Fingerprint Department also visited every corner to ascertain the devastation that had been done at the President’s House, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence.
The media stated that the fingerprints do match with the Crime Registry Office in Colombo where fingerprints of many known criminals were stored. It was also found that several people involved in the Aragalaya were among them.
The former President goes into Sri Lanka’s history books as the only President who had to quit the Executive Presidency midway due to unprecedented public protest. He was elected at the Presidential Elections held on November 16, 2019, with an impressive majority with a Government that had a two thirds majority in Parliament. The public expected so many changes from President Rajapaksa at the beginning, but his incompetency in selecting square pegs in round holes rather than those who helped him to walk into the Executive Presidency led to his downfall. His former advisers were professionals (Viyathmaga) but it was unfortunate that his so-called ‘favourite’ advisers’ or charlatans (the correct word) spoiled everything in the end.
The public initially was not aware of his whereabouts. Some speculated that he was hiding in a bunker, or flown to the Trincomalee Naval base, but later it appeared that he had flown to the Maldives Islands, his first destination and then proceeded to Singapore. He issued his letter of resignation from Singapore on July 15. There were only two instances of Sri Lankan Presidents or Prime Ministers resigning from their posts. One was when Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was forced to resign confronting a major trade union strike in the country in 1952. It was a voluntary resignation but not out of any public agitation. The second instance was when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated during a May Day rally. Here, of course, Dingiri Banda Wijetunga became the President without much hassle. On July 15, 2022, the Speaker received by email about President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s letter of resignation officially.
The Prime Minister at the time, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was officially appointed as the President on July 20 in Parliament by a secret ballot.
Enter New President
There were three candidates contesting for the Presidency. Ultimately, Ranil Wickremesinghe received the majority of votes after a secret ballot out of the Parliamentarians. Meanwhile, those who are involved in the ‘Aragalaya’ insisted that Ranil Wickremesinghe should step down and let someone who is better qualified to function as the President. Whatever people may say about Ranil Wickremesinghe, he is an internationally recognised politician with loads of experience in Parliament; He was the only one out of 225 MPs in Parliament who bravely took up the challenge to resolve the economic crisis in Sri Lanka right now.
During his tenure as the acting President, he showed more charisma in comparison with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But there were comments about his decision to expel the Aragalaya crowd from the Secretariat. The explanation by the Police was that the protestors gave a number of excuses as to why they were not vacating the entrance of the Secretariat. Meanwhile, the President had so many duties to perform at his office and the blocking of its entrance had to be cleared. The protesters were dragged out early in the morning on that day which caused a dent in the new President’s image.
Ranil Wickremesinghe who was appointed as the President on July 20, 2022, has a difficult task ahead of him in pulling the country out of the dangerous predicament it is facing at present. There are no quick solutions to boosting the economy, which is going through difficult times. Let’s be honest and ask ourselves; Are there any qualified politicians in the country who are internationally recognised and who are capable of negotiating with international leaders, especially with the IMF? Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry, PC did a fine job in explaining to the IMF about the dire position in the country; he has been reappointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs once again to negotiate with the IMF.
Unrest and turmoil or continuous demonstrations will not help to bring about a change to the ‘system’. It is up to the clergy and his Eminence the Cardinal who have as a prime duty to feed some logic into the minds of the protesters in saving the country from plunging into anarchy, far worse than people had seen in the past. Therefore, both parties have no alternative but to advise the protesters to strictly adhere and respect Sri Lanka’s Constitution because no country will be able to survive without giving pride of place to law and order.
In a ‘system change’ which the young protesters were frantic about, the new procedures should include wiping out corruption and bribery as a main feature. An independent Judiciary, with a much effective public service and efficient Police should be a criterion in projecting a new beginning.