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Amid an on-going economic and social upheaval Ranil Wickremesinghe has made a transition from Premier to President of Sri Lanka.
After embattled former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on May 9, and former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, for the first time in the annals of the country, the presidential election was held by a secret ballot in Parliament on July 20, 2022. Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected the President, winning 134 votes.
It is to be noted that the Tamil National Alliance representing the Tamils living in the North and East has not supported him.
The protesters, who had forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit and laid a siege to his palace, have staged protests against Wickremesinghe also. Their continuing agitation has targeted the new President, calling on him to resign. On Wednesday, as the election for the president was held, the iconic Galle Face Green, the nerve center of the protesters, was occupied by the citizens on satyagraha.
The reasons are not far to seek.
For the first time in the annals of the country, the presidential election was held in a secret ballot in Parliament and Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected the President, winning 134 votes
The rulers of the island nation have till date not been in politics for the welfare of the people. The only concern they have had is about the development of their political career. In this respect, the racial differences of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims have mattered little.
A deep analysis of the Sri Lankan political culture and the politicians will throw up the fact that only the affluent, that too, those with muscle and money power, can call the shots. The lawmakers have not represented the working people’s problems and woes in Parliament, nor have they found solutions to these problems.
For instance, there is virtually no politician in Sri Lanka, who has focused on the farmers’ or fishermen’s problems nor gone the extra mile to solve them. To be precise, no political party has accommodated fishermen or farmers or members of the unorganised sector or fielded candidates from these groups in elections. The reason is very simple — neither fishermen nor farmers are flush with the funds needed to win elections.
The politicians across parties in the island nation are from a few families of affluence and influence or are industrialists of prominent provinces. They are descendants in some cases of royal families, or political families. Endowed with enormous wealth, they essay important roles in political parties. Quite like the rest of south Asia, money and influence are the major factors that drive Sri Lankan politics.
Not surprisingly, a government helmed by politicians flush with funds hardly thinks about the people at the lowest rung of the society and enacts laws only to safeguard the interests of capitalists and corporates.
For instance, in 2021, when Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a overnight decision, banned the import of fertilisers without consulting either the members of Parliament or the farmers who would be affected by the move, no politician raised his voice against the new policy. Similarly, there are problems facing the workers of the textile mills, tea estates and Sri Lankan maids employed in the Middle East. They are the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy since they bring in much of the foreign exchange. But their issues have remained unaddressed.
On the other hand, politicians or their family members get away crimes, as they are armed with affluence and influence. In case the victims of their crimes happen to be from the working class, they are unlikely to get justice.
A deep analysis of the Sri Lankan political culture and the politicians will throw up the fact that only the affluent, that too, with muscle and money power, can call the shots in politics
Miffed for long over this political system favourable to the rich and cruel to the poor, the people of Sri Lanka have, of late, been up in arms, vociferously demanding the ouster of the present rulers and reform of the entire system. They are also pushing for replacing the corrupt in all corporations, government departments and even in diplomatic missions.
At a time when the embittered citizens are gathering and marching with demands for the removal of not only the venal rulers but also the exploitative and corrupt officials from the top posts, a new Sri Lankan President has been elected in Parliament.
Will Ranil be accepted by the people without whose mandate he has now ascended the throne? This question needs no answer for it’s a rhetorical one. But in all likelihood, the vociferous cry that resounded sometime back — “Go Home Gotabaya” — will turn into ‘Go Home Ranil.”
Ironically, Wickremesinghe was rejected by the people in the election held in 2020. The people have also demanded his removal as PM recently and are still against him. But in the present circumstances, he has to rule with a keen sense of responsibility. He has been saying that he will bail out the country and restore normalcy by solving all problems.
Even if he gets IMF assistance to fulfil the people’s basic needs, the monetary help will come with strings attached. It is an open secret that the conditions set by the IMF for its gesture towards Sri Lanka will affect the welfare and social security of the common people. Hence, the new President has a mammoth task ahead to ensure that proper ways and means are found to repay the debts and the people are not further affected by the IMF loan.
The tasks ahead of him are highly challenging. Will he make a sincere attempt to lift the country out of the morass it has fallen into or will he continue the wonted rule of aggression, lawlessness and nepotism as done by the Rajapaksa family?
It is equally doubtful whether, unlike under the previous regime, there will be transparency under the new dispensation in the matters regarding engagement with China.
Apart from all these issues, allegations have gained ground that the Rajapaksa family has robbed the country of its wealth and is absconding. Though unsubstantiated, the allegations have gained ground globally. In yet another challenge to Mr. Wickremesinghe is whether he will order a transparent enquiry into the Now the big poser to Ranil is if he will order an honest and sincere enquiry into the corruption and malfeasance of the Rajapaksa family.
The bankruptcy of the government, which has left the people starving, and facing a shortage of food, fuel and jobs opportunities, must be dealt with by the new dispensation. If the people are still more burdened with foreign loans, the current agitation, backed by no political party and no foreign influences, will snowball into a much more massive one infused with renewed vigour.
The protestors and citizens have called for the following under the new regime:
- Abolition of the executive presidency via a Constitutional amendment.
- Accountability of the President to the people who must be ensured of the power to bring the President to book in case of malfeasance.
- A ban on the defection of elected representatives
The newly elected president Ranil Wickremesinghe was not elected by the people; in fact, he was elected by the members of Parliament, whom the people have rejected. So, Ranil is obviously no people’s president, having no popular mandate. It is no wonder the people fear that he would try to crush the people’s revolt with an iron hand, using the army — he has a track record of having oppressed the JVP youth violently.
The tasks ahead of him are highly challenging. Will he make a sincere attempt to lift the country out of the morass it has fallen into or will he continue the rule of aggression, lawlessness and nepotism as done by the Rajapaksa family?
Sri Lanka is now badly in need of a decent and healthy political culture free from corruption, anti-people policies and exploitation – a culture dominated by the real representatives of people, who are intimately associated with the grassroot-level people and their lifestyle. The people of the island-nation have understood the need fully.
Till the lofty goal is achieved, let the mass struggles continue. Let the people usher in democracy free from the evils of capitalism. Not only in Sri Lanka but also all over South Asia and the world, a genuine democracy must emerge.
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