A unified effort, the need of the hour | Sunday Observer

A unified effort, the need of the hour

22 May, 2022

The powerful Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers were forced to resign, marking one of the most controversial political turning points in contemporary political history in Sri Lanka.

It is clear that the bad, untimely, and impulsive decisions of those around the former Prime Minister created a gruesome situation. The consequences of the unwelcome incident led to anarchy and left the entire country on fire for over two days.

The public protest campaign, popularly now known as the “Aragalaya” protest, spearheaded predominantly by youth, initially was genuine and participated largely by a spirited youth population with open and honest intent. Although the early stage of the protest campaign was of a non-partisan nature, later opportunistic political forces slowly crept into the campaign.

Political deviousness

The efforts of these scheming political opportunists, who are known for their political deviousness, have subtly invaded the unsuspecting protesters. However, needless to say, this non-partisan effort by the young protesters has achieved far better results than any other protest campaign in recent history. They have made a powerful Government with a two-thirds majority quit.

Understandably, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has taken over the reins with the good intention of taking the country to an elevated position in social and economic standings. His manifesto was not only people-centric but also had many futuristic plans. Regretfully, somewhere down the line, as he has publicly admitted, mistakes were made while making nationally important decisions. He was by no means a jack of all trades and trusted his professional advisors to provide him with scientific and pragmatic advice.

This was not a new phenomenon, as every Head of State in any country seeks expert advice on matters alien to them. However, now, it is evident that so-called professional advisors have given the wrong information on many important issues on which the President has made decisions. These advisors, particularly those who provided information on economic matters, have vanished into thin air.

Similarly, the grave error made on organic fertiliser was allegedly based on the advice of a medical professional and a bhikkhu engaged in politics. The irony is that when things go awry, the advisors run into hiding and desert the master.

The country is in the most dreadful crisis since independence. The general public, clergy, international community, expatriates, social activists, and other concerned citizens in unison ask for an immediate solution to the crisis. Everyone wants the country to come out of the dire situation and at least get back to what it was. Naturally, people are infuriated and demand solutions from the President and the Government.

Pathetic incidents

However, unfortunately, with the pathetic incidents that took place on May 9, and the aftermath of them, the Government ceased to exist.

The invitation by President Rajapaksa to all concerned parties, including the main Opposition, to form an interim Government has fallen on deaf ears, clearly due to selfish political sentiments. The first invitee, the main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), backed off.

Initially, they publicly announced that they had been voted by the people to be in the Opposition. Later, they came up with demands that no Head of State would accept. All the while, the SJB was clearly shying away from the responsibility by presenting lame pretexts.

Due to the urgency of the situation, the President was compelled to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe, subject to a Parliamentary majority. At the time of writing this article, the new Prime Minister has seemingly secured his position in Parliament.

However, within hours of his appointment, the new Premier began discussions with a number of foreign diplomats, seeking financial assistance and initiating a variety of other measures. Although the outcome is yet to be seen, the quick moves by the Prime Minister were hailed by many neutral observers.

Nevertheless, evidently, there is much conspicuous opposition to this appointment, and almost all of them have justifiable reasons. However, despite the magnitude of the gravity of the situation, he was the only politician who came forward to accept the challenge without conditions. All the others who were invited came up with many demands or excuses.

Political stability in the country is a common prerequisite of all lending institutions, including the IMF. The country cannot move an inch forward without political stability. Hence, since the resignation of the former Prime Minister and his Cabinet, Sri Lanka has become an anarchic country in the eyes of these institutions and friendly countries.

The newly appointed Premier has taken over and taken on an extremely daunting challenge. Surely, it will not be a cakewalk for him. If he succeeds, his name will be written in history in golden letters and declared as a hero who pulled the country out of the most ghastly economic crisis in the contemporary history of Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, if he fails to achieve what he confidently predicts, it will mark the end of his long and well-known political career. Perhaps such an occurrence will end the political careers of his current followers as well. Hence, this is a conclusive test for the new Prime Minister and his team.

Entire citizenry

In this dire emergency, it does not matter who provides solutions; the need of the hour is that the entire citizenry needs relief. People expect their leaders, regardless of their political affiliations, to ensure that there are no shortages of essentials. Not only food supplies but also other necessities such as fuel, LP gas, medicine, and an uninterrupted power supply are extreme requirements for a country to survive.

Essentially, this is no time to go on with trade union action on any matter. The leaders of trade unions must realise that provoking strikes and other similar actions further aggravates the already dreadful hardships experienced by the general public. As this writer said in previous columns, almost the entire trade union fraternity are public servants who draw a monthly salary despite the horrible cash crunch in the country.

The most affected by the trade union action are the common citizenry and those who are self-employed, earning a day-to-day living. The salient point is that the active participants in the trade union action are approximately 9 percent of the workforce in Sri Lanka. Yet, ordinary public servants are happy to stay away from work whenever there is a strike. This is the grim reality of the country’s public service.

As a matter of priority, the entire country must unite, set petty politics aside, and appeal to the international community to assist Sri Lanka in any way they can. Not only the Government, but also religious organisations, social activists, and other societal units, must band together to request assistance from international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and others. Notably, several friendly countries have already pledged their fullest support even without official appeals.

Matter of shame

These appeals should not be seen as a matter of shame, as some of the political parties attempt to interpret them. Many countries, including so-called rich countries, have time and again experienced similar economic crises in contemporary history.

What matters is how fast the country can come out of the crisis. Therefore, the Opposition parties must stop arbitrarily criticising every move and help find a viable solution, at least until the country becomes stable for the next election.

Even with the negative consequences of the June incidents 9, people managed to drive a clear message to the politicians, both ruling and opposing, that they must find an extremely quick solution through the legislature.

The time-wasters in all political parties who were procrastinating were forced to come to an understanding. Hence, they would likely let the new Premier go ahead with the already laid down proposals.

President Rajapaksa has also already declared that he will unconditionally support whatever steps are taken by the Parliament. This clearly represents a new trend that the country has not seen in recent history, particularly since the establishment of the Executive Presidency in 1978. Therefore, without prejudice, the people must allow this new but temporary arrangement to function until a new and stable Government is formed with proposed Constitutional changes.