A prudent decision | Sunday Observer

A prudent decision

15 May, 2022

Last week, the country experienced some of the ugliest scenes in politics and society in living memory. It all began with an ill-timed and totally unnecessary meeting convened by former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa apparently to get the nod for continuing in office from local level politicians and supporters of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

By the time the meeting dispersed after incendiary speeches by some former Ministers, most of the attendees, now armed with poles and clubs, set upon the protestors at both Mainagogama and Gotagogama in Galle Face.

The Police cordon parted for the mob like the Red Sea did for Moses and the protesters who were engaged in a non-violent struggle got a severe beating.

However, the counter attack against the thugs was even more severe, as they were mercilessly hunted down by vigilante groups. But things soon got out of hand and we can in no way condone the violence that followed, which resulted in nine deaths.

The authorities should take action against those who instigated the attacks against the protesters at Galle Face as well as those who perpetrated other acts of violence such as arson attacks. Violence in whatever form or manner against anyone is certainly not the answer to our present woes. It is only through the democratic process that solutions should be sought.

It is, therefore, heartening to note that former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa finally listened to the growing calls for his resignation from various quarters, even though the May 9 violence could probably have been avoided if he did not resort to unwanted theatrics.

In the meantime, no one can say that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not make an honest attempt to resolve the problems related to governance. The President first invited all parties represented in Parliament to come forward to form an All-Party Government to resolve the current political crisis and by extension, the economic one.

He urged Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to take over the Premiership and form a Government once the incumbent stepped down. He also appealed to any other political leader or party capable of forming a Government to do so. However, this appeal was rejected by both the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) on the grounds that the President should step down first.

But there are several pitfalls in this scenario, as a sudden resignation of the President under the current circumstances could create a political vacuum that could even lead to anarchy.

Several Opposition politicians too have stressed this point. Besides, Parliament can collectively take steps to truncate the powers of the Executive Presidency through the proposed 21st amendment and eventually abolish it altogether.

But everyone understands that this is a gradual process. For the moment, given the unprecedented crises we are facing, it is more advisable for the presidency to remain.

Realising that the window of opportunity for resolving the political crisis was closing fast, the President made the right decision in extending an invitation to United National Party leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge to take up the Premiership.

In hindsight, this is perhaps the best decision that could have been taken at this crucial juncture.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that no one else in the present Parliament has the international links and recognition, diplomatic and negotiating skills, political experience and the sheer intellect which are sorely needed at this critical moment to guide the country through treacherous waters. Granted, he made some mistakes during the Yahapalanaya years but that is no reason to reject his capabilities at this stage.

The new Prime Minister has hit the ground running, meeting several foreign envoys within 24 hours of his appointment.

He has mooted the formation of an international forum for extending assistance to Sri Lanka to tide over its economic difficulties, which we hope will be successful. On the domestic front, he has appointed a committee to explore the possibility of eliminating the shortages of essential goods and alleviating the hardships experienced by the people.

He has also pledged to work with the Defence authorities to revoke the ‘shoot on sight’ orders which were recently promulgated in order to tackle mob violence.

The new Prime Minister will now face the challenge of mustering a working majority in Parliament when it meets on May 17. We earnestly hope that all parties will extend their sincere cooperation to the new Premier to take the country forward.

Once that hurdle is passed, a new Cabinet of Ministers will have to be formed. Again, it will be interesting to see whether there will be cross-party support and participation for this endeavour, although some parties have seemingly rejected such overtures at least for the time being.

It will be beneficial to the Nation if he can harness the talents that exist in various political parties for addressing the multiple crises and spurring growth.

All party leaders must remember that now is not the time for seeking political mileage – the people are crying out for solutions to their woes and the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.

In any case, the new Cabinet and the Government will probably be a temporary arrangement until a General Election is held, may be six months hence once we are in a better financial position. Until then, politics will have to be put on hold and the people’s problems taken care of first.

The people too must act with calm and restraint in spite of the extraordinary difficulties they face until the authorities address those issues and restore normality.