Time for unity | Sunday Observer

Time for unity

30 July, 2022

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given priority to the restoration of law and order, which was sadly lacking during the past few months as protesters took the upper hand. President Wickremesinghe has made it clear that while the Government upholds the right to freedom of protest, all such activities should be peaceful. In other words, there would be no room for violence against the State and its representatives. It is in this context that legal action is being taken against who caused damage to State properties such as the President’s House and the Presidential Secretariat, which were both breached by protesters on July 9.

There is no doubt that law and order is the foundation on which modern society has been built. A country that has no regard for law and order will face decay and ruin. In this regard, it is sometimes necessary to act tough against those who flout the law. While the authorities faced criticism from the Opposition and certain other quarters for evicting the protesters from the Presidential Secretariat, it was nevertheless the right thing to do, as no one has the right to occupy such State buildings forcibly.

It is also important to ensure that the law applies to everyone equally. This was one of the root causes that led to the recent Aragalaya (Struggle), as people were fed up with seeing politicians and other powerful persons escape the long arm of the law. In a country where an ordinary person can go to jail for stealing three coconuts, politicians can literally get away with murder. This state of affairs cannot continue any longer. The new President must ensure that justice is served to everyone equally lest the people lose their faith in the judiciary as a whole.

President Wickremesinghe also faces the task of restoring political and socio-economic stability to a country that has undergone immense suffering. This is a task that the Government cannot accomplish alone. The Aragalaya served its purpose and now those still clinging on to the protest sites around the island must vacate those premises.

The Opposition, if it has the interests of the country at heart, must refrain from inciting the people further. A senior Opposition figure has recently called on the people to flock to Colombo on August 9 to “chase the Government away” while the fringe Marxist parties have talked about capturing power outside of the constitutionally mandated procedures. These are dangerous precedents that could have very serious implications in terms of political stability and our international standing.

It also serves no purpose to question the legitimacy of President Wickremesinghe’s ascension to the Presidency, as he was elected by Parliament itself following the procedures outlined in the Constitution to fill a vacancy created by the resignation or death of a sitting President.

President Wickremesinghe had the backing of a majority of Parliament and the two Opposition candidates could not command those numbers. Now the Opposition has to wait until 2024 to field a suitable candidate at the next Presidential Elections. That is the stipulated and legitimate course of events.

Now the Opposition, the Aragalaya youth and everyone else must give the time and space needed for the Government to put the country back on the correct track. President Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena have stressed that they want the participation of all Opposition parties in a proposed All Party Government (APG) or a National Unity Government (NUG), which is the need of the hour and the perfect antidote to the divisive politics that have bedevilled this nation since 1948.

Unfortunately, some Opposition parties seem to be trotting out various excuses not to participate in this noble exercise which is a golden opportunity to abandon divisive politics. Some of them have cited the eviction of protesters from the Presidential Secretariat as a possible reason for boycotting an APG. On the other hand, if they enter into an APG they would be in a position to influence the powers that be to reconsider such actions in the future. Some Opposition parties are also calling for a snap general election, which we cannot afford right now due to financial constraints.

Therefore, the most practical option at this stage is to go for an APG or a similar mechanism with the participation and contribution of all political parties represented in Parliament. It is heartening to note that despite the misgivings of leaders of some Opposition parties, many of their MPs seem to be keen on joining an APG in order to use their professional expertise gainfully. This is a step in the right direction as the country needs the positive contribution of everyone to get out of the present socio-economic quagmire. Should the need arise, professionals and academics can be brought into Parliament through the National List, though some present members will have to resign to pave the way for them. But it is a sacrifice worth making.

An APG is essential at this stage to project an image of political stability to the international community. Donor countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) generally do not deal with politically unstable countries. We are in dire need of international assistance at this juncture and any perception of political instability could delay these crucial negotiations. Political stability as well as international assistance will also be vital to end the forex crisis and the shortages of fuel and other goods that led to public unrest in the first place. There is no time to lose as our very future is at stake. This is a moment that calls for unity and we must rise to the occasion.