There is a new phase of developments in Sri Lanka following the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president after he fled to Singapore. The prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was then sworn in as interim president and now parliament must vote on who from among their members should be president to complete Rajapaksa’s remaining term of office until November 2024. Already there are about five candidates who have declared their intentions to vie for the post and the usual maneuvering has begun. All nominations must be received by 10:00 am on Tuesday 19th July 2022 (local time) and voting by secret ballot must be held within 48 hours of that time. Currently parliament is schedule to meet on the 20th for that purpose.
What I fear most is that the Rajapaksas are maneuvering to have Wickremesinghe be voted as president by parliament, even though he has absolutely no credibility or standing, so that he will continue to shield them from repercussions for their crimes and corruption. The Rajapaksa family’s party still have a big majority in parliament and the general secretary of the party has endorsed Wickremesinghe. Recall that Wickremesinghe is not even a member of that party. His own party suffered such a crushing defeat in the 2019 general election that it lost every single seat it contested including his own. He then shamelessly appointed himself as his party’s representative for the single seat that the party got, based on the complicated rules in Sri Lanka that gives some seats in parliament to parties based on their proportion of the national vote. So he has no credibility or mandate whatsoever.
The protestors absolutely detest Wickremesinghe and have consistently demanded that he resign and have warned that they will never accept him as president. I fear that new protests will erupt if it happens but that this time Wickremesinghe, in a desperate effort to cling to power, will invoke emergency powers and ask the military to crush it, leading to bloodshed. He has already laid the groundwork for this, using language referring to the protestors as ‘fascists’ and saying that order must be restored and the constitution followed, all preparation, in my view, for ordering a crackdown.
The catch is that the new president has to emerge from among the members of parliament. Many of the prominent people in parliament are also viewed with suspicion as being corrupt or incompetent or both and unlikely to be be acceptable. What needs to happen is for some way to have the protestors be represented in whatever decision making process emerges whoever holds the office, to ensure that the country does not revert of its old ways of doing things that have brought about such utter ruination and suffering.
The protestors have decided to leave the offices and official residences of the president and prime minister but have warned that they can and will return if necessary.
Sri Lanka has long suffered from the ‘divide and rule’ policy of its political leaders, first by the British during colonial times and later by their own leaders, fomenting hatred between communities in order to enable them to grab power. It has led to much violence. Where there seems to be a glimmer of hope now is that in all the reports coming out of Sri Lanka about the protestors and the press conferences given by them, they consistently make sure that all the ethnic and religious groups (Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians, Sinhala and Tamil) are all represented and vow to never again let politicians divide them along racial and ethnic lines to benefit themselves. If the people have indeed wised up to the fact that they only hurt themselves by turning on each other instead of against their rulers, that will be a huge benefit.
Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta and other works wrote, “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Right now, the tumultuous and massive nationwide protests of such a large number has resulted in the Sri Lankan government being afraid of the people. Let’s hope it stays that way.