Ominous developments in Sri Lanka

Today the Sri Lankan parliament voted in Ranil Wickremesinghe as president. He received 134 votes in the 225-member body, Dullas Alahapperuma received 82 votes and the leftist candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake got just three.

This is precisely the result that the protestors, who turned out in their hundreds of thousands for over a hundred days and occupied the offices and official residence of the previous president and prime minister, forcing out of office the Rajapaksa clan that had seemed to have aa stranglehold on power, did not want. These protestors see Wickremesinghe as a stooge of the Rajapaksa family who have maneuvered to put him into power so that he will protect them and their interests. even though they are disgraced. It is not for nothing that he is now being called Ranil Rajapaksa, signifying that he is an honorary member of that corrupt family.

The protestors have vowed to not let this new development go unchallenged.

Protesters say they will continue their “aragalaya”, the Sinhala word for “struggle”, until Wickremesinghe is gone.

“We are currently discussing our strategy and regrouping. We will definitely continue our struggle and our occupation at GotaGoGama until Ranil Wickremesinghe resigns. This is definitely not what we wanted,” protest leader Melani Gunathilake told Al Jazeera.

“We know very well that Ranil Wickremesinghe isn’t the same as Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is a more cunning person. And recently he has even been trying to suppress the protest by imposing a state of emergency and sending air force helicopters over GotaGoGama. But I don’t think people will be intimidated by these actions anymore.

“Sri Lanka deserves a leader who actually cares for its people, not somebody who thinks about his political future.”

All the signs are that Wickremesinghe is willing to crack down hard in order remain in power. He has sought the position of president for decades but failed at winning elections. He seems determined to hold on to what he has obtained through the back door, whatever the cost. He has issued a state of emergency in the country giving him extraordinary powers and said that he has authorized the security forces to take whatever action necessary to maintain law and order, which strikes me as code to suppress protests with force. The heads of the security forces have said that they are ready to do so, so the stage is set for a showdown.

Sri Lankan lawmakers elected the unpopular prime minister as their new president Wednesday, a choice that risked reigniting turmoil in the South Asian nation reeling from economic collapse.

The crisis has already forced one Sri Lankan leader out, and a few hundred protesters quickly gathered after the vote to express their outrage that Ranil Wickremesinghe — a six-time prime minister whom they see as part of the problematic political establishment — would stay in power.

[P]rotesters flocked to the presidential residence instead, chanting, “Ranil, go home.”

“We are very sad, very disappointed with the 225 parliament members who we elected to speak for us, which they have not done,” said Visaka Jayawware, a performance artist in the crowd. “We will keep fighting for the people of Sri Lanka. We have to ask for a general election.”

After the vote, some supporters celebrated Wickremesinghe’s win in the streets. He will be sworn in on Thursday.

Only a few lawmakers had publicly said they would vote for Wickremesinghe given the widespread hostility against him — but dozens loyal to Rajapaksa had been expected to back him because he had assured them he would severely punish protesters who burned politicians’ homes in the unrest.

On Monday, in his role as acting president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency that gave him broad authority to act in the interest of public security and order. Authorities can carry out searches and detain people, and Wickremesinghe can also change or suspend any law.

Up to now, the protests have been largely peaceful with the police and army on the ground giving way to the overwhelming numbers confronting them and even engaging in dialogue with them. The only time there was major violence was just after supporters of the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of the then president, rampaged through the protestors sites. Protestors retaliated by burning down the homes and offices of those politicians whom they felt had supported those actions. The security forces have not used lethal force. If the protestors once again call a general strike and seek to re-occupy the buildings, it is not clear if the security forces will be ordered to suppress them by force and if so, how far the troops on the ground will go in following the orders.

It is a very tense situation.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Going off on a tangent, sometimes justice can catch up with the most corrupt and vicious people that thought themselves to be above justice.
    This week a Swedish court sentenced an Iranian citizen to life in prison for his role in the big massacre of political prisoners in Iran 1988.
    He was arrested during a visit to Sweden last year.

    I mention this because even if the members of a criminal regime are safe at home they cannot take it for granted as they travel abroad.
    -As members of the old Sri Lanka regime are implicated in war crimes during the end of the civil war I would not rule out they can be prosecuted in foreign courts for crime against humanity.
    It would be preferable if the people are strong enough to introduce democracy and the rule of law in situ, but if not, the rulers should be isolated inside a “pariah state”.

  2. Tethys says

    The doesn’t sound good. Hopefully there are enough members of the security forces who are on the side of the protestors, and have no intention of following the directives of a handpicked toady of the corrupt elite.

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