Countercurrents | 17 July, 2022
Sri Lankan protesters have vowed to continue their struggle for a complete change of the system by abolishing the presidency, as the popular uprising that ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president marked the 100th day on Sunday.
The anti-government protest began on April 9 near the presidential office and has been continuing without a break. “We will continue our fight till we achieve our goal for a complete change of the system,” said Father Jeewantha Peiris, a leading activist of the movement.
This is a freedom struggle. We managed to send home an authoritarian President through people’s power,” Peiris said.
Rajapaksa, 73, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday and then landed in Singapore on Thursday, formally resigned on Friday, capping off a chaotic 72 hours in the crisis-hit nation that saw protesters storm many iconic buildings, including the President and the Prime Minister’s residences here.
Acting president Wickremesinghe appears to be their next target for the protesters and the campaign to oust him has already begun.
On July 5, we issued an action plan. Foremost of that was removing Gotabaya and defeating Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksa regime,” Peiris said. “We press for the abolition of the presidency to make it a true realization of our action plan,” he said.
“We do not fear the government,” the protesters chanted in chorus. After occupying the most important administrative buildings in the capital, the protesters vacated three of them other than the presidential office. The protest had seen violence since it began mid-April. Some elements with extremist political agendas have been blamed for arson attacks on the personal properties of Sri Lankan leaders.
Wickremesinghe’s private house suffered an arson attack the same day when Rajapaksa fled the country. He is one of the four candidates who seek to succeed Rajapaksa in the vote in Parliament scheduled for July 20.
Wickremesinghe, who is also the prime minister, on Friday pledged to maintain law and order after he was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s interim president.
He said that the armed forces have been given the powers and the freedom to deal with any acts of violence and sabotage.
“I am one hundred per cent supportive of peaceful demonstrations. There is a difference between rioters and protesters,” he had said.
Wickremesinghe said the true protesters would not resort to unleashing violence.
Current regime in Sri Lanka doesn’t represent majority opinion, says LoP Sajith Premadasa
Following the Sri Lankan Parliament’s announcement that the nominations for the Presidential elections will be held on July 19, opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa on July 12, said that Right now they have a Parliament that does not represent the majority opinion of the people.
The leader also said that they are taking to the members of Parliament to achieve the majority in the Presidential Polls. “Right now we have 225 Parliamentarians choosing the President. Parliament composed of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Legislative majority and President will be chosen from this composition. I have given my name, will see what happens. We are talking to all members,” said the leader in an exclusive interview with ANI. “We are talking to all the members of Parliament… Victorious people should be in congruence with grassroots-level thinking. Right now we have a Parliament that doesn’t represent majority opinion of the people,” he added.
India Govt. To brief Parliament Floor Leaders On Lanka Situation
The Indian ministries of external affairs and finance will brief the floor leaders of various political parties in Parliament on the Sri Lanka situation.
Citing an office memorandum, the officials said the briefing by the two ministries has been scheduled for the evening of July 19, the second day of the monsoon session of Parliament.
The briefing on the present situation in Sri Lanka will be attended by the floor leaders of various political parties, the officials added.
Earlier in the day, India assured Sri Lanka that it will continue to support democracy, stability and economic recovery in the country, which is at a crucial juncture, amid the unprecedented political crisis and economic turmoil.
The assurance was given to Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena by India’s High Commissioner Gopal Baglay when he called on the Sri Lankan leader.
Sri Lankan lawmakers met on Saturday to begin the process of choosing a new leader to replace Rajapaksa, who is now in Singapore.
Sri Lanka’s Ruling Party To Nominate Interim President For Presidency
Sri Lanka’s ruling party has said they would nominate interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the presidency when the Parliament elects a new President on July 20.
Opposition Leader Confirms His Candidacy For The Presidency
Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, Sajit Premadasa, has announced his candidacy for the island’s presidency following the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as interim president.
“I am running to become president. Although it is an uphill struggle, I am convinced that the truth will prevail,” Premadasa has informed in his profile on the social network Twitter, where he has pointed out that the coalition of the already former president Rajapaksa “dominates the numbers”.
Premadasa’s decision comes after the positive talks that his party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), held earlier this week with other formations in the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
TUCC Declare Proposals
The Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC) today declared a set of proposals aiming to resolve the burning issues faced by the country during an event held at the Public Library, Colombo.
However, the proposals are yet to be made public.
Protest Erupted Outside Sri Lankan Ousted President’s Son’s House In Los Angeles
A group of Sri Lankan protestors in the U.S. had gathered outside the residence of Manoj Rajapaksa, son of ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in Los Angeles, shouting slogans to ask his father to return home, who fled to Singapore.
The protest took place ahead of the resignation of Rajapaksa on July 13, reported The Sunday Morning.
The protester said that the money which he Rajapaksa is owning is the money of the Sri Lankans which has to be returned.
“We are in the Los Angeles Sunland neighborhood. We are in front of the house of Gotabaya Rakapaksa’s son, Manoj Rajapaksa. He has stolen money from the people of Sri Lanka and bought this luxury property. This is our money. This is our property. There are only a few of us here today but if your father will not leave his office, we will come here in the thousands,” the protestors had said.
However, Sri Lankan Twitter users criticized the protest saying Manoj Rajapaksa has not been political and his life in the US is not linked to his father’s politics.
The Protest Began In A Tent
An ABC News report — Sri Lanka’s protests started with plan hatched in a tent. Within months, thousands would storm the president’s luxury residence — (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-07-17/sri-lanka-protests-started-in-a-tent-but-people-power-prevails/101238082) said:
Across the road from Colombo’s famous seaside park, Galle Face Green, a tent city filled with young people has been buzzing with activity for the past four months.
It is the hub of Sri Lanka’s anti-government protest movement — a motley collection of colorful tents that has become home to a few hundred people.
“It is good to live here with like-minded people,” Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne, one of the protest leaders, told the ABC.
“We gather around in the evening and we discuss and we plan our strategies — what should we do and what shouldn’t we do — and I think living here has helped us to plan many things and fight against this government.”
It was inside one of the tents that plans were hatched to occupy the luxury residence of strongman president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the colonial-era office of his hand-picked prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Sri Lankans blame the pair, as well as former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s older brother, for the unprecedented economic crisis that is crippling this island nation.
“We were planning [and thought] well maybe at some time if millions of people decide to come into Colombo, we might be able to acquire [the President’s residence],” Karunaratne said.
“We were talking about it for the past three months and when we actually did it, it was hard to believe.”
He was one of the first people to get inside the compound, then thousands followed over the next five days.
Sri Lankans who had been battling to make ends meet for months lapped up the palatial surroundings — even swimming in the pool, using the expensive gym equipment, taking selfies on the sofas, and making curries in the kitchen.
“People are struggling in their lives and their jobs, they are running out of food, and people are dying because they don’t have medicine, but still the luxuries were there [inside the president’s residence] and they were living their same old life,” Karunaratne said.
The young advertising executive emerged as a protest leader after he was one of the first people to set up at the tent city in early April.
Fed up with seeing his community hit by power cuts, inflation, and shortages of essentials such as food, fuel, and cooking oil, Karunaratne put out a call on social media.
“I am going to get on the streets to protest even all by myself. These ruling blokes don’t understand. If nothing else, at least get on the road near your home and protest,” he wrote.
Support came flooding in and the very next day Karunaratne found himself leading a rally of around 400 people.
After that he joined up with other emerging protest groups and took a break from work to concentrate on the ‘Gota Go Home’ campaign.
“I’m just an individual, I am not representing a political party. I am not coming from any trade union whatsoever, I am just an individual who made a statement on social media and I wanted people to join,” he said.
“But now the whole world knows this is a protest, this is a struggle by commoners, by real citizens in Sri Lanka.”
Environmental psychology consultant Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige has also been living in the tent city since the protests began.
She told the ABC she was “very proud of the people of Sri Lanka for standing up for themselves” by protesting against the government.
“To be truthful, I had been skeptical about how united Sri Lanka was,” she said.
“But I [have seen] more and more people getting involved and helping in different ways — it doesn’t have to be people just protesting, it’s distribution, it’s contribution, it’s providing a service in different ways, in your own capacity.”
Sri Lankans Don’t Believe Politicians Will Keep Promises
Ms Arachchige, a protester, said protesters have wanted new leadership for Sri Lanka since the beginning, but they are still in disbelief that it is happening.
“We achieved something and I’m actually hopeful. I’m hopeful [for the future] because of the fact we were able to achieve this in such a short time span,” she said.
The protest movement is dominated by students and young professionals, but people from all walks of life have been supporting their occupation of government buildings.
When they heard the protesters had stormed the President’s residence, they came from towns near and far to look inside the opulent building for themselves — even with the high cost of transport right now.
Once at the front gate, they were greeted by some of the protest leaders who had taken on caretaker-like roles, only allowing a certain number of people in at once, and tidying up as groups went through.
Asanka Ranasinghe and Samangita Ranasinghe came with their three children because they thought they would never get the opportunity to see the colonial-era mansion again.
“This presidential bungalow is very important for the locals, this place is very important,” Ms Ranasinghe told the ABC as she took photographs of her family inside the luxurious rooms.
But she added that it was hard to see such grandeur during tough times.
“This is a bad time… there is no fuel, no food, very expensive,” she said.
Student Rashid Firdause brought his parents and younger siblings to see the residence.
“I had to come to this place, it was my dream to come here,” he said.
He had been contemplating trying to leave Sri Lanka because of the economic crisis.
“The situation is very difficult to stay in this country,” he said.
Sri Lankans know there is a long road ahead to recovery, even with assistance from the IMF and other countries.
All eyes will be on the parliament this week for the presidential vote and the subsequent choices that person makes for other key leadership positions.
Protesters have left the buildings they occupied but are planning their next moves.
Their tent city has been up for exactly 100 days now, but they don’t plan to dismantle it just yet.
Protests Reach 100 Days As Crisis Continues
An AFP report said:
Sri Lanka’s protest movement reached its 100th day having forced one president from office and now turning its sights on his successor as the country’s economic crisis continues.
The campaign to oust ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, organized mainly through posts on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, drew people from across Sri Lanka’s often unbridgeable ethnic divides.
United by economic hardships, minority Tamils and Muslims joined the majority Sinhalese to demand the ouster of the once-powerful Rajapaksa clan.
It began as a two-day protest on April 9, when tens of thousands of people set up camp in front of Rajapaksa’s office – a crowd so much larger than the organizers’ expectations that they decided to stay on.
Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was automatically installed as acting president following Rajapaksa’s resignation, and is now the leading candidate to succeed him permanently in a parliamentary vote next week.
But the veteran politician is despised by the protesters as an ally of the Rajapaksa clan, four brothers who have dominated the island’s politics for years.
Social media activist and protest campaign supporter Prasad Welikumbura said Wickremesinghe too should go.
“It has been 100 days since it started,” Welikumbura said on Twitter.
“But, its still far from any concrete change in the system. #GoHomeRanil, #NotMyPresident.”
Now the Rajapaksas’ SLPP party – which has more than 100 MPs in the 225-member parliament – is backing Wickremesinghe in the vote due Wednesday.
Turning against Wickremesinghe
A spokesman for the protesters told AFP news agency: “We are now discussing with groups involved in the ‘Aragalaya’ (struggle) on turning the campaign against Ranil Wickremesinghe.”
Numbers at the protest site have diminished since Rajapaksa’s exit.
Economy To Shrink By More Than 6%
Nandalal Weerasinghe, the Governor of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank said that the country’s economy is likely to contract by over 6% this year. He stressed that a stable political administration is needed to resume talks for IMF bailout.
In an interview to the Wall Street Journal, Weerasinghe told the publication that top-level talks with the IMF on a multibillion-dollar bailout had stalled.
He said the country urgently needed a stable political administration to progress discussions with the IMF on key structural reforms — such as taxation and public expenditure.
He added that stable government was essential to secure short-term bridge financing from other countries and multilateral agencies for payments for imports like fuel, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers.