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Sri Lanka: Why Emergency May Fuel Violence And More Ire Against Rajapaksas

Sri Lanka: Why Emergency May Fuel Violence And More Ire Against Rajapaksas

India which is reaching out to Colombo must make it clear that the help it is extending is to help the people and not to bail out President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The family have become symbols of hate and the people will not forgive any foreign power seen to be backing the President.

Sri Lanka protests against economic crisis
Sri Lanka protests against economic crisis AP Photos

With nationwide protests bringing Sri Lanka to a near standstill, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has once again declared a national emergency to deal with the deteriorating law and order situation in the island nation. This will make it possible for the government to call in the army to assist the local police authorities. The emergency grants sweeping powers to the forces for search and arrests. People can be kept in prison for long periods without provision for bail.

But these strong-arm tactics are likely to fuel more anger and lead to clashes between the security forces and ordinary people. A desperate people are unlikely to call off the demonstrations. With the trade unions now also coming out to the streets, the situation is likely to further escalate and may even lead to widescale violence. The economic mess has now turned into a full-fledged political crisis as people’s anger is directed at the government for the country’s dire plight. They will not rest till the President and his brother the Prime Minister step down. Not that a change of government will solve the economic situation, yet at the moment they want to make sure that the Rajapaksa brothers are out of power.

"The emergency is the regime’s unimaginative response to unprecedented public protests which hit a new peak with the hartal on May 6. The emergency permits the insertion of the military into the public space, which on the one hand could fatally escalate the confrontation between the protest movement and the regime, but on the other hand, could be necessary to keep the public utilities and services going during the open-ended general strike and hartal planned to commence on May 11 if the regime does not step down,’’ says Dayan Jayatilleka,  a former diplomat, editor, writer and a leading intellectual of the country. "The protests will continue. Mahinda JayatillekaRajapaksa may resign, but President Gotabaya will not—and therefore, there will be blood before he is forced out,’’ he adds.

As of now it appears that the Rajapaksa family once worshipped by the same Sinhala-Buddhist masses are the most hated public figures in Sri Lanka. The one silver lining is that all the people of the island Sinhala Buddhists, Muslim, Hindu and Christian Tamils, and people from the north and east as well as the central areas and the south are all united against the Rajapaksa family.

India which is reaching out to Colombo must be clear that the help it is extending to the island country is for the people and not to bail out President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They have become symbols of hate and the people will not forgive any foreign power seen to be backing the President.

Though people are baying for blood and want to punish the Rajapaksa family, the situation is such that no political party has a magic wand to clean up the mess. Successive financial mismanagement added to the pandemic as well as a hare-brained scheme of the President to overnight ban the use of chemical fertilizers and go for organic farming is responsible for the crisis.

The recent elections of the deputy speaker of Parliament backed by the government gave hope to the Rajapaksas that they would be able to muster the votes needed for the no-confidence motion to be tabled by the opposition.  However, anger at politicians who backed the government candidate remains. There were protesters this morning in front of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s home thanks to allegations by a Tamil MP that he was seen persuading fellow lawmakers to vote for the government-supported deputy speaker.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa hit out at fellow MP after the election of the Deputy Speaker. "The MPs that will vote in favour of the current leadership will do so for their own survival. But it will reveal those that will choose their own survival over holding this corrupt regime accountable,’’ the leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) said in a statement. “What we are up against, as Opposition, is a media that is owned, politicians that are owned, and the “independents” were bought over long ago. There is no “political strategy” that will fix that. There is only truth to expose.," Premadasa said.

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