Sri Lanka's Crisis: The End of Autocracy

Despite President Gotabaya's best efforts to retain power, the country ousted him and took drastic steps towards re-democratisation.

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July 9 was a remarkable yet black day in the history of Sri Lankan politics as protesters stormed the office and residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, outside him from the office..

Why was it necessary to end the Rajapakse regime?

Although the economic crisis worsened over the past few months, the President of Sri Lanka ridiculously  decided to secure his position as President by employing the military to contain the protesters instead of addressing the root issues of the crisis and subsidies the situation. This exercise opted by the Rajapaksa was risky and clearly was the notion for his failure, as protesters occupied the President's residence and office and also the Prime Minister's office. The President hoped for a quick turn around solution by appointing Liberal Democrat Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the current President of Sri Lanka after Gotabaya Rajapakse took refuge in the Maldives and then planning to move Singapore.

The economic crisis has led to many social anxieties and outbreaks of violence.

The country went through the terrible horror, and was at a standstill as it faced shortage of resources especially scarcity of fuel and food products including daily; A continuous two-week shutdown of government offices, and educational instituted was announced. The economic crisis has led to many social anxieties and outbreaks of violence. A few weeks ago, as tensions escalated at a fuel station in Sri Lanka, where the military soldiers fired in the air to bring the chaotic situation under control, instead the anger among citizens amplified as a resulted in injury of six policemen at different police station. Last month, to showcase the severity of the social problems faces by citizens, the protesters burnt down more than 40 houses of parliamentarians. The protests took a major violent turn, because the newly appointed prime minister decided on rebuilding houses for parliamentarians in middle of crisis than addressing the food and other resource shortage to further worsening economic conditions.

Rajapakse a political strategist, former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa resigned from political office, clearing the way for casino owner, Damika Perera to take his parliamentary seat. Hence, despite opposition, political partisanship continues. Vimal Weerawansa had also issued a stern warning that if the demands of the protest were not taken seriously, the next attack would target the rich and wealthy part of the country. “They will attack anyone using luxury vehicles and living in luxury homes, because its moral duty of the Sri Lankan wealthy class to address issues faced by the nation rather busy in their luxuries". It is the inevitable future of the Sri Lanka if the politicians and government official (governments whole) continues to play around with crises, – a warning hinted at a possibility of full-blown insurgency due to a extreme and dire humanitarian crisis the country is facing.

The crisis in Sri Lanka continues to spiral out of control, with the military at the forefront, mass arrests of protesters and a boycott of parliament by the main and lead opposition parties.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya chose the Prime Minister as his housekeeper to clean the autocratic house and finely decorate it with democracy. Rajapaksa's modern authoritarian rule fits well with the five dimensions of authoritarian rule outlined by Yale political science professor Steven Kotkin. First, stealth operations of coercion and brutality using coercion and brutality using the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – an anti-terrorism law – have led to many arrests, including heavy militarization in more than 15 regions of the nation. Second, revenue streams were largely affected and neglected, while government was busy in maintaining the social contract between the government and the public, as were policies such as the sudden shift to organic farming. The regime realized that it had broken the social contract and did not admit policy mistakes until the government toppled by the people. Thirdly, by forcibly occupying the lands of the minorities, destroying the evidences of land grabbing by forcibly cremating people, lawless arrests of minorities, and unnecessary disruption in various walks of life by the Sri Lankan government in order to main control at micro level. 

The state cast a dark shadow over the lives of the masses; Any opposition or criticism of the regime was not properly received and adversely affected individuals who chose to display their discontent. Fourth, there were stories and narratives of weaponizing nationalism to achieve the regime's political goals, by alleging internal/external interventions and portraying it as a threat to national security. The story and narratives were built and send out through various media to demonstrate that national greatness and security was at stake and Rajapaksa was the only catalyst there to protect it. These stories were powerful and were effectively amplified using pro-Rajapaksa private media outlets, print media and PR team. Fifth, the regime also supported Chinese political agenda by presenting a narrative that continually questioned the West's human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan state.

The state cast a dark shadow over the lives of the masses; Any opposition or criticism of the regime was not properly received and adversely affected individuals who chose to display their discontent.

Democracy as a facade

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa negotiated a tripartite political agreement to political survival. Very hurriedly, and political hush-hush appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. Second, he got the complete hold of Rajapaksa's political party, the SLPP, to support the new prime minister. And in return they got Ranil Wickremesinghe to secure their political survival. Wickremesinghe, a seasoned politician with an intimate knowledge of the internal political dynamics of party politics, immediately launched a campaign to win the confidence of Parliament and the public for his own political existence. The new prime minister first took a luxury to blame the media for appointing a president like Gotabaya; Then he brought up the moral dilemma (maybe a polite yet direct threat), making it clear that if the protesters harassed him and the new regime, the situation would worsen.

The Prime Minister had suggested an immediate constitutional amendment; The 20th Amendment, introduced by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2020 to shift power to the executive presidency, was replaced by Wickremesinghe's 21st Amendment, transferring significant powers to the Prime Minister. However, according to civil society activist and academic, Dr Jehan Perera, “the 21st Amendment does not significantly reduce the powers of the President as originally expected”.

Wickremesinghe risked his entire political career on Rajapaksa's side, with clear understanding the difficulty of breaking away from and internal pacts with the Rajapaksa brothers.

Structural adjustment is a solution to stabilize the situation in political and economic crisis. Worryingly, the internal affairs politics of Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe offer no solution to the current crisis and its drifting at different political level and has no alignment Sri Lankan people. The protest continued with the initial position unchanged, with slogans of 'gotagohome'. Wickremesinghe has risked his political career on Rajapaksa's side, clearly understanding the difficulty of breaking away from and breaking internal pacts with the Rajapaksa brothers. Rajapaksa came with huge baggage, starinting from but not limited to corruption scandals, regular human rights violations & abuses, unlawful land grabbing and murdering of people who stood again these actives, etc. Wickremesinghe plat was full with all these issues and had to defend all of them at once. Unfortunately, Wickremesinghe depended on MPs who supported the Rajapaksa to gain political support in Parliament, thus this is a castle build on muddy ground.

Wickremesinghe is at a political crossroads and needs urgent help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize the economy and simultaneously democratise the nation. However, the IMF is still on staff-level agreement and there is much work to be done before a funding agreement can be reached. Any further delay in IMF aid funding will result in loss of life and further public unrest, however IMF will take its time to analyser and evaluate the before cashing out Sir Lanka.

Behind the constitutional facade was an attempt to create an illusion of good governance through structural changes. Achieving economic stability requires political stability and a willingness to accede to the demands of the protesters to overcome the lack of trust between the public and policymakers. Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa and other opposition leaders have announced that they are willing to lead an interim all-party regime. This could be the first step towards democratisation of the nation. However the Sri Lanka  masses are still in oblivion and clueless about the future of Sri Lanka.

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