Last Updated : 2019-07-17 06:20:00

Whither ‘Janabalaya’?

6 September 2018 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The joint opposition’s ‘Janabalaya’ or People’s power protest in Colombo yesterday appeared to be a success in terms of party politics. From early yesterday, on the streets of Colombo the number of vehicles was drastically reduced, in buses and trains the number of passengers was less. Several schools closed early and allowed the children to go home before the roads were blocked.  

On Tuesday, the Cinnamon Gardens, Kollupitiya and Thalangama Police tried to obtain orders preventing the protest marches coming into Colombo, claiming it would cause inconvenience to the people among other reasons. But the Magistrates turned down the applications on the basis that if there was any threat to national security the police had a right to take preventive action.  

Ahead of the planned protest, the Cabinet announced it had endorsed the use of force by police if necessary such as in instances where violent protesters try to damage public property or attack the official residences of the President or the Prime Minister. By Tuesday more than 5,000 police personnel, including those summoned from outstations were kept on standby to face any any situation.  

JO politicians complained they were deprived of a location to hold the protest by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). Till about 2.00 pm yesterday panicky people did not know which roads the protesters were going to block. Finally, later in the afternoon it was announced that the protest would be held at the Lake House junction, the main gateway to the Central bus stand in Pettah and the Fort Railway Station.  

It is a political and democratic right to protest and every political party should have that right to do so. Yet there are questions about that right if the protest means causing disturbance to the people and disrupting the country’s economy

It is a political and democratic right to protest and every political party should have that right to do so. Yet there are questions about that right if the protest means causing disturbance to the people and disrupting the country’s economy.   

In recent decades, discipline and responsibility have gone into a state of depression in Sri Lanka. As we have stressed often in our editorial columns, rights are linked to responsibilities. Only to the extent we fulfil our responsibilities are we entitled to our rights. To the extent we fail in our responsibilities to be good and eco-friendly citizens, to that extent we forfeit our rights.  

On January 8, 2015, when President Maithripala Sirisena changed the course of history by winning the presidential election and forming a coalition government with the United National Party (UNP) after the August 2015 parliamentary election, democracy and the rule of law have been restored to a large extent. However, opposition politicians claim that the government is only engaged in a witch hunt against them while ignoring other aspects of law and order.  

Despite falls and failings, divisions and disputes an All-party Constitutional Council has been set up to regulate the working of the Public Services Commission, the National Police Commission, the Independent Elections Commission and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. Media Freedom has also being restored to a large extent with the right to information law being widely acclaimed as one of the most progressive acts of legislation since independence.  

At the same time the infighting within the government leading to a cold war between the President and the Prime Minister has brought most sectors of the country to a standstill. The economy has taken a hit creating widely felt discontent among the population. Yesterday’s protest as well as the drubbing received by the government at the local council polls indicate that it seriously needs to get its act together or else there would be further chaos in the future.  

Strikes and protests are part of democracy. But they should also not cause serious inconvenience to the people, mainly schoolchildren.    

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