The street demonstrations in Colombo were organized with Namal Rajapaksa as the main coordinator
Most of them were seen reciting verses and slogans criticizing the President and the Prime Minister
The recently concluded “Janabalaya Colombata” was a damp squib according to most of the political analysts in Sri Lanka as well as abroad. It was compared to the Arab Spring but was not at all anywhere near to this uprising which spread to most of the Arab countries in the world.
I shall try to describe our “Janabalaya” which was mainly to harass the general public who were out trying to go for employment as well as other day to day activities.
The school children were also prevented from attending schools and some who had exams also suffered. This movement which was supposed to bring down the legitimately elected government in Sri Lanka considered a “Five Star” democracy.
I will try to elaborate what the “Arab Spring” was and then deal with the local “Janabalaya” as one of the front line ministers of the government stated that “Namal Baby son of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa the main organizer of the mobilization of people got the idea after reading a book on the “Arab Spring”. I wonder how far this is true looking at the complete failure of the“Janabalaya”
THE ARAB SPRING
The Arab Spring identified as a ‘Year of Revolution’ was triggered off in 2010 when a 26-year-old, Mohamed Bouazizi, was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.
Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings and did not have a permit to sell the goods. When the police requested for the permit which could not be produced and when asked to hand over the cart Bouazizi refused and the policewoman allegedly slapped him. Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building. This act triggered protests in Sidi Bouzid and within days the protests spread to other parts of Tunisia and about a month later President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.
The above uprising spread to Egypt when a democracy activist known as “Face book Girl’ Esraa Abdel Fattah, fought for a new Egypt and was also an organizer for the major protest in Tahrir Square on January 25 , 2011. The Government was overthrown in February 2011 and President Hosni Mubarak resigned and faced charges of killing unarmed protesters. Elections were held on November 28, 2011 but the protests still continued in Tahrir Square as the people were not happy with the results.
The Arab Spring spread to Libya when anti –government protests began on 15 February 2011 leading to a civil war between opposition forces and Muammar Ghaddafi loyalists.Tripoli was captured and the government overthrown on August 23, 2011 and Ghaddafi was killed by transition forces on October 20, 2011. Arab Spring also spread to Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman.
It is interesting to quote from Raghida Dergham, a columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Al-Hayat, one of the leading dailyPan- Arab newspapers who believed that the activists were hijacked by long established Islamist groups. “When the youths went to Tahrir Square and other places, they wanted a modernist future.” Dergham says “Suddenly they were encroached upon by the well organized and well experienced Islamist parties - and they won the day.” I would like the readers to compare this situation to our Janabalaya which was led from the back by the politicians from the opposition - SLPP and JO
JANABALAYA COLOMBATA ORGANISED BY SLPP YOUTH AND JO
The above street demonstrations in Colombo were organized by the above parties with Namal Rajapaksa as the main coordinator. Political analysts believe that Mahinda Rajaspaksa,the former president is trying to groom his son to take over the Presidency in a few years and it appears there is friction within the Rajapaksa family as the Rajapaksa siblings are also trying to run for the next Presidency. Basil Rajapaksewho is given credit for the landslide victory that the SLPP gained in February 2018 which was mainly due to his organizing skills and political experience as he was a member of the SLFP as well as the UNP and is well versed with their political strategies. It is also reported that Basil advised the organizers of the Janabalaya to postpone it to December as it would have a direct impact on the Provincial Council elections expected in January 2019. However, Namal was so eager to go ahead and his uncle’s advise was ignored resulting in a complete disaster. Namal and his acolytes were so certain about their street demonstrations and openly said that there would be a new government with MR sworn in as Prime Minister on 6 September 2018.
The Arab Spring spread to Libya when anti –government protests began on 15 February 2011
The organizer from each electorate was requested to bring at least 5000 people and to entice them they were supposed to be given liquor, a packet of rice and a water bottle. However, there was so much of confusion as to where they were heading as till the last moment the venue was not revealed. People brought in buses gathered at Nugegoda, Maradana and Kolonnawa and were asked to march to the Lake House roundabout. However, the main organizer Namal and the former Ministers who were the leaders in overthrowing the Government were billed at Shangri’la, Hilton and Taj Samudra and were watching the dissipated crowds from their hotel rooms.
The big wigs like the former President and his brother Gotabhaya as well as the other leaders like the Rhodes Scholar and vociferous speakers like Weerawamsa and Bandula were seen with hailers from open vehicles like “Jack in the Box”. Even the former President’s security detail could not perform their duties as people were seen clinging to his vehicle.
A Satyagraha was planned around the Lake House Roundabout till 6.00 a.m., but had to be abandoned as most of the people left the venue around 8.00 p.m. thoroughly disgusted and blaming the organizers. The people who were drunk were seen sleeping around street corners as well as on the main roads.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
I was amused seeing this protest march where there were various categories of people, some on their fours and some carrying placards without any effective slogans. Most of them were seen reciting verses and slogans criticizing the President and the Prime Minister and some unruly crowds also used bad words. A set of film stars were also seen in the crowd. There were also elderly men and women who had come to Colombo for this protest march. The organizers had no plans for their rest and refreshments. I also saw the mob at a large liquor store with liquor bottles.
The intelligence reports from the districts as well as those from the Police stated that the crowd around Lake House was under 60,000. I would now ask the organizers where were the 200,000 you promised.? There was also an aerial photo of crowds at Nugegoda but these shots were taken in 2016 for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s meeting after his defeat.
I also listened to a press conference given by the SLPP and one member who is out on bail for financial crimes, who had the audacity to state that they could have brought all the trains, buses and the international airport to a complete standstill if they wanted. This shows to what low levels that our power crazy politicians can go to grab power at the expense of the poor masses.
There is no way we can compare our Janabalaya to the Arab Spring as the latter was to drive away dictators. However with the Arab Spring there was the military capturing power especially in Egypt in 2011 and elections in 2014. Abdel Fattah el Sisi was elected President after a period of 3 years of military rule. I hope such a situation will not occur in Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, I would strongly advise the JO as well as the SLPP to organize meetings at known locations if they want to voice their protests against a legally elected government and also wait for the elections in 2019 and 2020 without harassing the general public.
Also do not try to mobilize crowds to make the Crown Prince popular as the candidate for the Presidential election. I also like to quote from the political Editor of a weekly newspaper in an article on September 9, 2018 titled “Namal: The crown prince in a tearing hurry” he states that “In Disney’s blockbuster animation Lion King, Mufasa, leader of the pride, shows Simba the kingdom that will one day be his. In the movie, the young cub nearly lost it through willfulness and regret.” I will leave it to the readers to judge how true this story is as applied to the local crown prince.
(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer - United Nations ESCAP and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )