- MR was supposed to resign yesterday. He consented to do so at a Cabinet meeting held at the President’s House on Friday, but since then he had been sending mixed signals. Yesterday, he resorted to his dirty old gimmicks
By the time of this writing, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has reportedly submitted his resignation. Assuming he does not recant his decision for yet another time, he might be leaving the office, but only after coming almost close to setting the country on fire in political violence that could have an unprecedented toll on the nation.
The nation is already celebrating. Firecrackers are going off across the country.
MR was supposed to resign yesterday. He consented to do so at a Cabinet meeting held at the President’s House on Friday, but since then he had been sending mixed signals. Yesterday, he resorted to his dirty old gimmicks. He bussed in the party cadre, the party members of the local government bodies and the members of Parliament to the Temple Trees. As scripted, his acolytes, pleaded with him not to resign. He agreed and went back on his pledge made at the Cabinet meeting.
After their meeting at the Temple Trees, the party goons descended on the peaceful protesters camped in front of the Temple Trees- in the protest site known as the ‘Maina Go Gama’. They attacked the sit-in protesters and demolished the temporary huts.
They then proceed to the month-long peaceful protest at the Gota Go Gama at the Galle Face Green, where they attacked the protesters and set the camps on fire.
Over 150 protesters were being treated at the Colombo National Hospital at noon yesterday.
Hours later, another peaceful anti-government protest in Kandy was attacked by the local thugs associated with the ruling party.
The series of attacks do not appear as spontaneous thuggery, but as a premeditated and state-orchestrated plot to suppress peaceful protests. The thugs who were involved in the attack were the SLPP members and chairmen of the local government bodies and ruling party Parliamentarians who were summoned to the Temple Trees. They were the last holdout of the Rajapaksa’s depleted power base. (The Rajapaksas have spent billions of public funds to maintain that patronage system, including 100 billion rupees that was allocated by Basil Rajapaksa to local government projects, much of which, it is well known, is spent on commissions and bribes to local political leaders.)
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the beleaguered president, had issued a tweet condemning violence, ‘irrespective of political allegiance’. He might have to take action first against his elder brother, who instigated violence against peaceful protesters.
However, attacks might have served a greater scheme of things. The president enforced the state of emergency last week, which effectively granted extensive powers to the police, and also allowed the president the use of military forces if he deemed it as necessary. Now he can opt for a more conspicuous use of the military to control public protesters under the pretext of law and order. (Already, the military had been preventing the fellow protesters from marching to the Go Gota Gama last afternoon).
However, if the intention was to intimidate the protesters and the militarisation of the state response, it, instead, galvanised the protesters across the country. Protests flared up across the country condemning the attacks. Tens of thousands marched to the Galle Face in solidarity. Postal Trade Union announced an islandwide strike, and staff of the Colombo National Hospital marched to the Galle Face Green.
Colombo based diplomats condemned the attack. Further violence or militarisation should drive a stronger response from the international community and international financial institutions.
Political leadership comes with an expiry date. Mahinda Rajapaksa is well passed that expiry date. But, like most Third World tinpot despots, he has been clinging on to power against the mounting popular opposition. To that end, he resorted to a rotten strategy, the usual political thuggery by his acolytes. That is a strategy not just the Rajapaksas, but almost every political party when in power had relied on to subdue the opposition. This time around, though, not only has people’s power overwhelmed the power of the political thuggery, but is also likely to have hastened the downfall of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The overwhelming public response is also a depiction of the new Sri Lanka that the Sri Lankans here and abroad are campaigning for. Spontaneous and leaderless public protests that dotted the country were an illustration of the power of the people. The overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans who have always rejected the servility towards the party political leadership had finally stepped into taking over the destiny of their country. No political party was able to hijack or calm the leadership of the protests. Civil society and the individual public took the lead. Trade unions are now planning an island wide strike, possibly to take forward the planned indefinite hartal, demanding the resignation of the regime leadership.
Yesterday’s violence backfired on Mahinda Rajapaksa. He submitted his resignation last afternoon after his continuation in the office was no longer tenable. Violent attacks by his acolytes made his already vulnerable position no longer tenable. His chief of staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa reportedly left the country yesterday with his family. An entire dynastic enterprise that Rajapaksa built at the expense of the nation is finally crumbling.
Rajapaksa, if he does not recant his resignation for yet another time, might be leaving the office, but only after a good deal of self-inflicted damage to himself, and a far more consequential and long-lasting damage to the country. He could have done better had he put the country before his family, but his temptation for dynastic succession was so much that he had no time for such niceties. It would be a long time before the Sri Lankans whose lives were shattered by his misappropriation of the economy pick up their lives. They should hold him accountable for the large-scale looting of the nation by his offspring and his family. Still, the country would be better without him at the helm.
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