The release of eight long term LTTE prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by the government through a presidential pardon is a goodwill gesture that can contribute to the national reconciliation process. This presidential pardon needs to be commended as some of the prisoners have spent more than two decades in imprisonment. At least four previous governments have balked from doing this despite protests and pleadings from their families and national and international human rights organisations even from Geneva.
Once again Sri Lanka has received unfavourable exposure internationally when the UN Human Rights Council voted by 20 votes to 7 to pass resolution No 51/1 titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka,” against the wishes of the government. Many of the countries that spearheaded and supported the resolution are those on whom we depend on to extricate us from the current financial and economic crisis the country has fallen into. Countries that voted for the resolution and those who abstained, such as India and Japan, essentially have the welfare of all Sri Lankans and the country to live up to its inherent resilience. We can only hope that the confrontational attitude taken by the government in Geneva will not affect their continued support for Sri Lanka.
The declaration of High Security Zones in Colombo and the requirement that police should be given prior notice of public protests are indicators that the government is giving priority to quelling public protests. These decisions bolster steps already taken to restrict the protest movement by targeted arrests of its leaders even by the Prevention of Terrorism Act, by seemingly arbitrary arrests of random participants in the protest movement and by strengthening laws that further restrict the right to protest.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s inaugural address to parliament set forth a vision of good governance and civility that would stand among the most outstanding in the world. His speech comes at a time when several leaders of the protest movement, and youth activists, have been arrested for having violated the law during the public protests that led to the resignations of the former president prime minister and cabinet of ministers of the country.
Sri Lanka has witnessed a political upheaval of a kind rarely seen in the world. An unarmed protest movement of the people, for the people and by the people forced the resignation of a president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. This protest movement captured the imagination of the international community due to its size, effectiveness and non-violent nature. The success of the protest movement was due to its spontaneous and peaceful nature.
The swearing in of the new cabinet of ministers by the new president took place in the midst of chaos earlier in the day. Shortly past midnight the protest site that was instrumental in forcing a change of government and was peaceful at the dead of night was forcefully cleared by the military and police perhaps for that event. By this action the new government has risked alienating itself from significant sections of the local and international communities. The past 104 days in which the protest site was in existence saw tens of thousands of people visit it from all parts of the country and all walks of life to demonstrate their solidarity and take part in direct protest as and when they felt it warranted.
The focus of attention at the present time is the presidential election to take place in parliament following the confirmed resignation from office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This election is not a routine process but is an outcome of an unprecedented public uprising known as the Aragalaya which forced the resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers and effectively nullified the electoral mandates obtained by them three years ago. After all it is the power of the people that is vested to the government by the constitution (Article 4).
The occupation of President's House by the Aragalaya (people’s movement) and further occupation of other state buildings used by the President and Prime Minister has been followed by the fleeing abroad of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa early this morning. The occupation of the Prime Minister’s official residence and the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, and the attempt to reach the parliamentary complex highlight the continuing crisis in Sri Lanka and the loss of faith in existing political institutions. Unfortunately, we have often witnessed near violent behavior of many of our legislators in recent months which eroded the faith in democratic institutions.
The economic crisis in the country continues to worsen with queues lengthening, prices rising and essentials unavailable. The general expectation after the rise of the Aragalaya protest movement was that a small and interim all-party government would be formed to specifically deal with the economic crisis, stabilize the economy and to conduct fresh elections. But this has not materialized. Governance is the essential element of the state, and good governance is not merely the exercise of power but the safeguard of the rights of each individual and the welfare of all.
The people are undergoing unprecedented hardships at the current time. There is a disjuncture between what government leaders have been saying and what is materializing. Assurances are being made that shiploads of fuel have been unloaded. However, many service stations remain closed and those open have lines stretching for kilometers even overnight. The small 15-member interim government drawn from all parties that was promised by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resolve the present crisis was not appointed. Now the government appears to be heading towards a large sized one dominated by the ruling party with a full complement of ministers and state ministers.