Leadership of Gota and Ranil rejected

By R. R. M. Lilani

Even Lord Venkateshwara at the Tripathi Temple in Tamil Nadu, whom the Rajapaksas and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visit for years in search of strength, power and protection, had let them down dearly. The Rajapaksas were grounded by President Gotabaya, a non-politician who only took pride in winning the Tamil ethnic war to demonstrate his suitability for the Presidency seat. The country’s saviour could not last only 31 months, but chased out of power! Both the rejects are expected to resign today (13 July).

The large number of protesters marched through Colombo on July 9, 2022 and captured the Presidential Palace, Presidential Secretariat, had forced the President of Sri Lanka to flee. The public had demanded for the President and Prime Minister’s resignations because they have demonstrated no legitimacy to govern the country any longer. They both announced that they would step down on July 13 (today) on the condition that the Prime Minister would be introduced the caretaker government to run the country until an election is called.

President Gotabaya has fled to the Maldives as we write. The President has stated that he will not resign until he and his family are given safe passage out of Sri Lanka.

But who are these two figures who, unlike anyone else in history, made some historical blunders while the people watched?

Gotabaya was considered a hapless man to start with, as he came to power in November 2019; the covid-19 pandemic struck Sri Lanka in the backdrop of Christians demanding for an answer to the Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 250 people, mostly Christians, while worshiping in churches across the country. With the covid-19 burdened the President, he couldn’t contribute as much as he could, but he took pride in using the military to do the job of covid-19 vaccination. People were watching.

In order to carry out all that needed to be done during his five-year term, Gotabaya wanted the 20A to be an all-powerful President repealing the 19A, which had powers vested in the parliament. People were watching.

There were also allegations that the President was largely responsible for the Easter bombings in order to win the 2019 presidential election. The accusations did not fade, but grew as Catholic Bishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith kept the matter fresh while the President and his Cabinet, led by his Prime Minister brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, failed to respond to them. The people were watching.

Many people were hunted down during the vaccine programme for accusing the military of doing their job. At the time, the military President also cracked down on those linked to the Easter Sunday bombings and attempted to rehabilitate them. He also ordered the cremation of Muslims who died from covid-19, violating their fundamental right to be buried and infuriating the Muslim world, despite scientific evidence was that coronavirus does not spread through water or soil. The people were watching.

However, signs of mismanagement emerged day by day. The President ability to converse with the locals in various villages was humorous rather than in-depth discussions. His inabilities were increasingly displayed on social media with laughing emojis. Nonetheless, he remained as powerful as one could be with the military’s support, elevating himself.  People were watching.

Gotabaya also shelved several international development projects such as the East Container Terminal, Light Rail Transportation and offered more land in Colombo for China to do business. His brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was another powerful president of Sri Lanka accused of profiting from Chinese development projects and other bribes, along with his sons and family was made the Prime Minister. Another brother Basil Rajapaksa, a US citizen was appointed as the Finance Minister after repealing the foreign national act to join politics, his nephew Namal Rajapaksa as Sports Minister, and his eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa as Irrigation and Water Management Minister. This family built a museum for their parents with taxpayer money, and the president stood first accused. There were several cases filed against the President, but he was granted presidential immunity, so the charges were dropped. Basil was also acquitted of numerous charges. They used Justice Minister Ali Sabri, their favourite to clear their names. People were watching.

Using his immunity, the President also offered presidential pardons to two accused murderers. People were watching.

Several jailbreaks occurred, and prison inmates and drug addicts who were detained were killed when riots broke out in prisons. Former State Minister Lohan Ratwatte used a gun to force Tamil inmates in the Anuradhapura prison to kneel. He allegedly entered the premises while under the influence of alcohol and demanded that Tamil prisoners perform the humiliating act. If the Tamil prisoners did not obey his orders, he threatened to kill them with his gun on the spot. People were watching.

President Gotabaya abruptly outlawed chemical fertiliser, disrupted the farming seasons, and infuriated the farmers. He claimed that he was keeping his promise to his people, but despite the pandemic, he did not alter his policy frameworks. He advised using organic fertiliser instead. In the course of the process, he instructed the Ministry of Agriculture to import organic fertiliser from China, but it resulted in a massive diplomatic fiasco when Sri Lankan soil scientists claimed that the imported organic fertilizer was actually contaminated and sent the Chinese cargo back, for which the government was required to pay a fee.  As promised by the government, Sri Lanka has not yet received a new shipment of organic fertilizer. However, US$6.8 million was given to the Chinese company as compensation.  People were watching.

The government of Gotabaya failed to make payments on its USD 51 billion external debt. As the coffers ran dry, the people’s situation worsened. The lack of dollars was getting worse. The Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal stated that it was unnecessary and declined to accept the IMF loan. Sri Lankan rupees worth more than three trillion were printed, and inflation increased. There was corruption and poor management. The government refused to acknowledge its mistakes beginning of 2021. The decline in exports and the pandemic were cited as causes. Imports were restricted. They cited the general increase in prices. The population had gradually stopped using cooking gas by the end of 2021. Gas cylinder explosions caused by sub quality imported gas led to numerous fatalities, property damage, and injuries.  People were watching.

By beginning of 2022 it was declared serious financial crisis ever in Sri Lanka after gaining independence. It reached to a no point of return with the economic crisis that led to a political instability in Sri Lanka. By April 2022, the country ran out of food commodities such as milk, flour, gas, petrol, diesel and other basics. Over this, protests began, and the Galle Face Green was chosen as the location. The protesters organized “Gota Go Gama” (GGG) in April 2022 and began chanting “Gota go home.” As the protest grew more intense, there was unrest at the gas and fuel queues. The people were brutalised by the military and the police. The emergency rule that Gotabaya had imposed was removed after 14 days. On May 9, 2022, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s thugs attacked peaceful protesters and at the end over 15 homes belong to the ruling party members were set fire. More soldiers were stationed everywhere. The Cabinet of ministers eventually resigned. President Gotabaya managed to secure some to take up government Ministries.

Later that evening, after being coerced by the President, Prime Minister Mahinda resigned. Wickremesinghe arrived in style to take over the Premiership while the President was having trouble finding one. As the protests grew more intense, it was time for the President to resign but Wickremesinghe’s entrance, however, spared the President by the bell. People continued to observe.

Arrival of Wickremesinghe did not solve the issue. He committed himself to securing the IMF bailout, but he also warned about the challenges of feeding the populace and urged patience. He stated that the nation must manage and that the support of the populace is essential. India agreed to provide financial support to Sri Lanka after Basil Rajapaksa, a former finance minister, intervened. Fuel arrived at random. Additionally, all of the food and diesel were imported from India, but things got out of hand. The scope of India’s aid shrunk, leaving the IMF loan as the only remaining option.

Sri Lankans, on the other hand, realised that Wickremesinghe had essentially helped the Rajapaksas at every turn. When the public confronted them, Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas were aiding one another. When the Rajapsaksas took office in 2019, they paid no attention to Wickremesinghe’s bond scam. This was in exchange for Wickremesinghe assisting Mahinda in traveling to his village following the landslide loss in 2015. Wickremesinghe offered to fly him in a chopper from the enraged crowd. The fact that Wickremesinghe had accepted the Premiership when Gotabaya was about to resign, infuriated the public. People resisted vehemently. Few MPs eventually came out in support of Wickremesinghe.

Over 200 000 people gathered at the Galle Face on July 9, 2022, to begin the final countdown to drive the Rajapaksas and Wikremeinsghe out of power. The presidential palace and the presidential secretariat were searched by the public after being raided. The resistance was too strong for the military and the police to handle. Finally, Gotabaya fled from his official residence. Wickremesinghe’s home had been burned down same evening by unidentified persons. This time, instead of watching, the people hunted down on those who were responsible for starvation, unrest and poverty in the country.

The people’s historic victory has been lauded, but the country must still find a solution by establishing a caretaker government. Still, the Sri Lankans discover that the power struggle within the politicians is ongoing.  Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has not yet stepped down. He aspires to be the interim government’s acting President Opposition parties have accused. Wickremesinghe has been rejected by the people, and if the Rajapaksas and Wickremesinghe continue to incite public outrage, another major uprising is possible. The ruling SLPP’s nomination of Wickremesinghe as the next President is the height of provocation.

They have already borne the brunt of the protesters’ wrath, and if they continue to ignore the public outcry, Gotabaya and Wickremesinghe will witness the most unexpected series of events in the coming days. The slogan is that both should resign because the people have had enough.

TIMELINE:

On Nov 17 2019:  Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected president

Nov 21 2021 :  Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed as the PM

May 9 2022 : PM Mahinda forced to resign after unrest as financial crisis aggravated.

April 4 2022 : Gotabaya invites opposition leader Sajith Premadas to become the PM but Sajith rejects.

12 May 2022:  Gotabaya appoints Wickremesinghe as the PM.

 

May 2022:  People were annoyed that Ranil Wickremesinghe did not emphasize on the resignation of the President as a precondition to form an interim government when he was invited by the President to accept the post of the PM.

8 July 2022:  Gotabaya imposed a police curfew but removed within few hours

9 July  2022:  Protest to oust Gotabaya and Wickremesinghe. Over 200,000 came to the city of Colombo and marched towards Gotabaya presidential palace. They entered his palace at about 11am.

July 9 2022 : Around 11 am Gotabaya flees through the backdoor.

4pm (same day) :  Ranil says he would step down but form an interim govt.

1.30 pm: Wickremesinghe summoned an emergency Party Leaders meeting to discuss the situation and come to a swift resolution. He is also requesting the Speaker to summon Parliament.

At 3.45pm:  The Prime Minister had told the Party Leaders that he is willing to resign as Prime Minister and make way for an all-Party Government to take over.

8pm:   Prime Minister expresses grave regret over the assault on journalists who are covering the ongoing protests, by security personnel.

9pm:  Protesters have broken into the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and have set it on fire.

10pm:  Gotabaya tells the Speaker that he will resign on July 13th