The uprising: on ongoing protests in Sri Lanka

A formal process should bring in change in Sri Lanka, and not a public uprising

Updated - July 11, 2022 12:43 pm IST

Published - July 11, 2022 12:20 am IST

Public wrath is paving the way for momentous changes in Sri Lanka. The ongoing protests against the precipitous fall in the island nation’s economic fortunes have reached a crescendo. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose secretariat was overrun by thousands of people and his official residence occupied by boisterous protesters, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose private residence was set ablaze, have both expressed readiness to resign. Mr. Rajapaksa, the main target of the people’s unbridled anger, has conveyed his willingness to resign on July 13, while Mr. Wickremesinghe is awaiting an alternative all-party government to be ready to take over before he steps down. It is now fairly clear that the people have not been pacified by the formation of a new regime under Mr. Wickremesinghe. The boiling over of public anger on July 9 indicates their utter dissatisfaction with his government’s efforts to address their day-to-day problems. There were questions about Mr. Wickremesinghe’s political legitimacy to hold the office, given that he belongs to a party with no elected representative in the legislature and he himself being a nominee based on its vote percentage. However, despite the arrival of some overseas aid and commencement of a process for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, there has been no significant relief for the people, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

The next few days are crucial for the country, as it will show whether the political class can rise above its differences and put in place an alternative regime that can steer the country towards economic recovery. Under the country’s Constitution, the Prime Minister and then the Speaker of Parliament are in line to act as President if the highest office falls vacant. The way out seems to be that the current Speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, takes over as President so that, within 30 days, Parliament can elect a new President by a secret ballot. However, these moves will be contingent on the resignations actually materialising. Any delay in creating conditions for the emergence of an alternative may not go down well with the public, and may lead to more unsavoury incidents. The occupants of the two main offices will have to make their decisions early so that the country’s transition to a stable regime can be easy. It is possible to argue that mere regime change may redound to nobody’s benefit, will achieve nothing more than mollifying the masses for now, and will not ease the economic travails of the people. However, it is always better that a formal process is set in motion to effectuate change than it being left to the exigencies of a public uprising. It will also impart some much-needed political legitimacy to whoever will emerge as President and Prime Minister and steer the country through troubled times. The country cannot afford a fresh election now; nor can it be without a leadership.

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