The Tsunami of the Masses in Sri Lanka, By Owei Lakemfa

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Photo credit: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Fearing what might happen when the ultimatum expires on Wednesday, July 13, the president, who had run to a Navy ship when his house was burned down four days earlier, headed for the airport where an Air Force AN32 troop carrier smuggled it. , its First Lady, Loma, and two bodyguards go into exile in Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

Tidal waves of humanity are sweeping over Sri Lanka. The Tsunami of the masses sweeps away everything in its path. Public buildings, including the presidency and the prime minister, were submerged or set on fire.

Longtime politicians who for decades manipulated the masses using all sorts of divides, including ethnic ones, are begging the people for respite and kowtowing to the opposition and protesters to join in the nomination of a new government that would be acceptable to the streets.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, even before fleeing, had found himself homeless when demonstrators had seized his house on Saturday, just like that of the now lame Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

President Rajapaksa, who had imagined himself a popular leader and war hero, was a pathetic figure as he sought to flee the country, like an armed robber desperate to flee a crime scene.

On Monday, the president was blocked, at least twice, by immigration and other Patriots from boarding a plane because he refused to join a public immigration queue at the Bandaranayake International Airport.

The following day, the organizer of the demonstration, Father Jeevantha Peiris, gave the president and his government a 24-hour ultimatum to relinquish power: “We want to warn President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister and all this government that the 13th is the last day for you to be in power.

Hundreds of protesters are already approaching Colombo as we speak. If by tomorrow such a change does not materialize, the struggle of the peoples that led to this revolution will be proven again, exemplified by protests, rigorous action and people power.

Fearing what might happen when the ultimatum expires on Wednesday, July 13, the president, who had run to a Navy ship when his house was burned down four days earlier, headed for the airport where an Air Force AN32 troop carrier smuggled it. , its First Lady, Loma, and two bodyguards go into exile in Malé, the capital of the Maldives. But Maldivian air traffic control refused the plane permission to land until the speaker of the Maldivian parliament and former president Mohamed Nasheed intervened.

The trigger for the protests was Rajapaksa who, along with his brothers, had been in power for two decades, leading the country down. With massive corruption, mismanagement and the burial of Sri Lanka in debt, the country went bankrupt. Prices for basic needs, including food, fuel and medicine, were out of reach for many.

But Maldivians, viewing President Rajapaksa as a leper, immediately protested his presence, accusing their government of colluding with a rogue president to evade justice. Soon, the fugitive president was heading for Singapore.

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Many Sri Lankans were unhappy with the president’s flight, preferring that he be brought to justice for ruining the country. One protester, GP Nimal, summed up the general sentiment: “We don’t like it. We want to keep it. We want our money back! And we want to put all the Rajapaksas in an open air prison where they can do agricultural work.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who remained in power, was announced by parliament as interim president. With this announcement, the masses invaded his office.

Wickremesinghe, under the illusion that as president and interim prime minister he had certain powers, announced a curfew and a state of emergency. When he realized he had made these statements in vain, he quickly retracted them and demanded a new inclusive leadership in the country. In a show of power, the protesters took to the state broadcaster, Sri Lanka Rupavahini, and demanded that government news be off the air. The station complied by broadcasting only cultural programs.

With dual power in the country, just as President Rajapaksa had pleaded to flee the country, Wickremesinghe is also asking to be relieved of the top two positions.

The trigger for the protests was Rajapaksa who, along with his brothers, had been in power for two decades, leading the country down. With massive corruption, mismanagement and the burial of Sri Lanka in debt, the country went bankrupt. Prices for basic needs, including food, fuel and medicine, were out of reach for many. These were compounded by frequent power cuts and a political leadership that seemed to have gone deaf.

The first time I heard of Sri Lanka was in my primary school civics lesson in 1972/73, when we were told about heads of state around the world and we had to memorize a name that I found difficult: Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female prime minister in the world. The country was then known as Ceylon. She was prime minister in 1960, then from 1970 to 1977, then when her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was president, she was elected prime minister for a third time from 1994 to 2000.

The situation remains unclear today, as the Sri Lankan ruling class, fearful of losing power, has appointed a committee of senior commanders of the armed forces, headed by the Chief of the Defense Staff, Lt. Shavendra Silva, to “restore law and order” throughout the country. nation. This, in clear terms, may be an invitation for a military coup that would preserve privileges and maintain the status quo.

The first time I met Sri Lankans was in 1986, during my first trip abroad. As I was going through immigration at Madrid Airport, Spain, I saw a group of people gathered together and under surveillance. You could see the fear in some of their eyes and the apprehension written on their faces. I inquired and was told that they were Tamils ​​from Sri Lanka, seeking refuge from a bloody war in their country. The war, which began in July 1983, took no prisoners as the Sinhalese majority attempted to pulverize the Tamil minority.

Painfully, as the war drew to a close in 2009, with the Tamils ​​clearly defeated, the victorious Sinhalese would not agree to a ceasefire as they prepared to carry out what amounted to genocide. The Sri Lankan leader who led this pointless butchery of defeated Tamils ​​was Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose brother, runaway President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was then defense minister.

Another of the Rajapaksa brothers, Basil, a former finance minister also fled Sri Lanka and is believed to be heading to the United States.

The situation remains unclear today, as the Sri Lankan ruling class, fearful of losing power, has appointed a committee of senior commanders of the armed forces, headed by the Chief of the Defense Staff, Lt. Shavendra Silva, to “restore law and order” throughout the country. nation. This, in clear terms, may be an invitation to a military coup that would preserve privileges and maintain the status quo.

This type of scenario unfolded in Sudan when a similar civil uprising forced President Omar al-Bashir from power in 2019 and a cunning army, claiming to share power with protesters, turned to massacre them in the streets.

There was the case of popular power in the Philippines which, on February 25, 1986, forced President Ferdinard Marcus to flee. He was not only a bloody dictator who killed at will, he also stole over $10 billion from the public treasury. Although the deceased Marcus family, led by his widow, Imelda, has been plundering the country’s economy, their son, Marcos Jnr, was elected president in May, 36 years after his parents fled the country.

Thus, hunger, anger and protests are not enough to bring lasting change; the masses with a popular program would need to take power and develop an alternative system.

Owei Lakemfa, former General Secretary of African Workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.


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