HSZs no defence for failed regimes

Monday 26th September, 2022

The JVP has chosen to intensify its anti-government campaign amidst speculation that the much-delayed local government elections are likely to be held in a few months. It is said to be ahead of other Opposition parties where their approval ratings are concerned; it is apparently trying to keep its cadres engaged lest their morale should flag. It could not have been unaware that the police would go flat out to quell its protest march, and some protesters would be injured and arrested.

Opinion may be divided on the resumption of the JVP’s protest campaign at this juncture, when the need for political stability to enable economic recovery is felt more than ever. What would have happened if the protesters had been allowed to proceed, as planned, is anybody’s guess. But there is no way the government could prevent public opinion from turning against it, for it has not cared to mend its ways, much less ameliorate the unbearable suffering it has inflicted on the people by bankrupting the economy. SLPP politicians exude arrogance and continue to antagonise the public so much so that State Minister Chamara Sampath Dissanayake has been assaulted in Badulla recently.

What is playing out on the political front is replete with irony. One may recall that in 2018, the JVP was instrumental in keeping Ranil Wickremesinghe in power. It propped up the highly unpopular UNP-led government and thwarted an attempt by President Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa to grab power. Its political living together with the UNP cost it three seats at the last general election. It had six members in the previous Parliament. Four years on, it is all out to oust Wickremesinghe, who has realised his presidential dream with the help of the Rajapaksas.

President Wickremesinghe is doing what his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was expected to do. Gotabaya’s reputation had preceded him when he took to active politics; he was considered a real ‘toughie’ who did not tolerate dissent. His critics predicted that he would turn out to be a far worse dictator than Hitler. It was also thought that he would make short work of his political rivals if the latter dared take on his government. But he did not live up to his reputation, so to speak, and ran away when protesters rattled the gates of the President’s House. Strangely, his successor sans any military background is acting like an ex-combat officer!

The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government has made it patently clear to its rivals that another Aragalaya will not be a walk in the park; those who try to stage uprisings will run the risk of bodily harm at the hands of the police and the military in addition to legal action.

The effectiveness of Saturday’s police attack on the JVP protest might embolden the powers that be to employ the same method to tackle anti-government protests in the future. But let them be warned that they will find themselves without any defence if the resentful people take to the streets of their own volition.

The SLPP government is sinking and will resort to anything to retain power, which it cannot afford to lose. It was not out of any love for Wickremesinghe that the Rajapaksas enabled him to secure the presidency; they were looking for a political hit man to protect their interests when Gotabaya had to run away. What they expected of Wickremesinghe was to play the same role as Mervyn Silva of Kelaniya and act as a cat’s paw to pull political chestnuts out of the fire for them.

If the President is desirous of winning over the people instead of ruining things for himself as well as his party, he will have to tread cautiously, and serve the interests of the public, and not those of the Rajapaksa family. He is now dependent on the SLPP, but he can reduce his dependence thereon if he cares to enlist the support of the Opposition and the SLPP dissidents, and thereby increase his bargaining power. The government had better make a serious effort to eliminate the causes of social unrest, which gives rise to political upheavals, instead of trying to suppress protests. At this rate, it would not be safe even if it designated the entire country as a High Security Zone (HSZ).

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