Regime Change is under way in Sri Lanka in the worst and best of ways: demonstrations of ‘People’s Power’ and Anarchy, declaration of a State of Emergency, resignation of the President and appointment of his replacement, activation of constitutional order to resolve an intractable political crisis wracked by an insoluble economic catastrophe — and the military marking-time, with all the time on its hands.
After thousands were led to invade and occupy the president and prime minister’s public and private homes and offices on July 9, it appeared that mob rule had the upper hand, until the army was given unlimited power to restore order.
The incidents led to the departure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after his two brothers, ex-Prime Minister Mahinda and Finance Minister Basil, had both earlier resigned their Cabinet posts.
But in the high-power political poker game between government and opposition politicians that know each other very well, the main players are playing their best key cards to gain political leverage in the interim.
Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, with the army behind him, says he’ll follow the constitution in the search for a political solution that will please all, starting with election of ‘an all-party government’ (representing all parties in parliament) and selecting a president also ‘acceptable to all’.
By invoking the constitutional provisions, the Acting President – a veteran who’s served as prime minister at least five times before — seized the political initiative after the opposition said it would create an alliance to demand that the current Opposition Leader be made Acting President.
The opposition, which rode high on the crest of the People’s Power wave, was caught flat-footed by Wickremesinghe’s move to channel Regime Change through the parliament, instead of on Colombo’s streets.
The parliament will receive nominations for President Tuesday (July 19) and vote on Wednesday for a president, as the situation is too fluid to call a fresh general election.
The protesters have left the occupied buildings and set-up camps on the streets, watching from the sidelines as the political processes unfold, but the people’s basic day-to-day problems continue, as the Treasury is still near empty and the government has only been able to afford one shipment of fuel that arrived on the weekend.
But the nation of 22 million is no-better-off after the occupations, arson and other forms of violently venting popular frustration, the protesters now waiting for the same politicians they revolted against to fix the system they’re accused of having broken-down.
The interim government has (reportedly) already asked China for $4.2 billion in emergency aid, while also planning to ask Russia for emergency fuel support — and hoping the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU) and G-7 nations will come to their assistance in ways that will not worsen their situation by deepening their Debt to GDP ratio.
The politically-influential Rajapaksa family may be down, but certainly not out; and general expectations are that Gotabaya and Mahinda, now moving between Dubai and Singapore, will eventually return home to continue leading the family’s role in the nation’s politics.
The military has a carte blanche to act as it sees fit while the politicians fight the parliamentary and constitutional battles, the Acting President ensuring that, in the absence of national elections, only the parliament will decide who’s the next President – and not mob rule.
Protest organizers acknowledge they have not come out on top, spokespersons saying they have “partially” achieved their goals, the most important of which was the departure of the Rajapaksa brothers.
Should China and Russia respond positively to Sri Lanka’s call for emergency aid, that will elicit sure response from the USA, UK, Canada, G-7, European Union, World Bank and IMF, who’ll never leave the field open for Beijing and Moscow and will most likely seek their own big slices of Sri Lanka’s inescapable future debt burden.
Already heads-over-heels in Ukraine, the world’s richest nations, also facing Climate Change problems and unpredictable weather patterns that further affect wheat production and supply, will not quickly, if ever, rally to Sri Lanka’s rescue.
As always in such cases, a national political solution heavily depends on the attitude of the Opposition, which appears more power-hungry to replace the Rajapaksa government than interested in an all-party solution to the all-embracing national political, economic and social problem.
In Guyana’s case in the political turmoil that followed the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections, the opposition PPP/C – sure it had won and with the evidence to prove claims otherwise were a Big Lie — allowed the outgoing regime to play-out all its bad cards, until there were no longer any jokers in the pack.
The attitude of the regional and international community also counts heavily, as again shown in Guyana two years ago, when Britain, Canada, the US, the European Union, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States (OAS) and CARICOM, stood firmly in defense of the free and democratic expression of the voting majority.
In the current global context, however, Sri Lanka is being watched from a distance, treated with a proverbial ten-foot pole, while an overheating Europe gears-up for a winter without heat, as inflation bites deeper on both sides of The Atlantic, the US and NATO allies continue focusing on the escalating cost of a prolonged Ukraine War, food and fuel prices continue rising — and unpredictable weather continues playing havoc from Europe to Australia and New Zealand with countries fighting floods and forest fires, heatwaves and cold blasts.
At the end of it all, while mob rule got rid of the Rajapaksa brothers, after all the headline coverage and adulation of the demonstrations of ‘People’s Power’ in Sri Lanka, the fundamental problems that affected the ousted government still remain and have worsened, the people are still without the power to help themselves, now forced by reality to virtually return right back to the very beginning…