Youth Power – The Island

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Monday, April 18, 2022

Neither Occupy-Galle-Face protesters nor members of the Rajapaksa family are going home! Having dug in, they are indulging in a game of chicken to the detriment of much-needed political stability, upon which the country’s economic recovery rests. A new Cabinet is due to be appointed soon in view of the government’s negotiations with the IMF in Washington, we are told. Who will be the members of the next Cabinet?

This is the moment of truth for the embattled government. If the same members of the previous cabinet, including the Rajapaksas, are reappointed, there will be another wave of protests, which the current leaders need as a hole in their heads. The opposition’s rejection of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer to set up a multiparty caretaker administration is no excuse for the government to reinstate the same old cabinet, which was full of misfits.

The president is in this predicament because he failed to be different from his older brother, Mahinda, who subjugated the interests of the country to those of his family when he was president. It was then jokingly said that the difference between Einstein and Mahinda, of all people, was that for the first everything was relative, and for the second the parents were everything.

The regime change of 2019 gave people hope; they expected a fresh start under the leadership of Gotabaya, who they believed was a sensible technocrat and would put country before family to usher in national progress. But they saw no difference between the current administration and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government from 2010 to 2015.

Many Sri Lankan expats who rallied to the SLPP and even returned home at their own expense, in November 2019, to vote for Gotabaya and ensure his victory are now organizing Gota-go-home protests abroad. Worse, they have stopped sending funds through Sri Lankan banks in protest against corruption and waste under the current regime. The Sri Lankan youth, who voluntarily turned the whole county into a kind of art gallery with beautiful murals, immediately after Gotabaya’s victory in the presidential race, are currently engaged in a continuous demonstration near the presidential secretariat to overthrow the president and his government.

It is heartening that the young people chose to stay back and fight instead of leaving the country. Their dismay is understandable and they deserve full public support. Smart, educated and talented young Sri Lankans are either unemployed, underemployed or troubled by the prospect of losing their jobs due to the economic downturn, while the offspring of leaders, who have never worked, live in luxury. Many young workers have already lost their jobs due to the government’s economic mismanagement, and it’s only natural that they’ve taken on political parasites like never before.

President Rajapaksa’s approval ratings remained high for several months until the election of the SLPP government, which mistakenly thought its huge majority was flames for the first family to do more of what they were doing under the previous Rajapaksa government. The appointment of Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister broke the camel’s back.

It was a huge mistake on the part of President Rajapaksa not to take control of the SLPP. Prime Minister Rajapaksa has the whip but is not keen on playing an active role in the affairs of the government, which is controlled by Basil for all intents and purposes. Rebel SLPP deputies accused Basil of using his control over the SLPP to undermine the president. They also allege Basil is engineering crossovers with ruling coalition voters; the SLFP has already lost one of its 14 MPs to the Rajapaksa camp, which is desperate to retain a working majority in parliament. These tactics will not help the government ward off threats to its survival. Instead, they are likely to push SLPP dissidents to vote for the no-faith motion to be moved against her.

Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Rajapaksa to resign. If he resigned, who would be his successor? The protests are against all Rajapaksas, and the ongoing unrest is sure to escalate with more people taking to the streets, in case the first family retains the post of prime minister.

The least the government can do to calm the angry public or prevent them from escalating their protests is to appoint a small Cabinet excluding the misfits who have incurred the people’s wrath. We will see if he takes public opinion into account or if he is determined to bulldoze his way when the new cabinet is sworn in.

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