A costly miscalculation | Daily News

A costly miscalculation

 

 

Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the war winning President, deserved a more honourable exit from the political scene than that which eventually forced him out of office on Monday due to a momentary lapse of discretion. It is difficult indeed to fathom the need for Rajapaksa to summon Local Government members to Temple Trees.

The former PM also should not have permitted provocative speeches at the meeting by certain garrulous Ministers that goaded those present to act the way they did in the highly inebriated condition they were in. It was indeed a monumental slur on the much vaunted democracy practiced in this country to have men and women armed with clubs set upon a group of peaceful protestors who were only exercising their legitimate right to agitate. The brutal attack on the protestors that was on full display to the public via live television was condemned by religious leaders, the Bar Association and the international community. The ugly scenes beamed to a world audience certainly would not have done any good to the country’s image at a time Sri Lanka is heavily reliant on international aid to stay afloat amidst the worst economic crisis ever.

The Police too should take the major share of the blame for letting things get out of hand by not taking prompt action to quell the attacks. It was obvious to anybody viewing the live coverage that the police purposely permitted the attackers to enter the Galle Face protest venue by making only feeble attempts to block their access. When things were reaching fever pitch near Temple Trees with the attackers turning extremely violent with attacks carried out on the protesters there, the police ought to have been better prepared to expect the worst. The Army too arrived on the scene late and when it did much of the damage had been done. The IGP should order a thorough investigation to ascertain if his men had been remiss in their duties or if there were deliberate attempts to facilitate the attackers’ entry to the protest venue at Galle Face.

It was clear that the opportunity was seized to cause mayhem at a time the protestors at Galle Face were much less in number at the time with crowds swelling only in the evenings and nighttime. However, the live coverage of the scenes soon saw large crowds supporting the protestors descending on the venue which led to a situation bordering on anarchy. Tables were turned with the hunters becoming the hunted. The attackers were waylaid during their return journey and badly roughed up, with several Local Government Members badly injured.

The response to the attacks on the protestors too deserves condemnation. The homes of several former Ministers were set on fire and vehicles parked in their premises torched. Buses that transported the attackers too were set ablaze and some of them pushed into the Beira Lake.

Extremely violent scenes were witnessed in several parts of the country with crowds going on the rampage. A Pohottuwa MP from the Polonnaruwa district and a bodyguard died of gunshot injuries. Altogether eight persons lost their lives in the incidents and over 400 hospitalized. A curfew was clamped but this made no difference with people pouring out into the streets expressing solidarity with the agitators. Here in lies the danger. With the people no longer complying with curfew orders or emergency regulations the country is poised on the verge of lawlessness, endangering the safety of ordinary peace loving people.

The country today is without a Government, with the Cabinet standing dissolved with the exit of the PM. The country is facing uncertainty and in a state of drift with no clear leadership in evidence. The situation is dire given that we are economically broke. It is not clear what awaits us vis-a-vis IMF assistance. It is also not at all clear what form and shape a new Government would assume. The Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras and His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith have called for an Interim Government to be installed for a specific period in order to tide over the immediate difficulties. However, the protesting youth are demanding a complete system change and appear to be calling the shots. They are angry and detest all politicians as was demonstrated by the rough treatment meted out to Opposition Leader Sajith Premdasa when he visited the Galle Face protest venue. Their voice too should be considered in any change being contemplated. The country, certainly, is teetering on the brink. To make matters worse, Trade Unions too have launched work stoppages and public transport have ceased to operate. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should take immediate steps to redeem the situation.

 


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