How bad is the crisis for Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Photo courtesy Lanka Standard

“Although certain foreign powers have attempted to conspire against and oust me from the presidency, I will not leave this position before completing my duties” – President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Ada Derana Online / February 19, 2012 01:27 am)

That perhaps is the easiest of the answers possible for any Head of State under pressure from his own people who voted him to power and from the international community, to explain his own dilemma. The Resolution proposed to the UN Human Rights Council’s19 Session will pressure the Rajapaksa regime to honour it’s own Commission’s Recommendations, while Chilaw now, after Katunayake FTZ workers’ agitations on May 24 and 30 last year, followed by local vendors and rural farmer protests against plastic container rule, turns a wholly new militant page on protests against this Rajapaksa regime, albeit glib talk about foreign conspiracies. Anthony Fernando from “Wella” fishing village, a protester in Chilaw died of police shooting on Tuesday while three others were critically injured. These protests were very militant and continued for six consecutive days and still continues, despite the top leadership of the Catholic Church wanting to pacify its parishioners along the coast.

One day before Anthony’s funeral, a joint Opposition call for a protest in the Fort on Friday afternoon had more numbers and militancy than there was before. The UNP was not very effective with previous protests. By late afternoon, this protest gathered momentum to sustain itself much longer than the UNP wanted it to be, even after police tear gasing. The protests are definitely growing and growing militant too. Shocking price increases in all fuels, electricity and gas that provoked a private bus owner strike and a fare hike as well within just 03 days, have shaken the people out of their “patriotic slumber”.

Certainly not world prices

This price hike was not provoked by any significant price increases of fuel, in the global market. The maximum price this same regime stubbornly stuck to, despite a Supreme Court order, was Rs. 125 per litre of petrol and Rs. 76 per litre of diesel, when a barrel of crude oil in the world market was around USD 145. That was despite all the wheeler dealing with the infamous hedging in petroleum was being talked of. In October 2011 when the government increased prices to Rs. 137 per litre of petrol, Rs. 84 per litre of diesel and kerosene to Rs. 73 per litre, the price had dropped to between USD 82-87 per barrel of crude oil, from its previous USD 145 per barrel. This time round, the world price of a barrel of crude oil was around USD 93-97 when this sudden huge increase in fuel prices were announced.

The Iranian embargo does not seem an urgent reason for the present increase either. One major reason for such increase is in the depreciation of the SL Rupee from 110 to a US Dollar, to 121 per Dollar and expected to keep falling. It effects all goods transport and bakery and confectionery products too, with bread already hiked. All imports to the country from wheat to sugar to the Berri Apple in Super markets will now be on the hit list. Despite what Cabral had been saying and now says, the forced reinforcement of the Rupee value at the expense of reserves, became impossible to continue with. The economy is in to a dizzy spin and lets be clear on this too. Its neither Cabral at the Central Bank nor Jayasundera at the Treasury that has to take responsibility to this chaos. Its President Rajapaksa, both as head of the government and as its Finance minister, who has to take total responsibility.

Locally, no subsidies given to agitating social sectors can hold the prices down to bearable level. Subsidies given to any sector is an economic burden to all others. On a reverse argument, if the government can afford subsidies to so many sectors, then there was no reason for such punching price hikes. Though ordinary citizens will not be able to understand and explain these economic moves,  common sense and past experience tell them, their earned  income would no more sustain their families for 30 days even at the lowest standards of consumption. That they can not now harvest fish nor engage in livelihood practices as before. Well if MPs can not live on 90,000 plus and plus rupees, how would a worker, leave alone his family, survive 30 days with a minimum wage of 6,900 plus 1,000 rupee budgetary allowance ? Buying power shrinks. So are markets then.

String of protests with more on the cards

This comes in the wake of many protests triggered by the first joint protests by the Joint Trade Union   Alliance over the private sector “Employees’ Pension Fund” Bill, brought to parliament. A well organised protest, especially in the FTZs, shattered the myth that this regime can never be challenged with its “Gulliverian” majority in parliament. Two thirds majority in parliament could do nothing and the government folded its Bill, accepting defeat at the hands of organised labour.

These workers played catalyst in protests that next provoked vegetable and fruit vendors, farmers in North Central Province and traders in Pettah to stage protests against the regulations that barred transport of perishables in gunny bags. The government was once again forced to back down. The regulation was basically withdrawn,with the government saying it is operative but not enforced.

The “Z” score then exploded as an issue that shook the urban and the rural middle class. Their remaining faith in free education as a vehicle of social mobility for their children, was rudely shattered. Protests were nevertheless short. They did not get into militant street agitations as the other previous protests. The middle class seldom gets into such militant moods and the Teachers’ Unions themselves were not capable of leading effective protests. The government is thus happy they went to Hulftsdorp instead. But, its the faith, the loyalty the Sinhala middle class pinned on this regime that seriously eroded, with the “Z” score mess.

Breach of trust and the Sinhala support

All of it keep the people agitated and questioning the very integrity of the leader they thought was patriotic enough to take care of them. They now feel the heat on them, not only with the increasing burden of CoL, but also in not having a judiciary they could eventually go to, for justice. In seeing police stations being attacked by locals for custodial killings and seeing police being accused for contract killings and rampant corruption. They see arrogance of power around them and against them.

All of it keep the Sinhala society experiencing the taste of police and military crackdowns in their most ruthless fashion. Its not what this Sinhala society thought would be their share of the “peace dividend” two and a half years after the war. A war, they willingly accepted with very patriotic rhetoric. That breach of trust is what actually challenges this regime. It is that collective feeling of being cheated, which adds to the already growing crisis in society. It is thus the very support base that is now going into a collision course with the regime.

Adding onto pressure overseas

With such social suspicion and pressure within the Sinhala society itself, the international campaign on war crimes and accountability gains strength. The US initiated Resolution to the 19 Session of the UNHRC now on in Geneva, calls for a clear time frame in implementing the LLRC Recommendations. The Resolution concludes by saying,

Expressing concern that the LLRC report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law, and expressing serious disappointment that the Government of Sri Lanka has not fulfilled its relevant legal obligations and stated commitment to initiate credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations,

  1. Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and additionally to take immediate steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and stated commitment to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations,
  2. Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan before the 20th session of the Human Rights Council detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law,
  3. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special mandate holders to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps.

While India is not where it was, in completely safeguarding the “little brother” next door, the US initiated Resolution has not diluted the war crimes and accountability issues, in raising the need to have the LLRC recommendations. The regime was certainly being pressured all through last 02 years to come down from where they were, despite Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s a-political interfering in political decisions.

The Rajapaksas feel the heat no doubt, with its Sinhala political base also cracking up and unexpectedly fast too, at that. But where it faults once again is, in its cheap political gimmicks by playing to the local Sinhala society. The government is now playing on this international intervention to deflect protests against fuel hikes and demands for wage hikes. Its a futile attempt to distract social pressure with anti imperialist rhetoric any more. Sure the government could transport a few thousands to Colombo to carry pro government slogans, still. Mubarak and Gadaffi had such crowds till the last minute of their departure.

But, it is difficult for any government to hold itself firm in international forums, when it is being questioned and challenged at home on its performance and delivery. A government that has to use brute force in wading off growing protests, keep the military deployed at every funeral that would not be just funerals but also  people’s protests against injustice, a government that has to explain killing of protesters and with a continued trend in abductions and extra judicial killings, can not stand in front of international questioning of its democracy, as comfortable as it did, during pre war time.

All of them put together, the tide seem changing. The never corroding trust, the loyalty the Rajapaksas thought they have among the Sinhala people, is being breached over and over again and more brutally every time the people come out in protests. The economy seems beyond repair, despite foreign funding, that too comes with strings attached. International pressure is getting close to throttling distance. The Opposition parties have come to ride the wave of people’s protests in an effort to keep their place in opposition politics. The question nevertheless is, with no answers at hand, how will this Rajapaksa regime pacify its own Sinhala vote bank ?

  • Dinuk

    The 18th amendment to the Constitution lifting presidential term limits and the post-war militarization of Lanka is to ensure that there will be no regime change and Rajapakse remains in power forever – hence the.
    In the context, the joint opposition in Sri Lanka -particularly the UNP and JVP has responsibility to communicate with the Lankan people that the UN resolution is against the Rajapakse regime’s CURRENT policies of UNACCOUNTABILITY to the people given past and PRESENT Human rights violations, and the economic militarization of the country, rather than the victory against the LTTE.
    Calling for people to protest the UN resolution on Feb 23 Wimal Weerawansa and Ranawaka have been beating the Sinhala nationalist and anti- Tamil racist drum and said that the UN resolution is the West’s revenge for the defeat of the LTTE – this is an absurd lie and a joke. Actually, the US which is drafting the resolution has far more important and pressing issues to address such as the current situation in Syriya, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Euro-debt crisis etc, (you name it!), than Rajapakse’s war crimes in tiny Lanka. Really, the Sinhala nationalist need to get a grip and be real that Tiny Lanka is not a great priority for any great world power which has far more pressing issues and have little interest in tiny Lanka and a war that ended 3 years ago.
    Sri Lanka is simply not that important to the US – not a single senior U.S official – Obama, Biden, Clinton have bothered to visit Lanka. Blake is rather low down in the hierarchy of power in the US. So Rajaapkse and Weerawansa need not exaggerate the importance of regime change in SL to the US. They are merely concerned about justice for victims of State violence NOW and the Brutal Rajapakse regime’s lack of accountability.
    The UNP and the JVP need to explain this to the people of Lanka and ask them not to indulge in pro-Rajapakse parades that are really anti-Tamil Sinhala nationalist racism to support the racist Rajaapkse regime that stays in power by beating the nationalist war drums and by
    militarization which is also seen as a necessity by a crude regime that has no notion of “soft power” in order to stave off a possible war crime trial in the Hague of the Rajapakse Bros. They are not known for logical thinking and therefore think that by militarizing Lanka they can fight the international community and Tamil Diaspora!
    The UNP must begin a systematic campaign to educate the people on the real issues and stop its infighting in this hour of national crisis!

    • joker

      Mr Kusal Perera is the classic nay sayer and arm chair critic. He has always been in opposition and forever will be. He has never had an idea of his own but will criticize all others. He has never done anything or achieved anything of his own but will criticize all others who do.

      people like him do have a role in society, in any society, but we must not put any unnecessary weight to their thoughts.

  • D

    The scary thing is…even if the Rajapaksha’s fail..who is able to take the reins and help SL prosper in a fast moving, globalized world? The UNP with it’s leechy top man? The uncouth JVP? Scary huh…

  • http://www.pattapalboru.blogspot.com Patta Pal

    The attempts at deflecting all the criticisms will succeed for a while yet, just as it has over the past few years. Finally in about a year when there is no settlement to the Northern issues, and COL keeps mounting people will realize that the Rajapakse is a fraud and will desire a change at the top.

    This turning point has not yet been reached, and the spread of misinformation giving the people the wrong idea about the international mood, as not yet turned the people against the govt. You can only be fooled for so long and that time limit is slowly disappearing.

  • Jamis Banda

    Well put! but there is fear among minorities that the island-wide protests by the Rajapskse Regime supporters on February 27 may turn into an anti-minority (particularly anti-Tamil and Christian) riots, given what Ranawaka and Weerawansa said at the media briefing about conspiracies by Catholics in the Puttlam and Chilaw when calling for island wide protests on 27th Feb – the day of the UN resolution against the Rajaapkse Regime. Civil society and the opposition must resist this.

    Three years after the war ended time has run out for the Rajapakses and they are running scared. When there is an economic crisis the minorities at made scape goats by the majority. The Rajaapkse regime will now be trying to distract the public focus on their mis-manaagment of the post-war economy and reconciliation process and the perpetual delay with finding a political solution – the latest of which is the PSC.
    We must stay focused on the middle ground in the Mahinda Rajaapkse Banana Republic – where regime change is a low priority for the US which is moving the resolution in Geneva. In the Rajapakse Banana republic the Weerawansas, Ranawakas and Silvas are prone to nationalist hyperbole and racist rhetoric to cover up the real issues – their mismanagement of the post-war economy, greed for power, corruption and militarizaion of Lanka. Champika Pathala Ranawaka has totally mismanaged the Electricity board and energy sector and they seem to have forgotten the old adage: “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’!

  • http://srilankalandoftheblind.blogspot.com/ PresiDunce Bean

    @Kusal Perera
    You hit the nail on the head! “Patriotic Slumber”…yes indeed. This is what ails the majority of Sinhalese in the country. Very good article.

    • Sarath Fernando

      Absolutely!

      How I sincerely hope and pray it is just “slumber” – on account of the fact that one can be awoken from a slumber!

  • Gamini

    Some issuers have no racial or political basis. Issues related to education affects own SLFP party supporters and the entire younger generation is affected.

    It is important for the government to resolve these issues, it would come to a state no one is there to rescue the party in a crisis. Entire younger generation is aware of the problem it is not possible to cover-up these important issues.

    Younger generation is anxious to see whether thry are going to face same problems next year onwards.

    • Ranjith

      Teachers issue seem to have gone to UN ?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Sri Lanka, very ably represented by Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam, can defeat this hypocritical and patronising resolution at the UN HRC. The vast mass of our citizenry will — quite rightly– hope she does so, and wish her well.

    Once again the expat opposition and the domestic Diaspora types (amply repesented on the discussion threads of this website) will prove that they have picked the wrong issue at the wrong time, and will find themselves de-legitimised in the eyes of public opinion.

    The lesson is, fight for popular sovereignty against the Establishment, but never go against national sovereignty and always defend it.

    The current neoliberal Opposition and commentariat will never learn that lesson.

    Only an ideologically different Opposition can.

    • Sarath Fernando

      Dear Dayan,

      Who precisely are you referring to as “domestic Diaspora?” Are they of the same type previously condemned as “Sinhala-LTTEers?”

      In what sense are they “domestic Diaspora” — is it because they refuse to pander, and instead see a different civic duty than you do?

      Would you be too shy to name a few whom you would consider the most significant ones among that “ample representation” that you have so diligently observed. I bet you are shy! Hope you’d prove me wrong.

      As for your new (or perhaps recovered) arsenal, “public opinion” and “de-legitimizing”, would it be wrong to conclude that you have been de-legitimized (and even de-doctored) over-and-over-again, going by the count of pro-Dayan and anti-Dayan public opinions expressed within this blogging-public? (If you are taking a count, please count my opinion in your favour).

      • Hela

        Dayan’s comments are extremely valid. The inability of the psuedo intellectuals to distingush between national sovereignity & popular sovereignity v the establishment made them irrelevant in the past and judging by their utterences will continue to make them irrelevant in the future too.

        Yes, there are lot more issues with regard to economic management, waste, corruption, cronysm etc with the existing dispensation. Active opposition & struggle against such issues are certainly valid (though I cannot find any saint among the opposition who were not guilty of such practices during their hey days). However, the silence of the so called intellectuals writing in these blogs against the most evident threat to national sovereignity, the basic foundation of this nation from vested global interests shows a clear link in an attempt on regime change by other means while being trying to be opportunistic in mass agitations. It also points to the possibility that many of these writers being in the payroll of certain global vested interests.

        The writer of the article clearly tries to hoodwink the readers by trying to belittle the massively negative international economic situation on small countries such as SL. It is no secret that even when the oil prices went up to $140 a barrel, govt continued to subsidies the local economic sectors at a great cost to the national budget. Protests have to be expected when such subsidies are reduced which even Harsha De Silva’s economic team in the UNP cannot sustain. A fair critique must need to take all such variables in to perspective if it not to be vindictive.

        Lastly, as pointed out by another commentator, can the writer point to an alternate political/economic programme that is visible among the opposition that would address the issues noted by me at the beginning? or does he favour anarchy (in trying to punish his hated)? Can he tell us what his desired programme is?

      • Sarath Fernando

        Dear Hela,

        I am sure Dayan appreciates your hand holding and your voluntary offer to surrogate now that he finds himself either shy or lost for words, or perhaps both. And, additionally he gets to count one more on his side of the balance sheet of Public Opinion. This show of support would no doubt help him regain some of the rapidly diminishing self-confidence that saw him hitching his wagon rather desperately to Tamara’s back.

        In any case, after being the roaring lion denigrating some as backbone-deficient for not being forthright in revealing their names, I wonder why he suddenly became a morbid invertebrate, unable to even name those whom he wants to vilify, and keep readers like me guessing.

        While on that subject, I see that you use a cute, though seemingly ambivalent pseudonym. To compensate for my ignorance, I just Googled and realized you could be either “the Asgardian goddess of death” as in Marvel Comics, or, at the other extreme, be a “widely used continuous, immortal cell line for virology.”

        Now, based on your free-will choice to use pseudonym, Dayan, as well as another organism, namely Pandukabaya de Silva, seem to think you are a “coward” and that you “do not have any strength of conviction” and so should not be taken seriously, if not abhorred summarily for that. Would you care to express how you feel about that profound wisdom of these wise men?

        Hela, since you at your free will chose to stand surrogate for Dayan, I felt comfortable taking the liberty to ask these questions from you directly – no offence intended.

  • http://- Sarwan

    The crisis for MR is serious. He will be caught lieing

    As usual a bunch of lies and nonsense is circulated by SL. The world can be shown easily at the UNHRC that SL is untruthful and the arguments should be rejected.

    One rotten apple(SL) is trying to make other apples (UNHRC) rot too !!!

  • Pena Manoharan

    there is old tamil saying that “Vinai vithaithavan vinai aruppaan” one who sows seeds of hatred would harvest the same.its trial times for rajapakshas.let the law takes its own course,nevertheless this is the slogan of corrupt and incorrigible politicians.

  • Okay

    We may see a trigger in the form of fuel prices being further increased it his year;
    With the seeming mismanagement in government offices this may be likely!.

    • surendra ajit rupasinghe

      An important and timely article that reads the ground situation and emerging scenario with accuracy and foresight. I have wriiten along the same lines in my artilce ” Emerging Scenarios in the previous Sunday Leader,and also Colombo Telegraph and my next article appearing tomorow titled ” Towards a Parliament of the Steets”

      Surendra.

  • luxmy

    ”I will not leave this position before completing my duties”:

    http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers46/paper4558.html:
    Sri Lanka: Indian Delegates go Home Empty Handed, Kumar David, 15 June 2011: ‘’The umpteenth Indian delegation (Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, National Security Advisor Shiva Shankar Menon and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar) came to Colombo and duly went back empty handed and funny as a comic strip! President Rajapakse handed them a flat ‘Nyet’ and for once in a lifetime he spoke the truth. “If I make any devolutionary concessions to the Tamils, 13A Plus, Minus, Divided or Subtracted, it will be curtains for me.” The government’s parliamentary group met the evening before the esteemed visitors arrived and decided; ‘’Let’s tell them the truth straight from the shoulder and upfront; let’s tell them. if we do it we are dead meat”

  • RENU

    The end is near for the Rajapakse regime. Brothers sons, & relations will have to call it a day very soon when the present economic crisis and the Human Right crisis have there repercussion on the people. 27th forced pro Government demonstration will not help to remedy the situation. It is going to be another Libiya ???

  • country

    Part of the blame must go to cabral, being poodle of the president and not to use his professionalism in managing the economy or respectfully resign. He brings shame to the profession by his conduct. He was claiming until end of January ”strong inflows are coming in this year no need to worry about” rupee appriciation we can keep propping up. Now he is claimng all increase wont have much impact on people by claimg who had electricity bill of Rs250 will increase to Rs350-400

  • Anpu

    “Although certain foreign powers have attempted to conspire against and oust me from the presidency, I will not leave this position before completing my duties”

    What are his duties? To Sinhalise N&E ???

    It took nearly three years to come out with this figure – 8000 killed ( http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/world/13012447/8-000-killed-in-last-year-of-sri-lanka-war-census/ ). Chnage of mind from “zero casuality”

  • http://[email protected] patriot

    In order to hang on to his power this power greedy, money,power,food,wisky,hotels,tamashas,foreign trips, land and you name it…tasty president knows that this is a lifetime jackpot he won and will go to any extent to safeguard his power no matter what happens to the country and it’s people. Also he play a dangerous game and may again try to arouse another uprising in the country similar to 1971 and 1983. He may also arouse an anti religious,anti racial, anti capitalist and may even arouse a conflict between the armed forces and the people to suppress economic uphewal uprising by people. He is playing a dangerous game with politics with carrot and stick tactic with his own as well as opposition political parties. Therefore the opposition has to understand this new game plan and has to come up with a new strategy to face this situation, educating the public, Sri Lankan expriate community and the international community and keep public informed without allowing the murderer to commit anymore blood shed in Sri Lanka.

  • ordinary lankan

    Slavery
    is our perpetual condition
    we dont really know freedom
    all we do is exchange masters