Photo courtesy of Ada Derana

After temporarily living in Maldives, Singapore and Thailand, the previous President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived back in his homeland in early September. Any Sri Lankan citizen, including a president who abandoned his post, is rightfully entitled to come back to Sri Lanka and live in peace. This is the way of a nation that is largely built on generosity and hospitality.

However, this return has symbolic significance and can be connected to widespread ramifications that impact the Aragalaya, the Sri Lankan people and the local political climate and systems.

Where is the justice?

Many debate the fairness of extending benefits allocated to a vacating president to the recent returnee as the returnee’s departure was under special circumstances. Where are the legal provisions for a president who vacates his position due to an ousting by the people or other such perceived failure?

Leaving the legal system aside, what logic are the current powers using to justify the luxuries bestowed upon the returnee? Even a company CEO who is ousted by the board will have different stipulations on what retiree benefits may or may not apply to them.

Furthermore, a sound and impartial inquiry into what led to the downfall of the economy is essential to the forward momentum and stabilization of the country. As the previous president is back in the country, there is an opportunity for this inquiry to be intimate versus an inquiry of hearsay.

If the inquiry does point to decisions taken by the previous regime, what is the stance of the current powers on justice and corrective action? Is there space and grace in our political attire for punitive action and penalty fees? What is the stance of our political parties on membership and future nominations? How best should the people of Sri Lanka react to the stance taken by various parties and those in authority?

One can also reasonably question if the previous president’s influence on the current political climate can be heightened due to his physical presence in the country. Will the justice apparatus be allowed to conduct inquiries with transparency that’s rightfully owed to a democratic nation?

Nevertheless, we owe justice to those who lost their lives and justice is also owed to us all for our hardships. When firmly pushing for an inquiry, we should not forget that 13 precious lives have been lost in fuel queues so far, our dollar reserves have drastically dipped, inflation rates have gone through the roof, and UNICEF predicts “worsening child malnutrition in Sri Lanka.”

A general loss of hope

In addition to the lack of apparent justice, we are yet to witness the deep cleanse and change in our political system that the Aragalaya called for. What we see in the current situation is an unchanged system packaged in a slightly different wrapping paper. No expected improvement has come our way. In fact, the nation has witnessed repeated violations of the freedom of expression, according to UN human rights experts.

It is therefore not surprising that over 150,000 Sri Lankans left the country for jobs between January and the first week of July of this year. This does not include Sri Lankans leaving the country for foreign education with the ultimate goal of settling down and obtaining citizenship in another country. It is fair to assume that a larger proportion of those leaving the country is in their prime working years in order to be welcomed into another country.

At an individual level, many of us living abroad are noticing a marked increase in friends and acquaintances  – even those who haven’t reached out in ages  – getting in touch to learn about the process of immigration in the countries that we’re living in.

A call for revival

These developments leave us to wonder what would become of our nation in the next decade or two. Who would be left in the country to revive the economy and strive for much needed change? Where will innovative ideas and creativity come from?

Deep seated system changes take much time and effort; no worthwhile change happens overnight. For instance, the French Revolution lasted for ten years from 1789 to 1799. Hopefully, it does not take that long for Sri Lanka. Surely it will not take that long if we keep up the momentum and hold onto our high expectations and hopes?

While we gear up for a long term revival and a reinforcement of the political changes we desire as a country through protests and other mechanisms, it’s worth looking into how we condone the existing system as individuals. For example, are we getting special favors from politicians in our area? Are we compliant in offering a bribe to the police officer who caught our traffic violation?

Even if the system changes for the better, if we still allow our old habits to permeate society, will the system change be as far reaching as it could be? Changing the system and changing ourselves are intricately connected and can reinforce each in subtle and substantive ways.