President’s ‘aragalaya’ comment under fire from outside P’ment

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

The general public, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), “aragalaya” activists, and many other parties have made critical comments regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday (23), in which he said he would not allow another “aragalaya” to take place, and that he would take measures such as the declaration of Emergency Regulations and the deployment of the Army to prevent such.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday (24), Duminda Nagamuwa of the FSP said that President Wickremesinghe’s statement clearly undermined the concept of democratic governance. Claiming that Wickremesinghe is not capable of preventing a people’s struggle from happening, and cannot withhold the dissolution of Parliament, Nagamuwa said that the President has displayed his undemocratic plans to remain in power by making such a statement, and urged that all parties including political parties and civil society organisations come forward to protect democracy in the country.

“We saw that Wickremesinghe said that he was like Hitler (a reference to Nazi German Leader Adolf Hitler). However, no one in this country calls him Hitler; instead, young people call him Mr. Bean (a reference to a British sitcom character played by Rowan Atkinson). I think the intelligence agencies have given him wrong information that the people call him Hitler. We deal with the common people, although Wickremesinghe does not, and we know what the people call him.

“Also, he has said that we should obtain a licence to hold protests. Before showing our licence, we would like to see his licence to be President. After becoming the President by bowing down to the Rajapaksas (a reference to the family of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and incumbent MP Mahinda Rajapaksa), Wickremesinghe is asking us to get a licence,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Convenor Wasantha Samarasinghe said: “Wickremesinghe has said that he will not dissolve Parliament. We would like to remind him that it is the people who own Parliament. The Parliament is not something that Wickremesinghe owns; therefore, we do not accept what he says about Parliament.

“He has also said that he will not allow another ‘aragalaya’. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the same when he was in power. He imposed curfews and declared Emergency Regulations to prevent the people’s struggle from happening, but what happened in the end? He was made to flee the country by the people. Wickremesinghe will have to face the same fate, and he will not even have a place to flee.”

Attorney Manoj Nanayakkara, an activist from the “aragalaya” at the Galle Face Green, which led to the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, commenting on Wickremesinghe’s statement, said that Wickremesinghe has gotten it wrong by calling himself Hitler. Let alone becoming a successful President, he said that Wickremesinghe was not even able to become a successful Opposition Leader in the past and secure a Parliamentary seat in the Parliamentary Election in 2020. Recalling that millions of people got together and ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022, he said that ousting Wickremesinghe is not something that the people will find difficult to do. “The President said that it was the FSP and its Leader Kumar Gunaratnam who were behind the people’s struggle. We would like to ask Wickremesinghe not to limit this broad struggle to the FSP and Gunaratnam. The FSP was merely one among hundreds of groups that supported the people’s struggle. There was a massive organisational structure. There were many parties that took the initiative to launch the people’s struggle,” Nanayakkara said.

“It was not only about Gunaratnam or JVP and National People’s Power Leader and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Wickremesinghe was also part of the people’s struggle some time ago. Don’t you (Wickremesinghe) remember that you appointed a committee headed by Ruwan Wijewardene to facilitate the people’s struggle? If what happened on 9 May is wrong, why did you appoint a committee to facilitate it?”

Furthermore, a few hours after the President’s made remarks concerning the “aragalaya”, residents of the Colombo 5 area, together with a group of civil organisations and “aragalaya” activists, engaged in a silent protest against what they said was the repressive programme of the Wickremesinghe-led Government. For more than two hours, they engaged in the protest carrying placards with slogans such as “It’s enough that we stayed home – Let’s step out”, “Repeal all repressive laws including the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act”, “Stop repression – Ensure the people’s rights”, and “Don’t touch democracy”.

Speaking to the media during the protest, a participant said: “We saw the way the President spoke. He said that he is like Hitler now, and that he will not allow another people’s struggle, but before coming to power, he said that if the then-Government did any harm to the Galle Face Green-based ‘aragalaya’, he would not help the Government. In those days, Wickremesinghe’s wife, Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe, went to the Galle Face Green. At that time, she too invited some of us to attend a protest at the Reid Avenue roundabout. When Wickremesinghe was in the Opposition, the people’s struggle was a good thing, but now he says it is not. This is very unpleasant and unfortunate.”

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe said that anyone was free to hold meetings and to protest against him, but that they should do so after obtaining Police approval and without obstructing vehicular traffic. He added that the Police have been instructed to stop such gatherings that lack the necessary approval. Noting that he will not allow another “aragalaya” to oust the Government, Wickremesinghe said that measures such as the declaration of Emergency Regulations and the deployment of the Army will be taken to prevent such.

After millions of people gathered in Colombo demanding the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the latter fled the country. Following his resignation, Wickremesinghe, who was elected to Parliament through the National List of the United National Party (UNP) and was appointed Prime Minister by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, became the President after a majority of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members voted in favour of him in a Parliamentary vote.

Since his assumption of office, hundreds of activists have been arrested and placed in remand custody, while almost all protests in Colombo and other areas continue to be blocked and dispersed by the Police.

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