Two weeks gone, they are where they began. Their social media campaign that tries to salvage themselves from the stalemate situation they are in, claims it is they who forced a cabinet reshuffle and had Nivad Cabral resign from CBSL Governor’s post. They proudly ask, “who else could have done them?” Did they ask for such changes? Was a cabinet reshuffle in their list of demands? To take pride in the cabinet reshuffle that also has MR as Prime Minister is accepting Gota as legitimate Executive President. And who demanded the exit of Cabral for that matter?
Both issues had internal political conflicts completely independent of Galle face youth protest. Cabinet reshuffle was a face-saving manipulation to have Basil out of the cabinet on demands made by the revolting faction within the government led by the trio Weerawansa, Gammanpila and Vasu. They opposed BR being brought into the cabinet as Finance Minister. And they opposed BR initiating discussions with IMF. The compromise worked out by PM Mahinda was to silently leave out Basil for now, but to go ahead with IMF discussions to have the forex crisis sorted out, as no one had any other solution. That required removal of Nivad Cabral from CBSL as he was anti-IMF for his own undeclared reasons.
This stalemate is due to divergent groups with different political perspectives and conflicting agendas trying to assert themselves at Galle face protest. From JVP, FLSP to small secular groups and utterly racist Sinhala-Buddhist collectives. Calls for racial and ethnic unity, singing of the National Anthem once in Tamil, have less voice than the Sinhala-Buddhist presence now. A massive hoarding was erected with 10 demands that announced what Gnanasara committee was appointed for; “one country - one law” and also calling for abolishing of Provincial Councils. A few days later a “Rana Viru” (War heroes) Village was also established at GGG.
Within this assortment of youth, the more politically inclined has realised they need to adopt a more practical approach for a “regime change”. Unfortunately, they do not seem to know that the “State” and the “Government” are two different institutions. They do not know what they mean by a “system change”. Yet they are now proposing a Constitutionally established “Interim government” within parliament. “For now, we don’t ask the 225 to leave” they say.
They laid down 07 main conditions as follows (i) President, PM and the government should go (ii) Constitutionally valid Interim Government should be established that needs the 225 in parliament (iii) President should be elected by parliament. Can propose names through social media if you wish (iv) At least a dozen non-political, competent “specialists” should be nominated to parliament through “national list” (v) “Economic Committee” should be appointed with these non-political specialists instead of a cabinet of ministers (vi) “Economic Committee” should formulate programme to supply essentials to people (vii) Parliament should decide on elections, whether presidential or parliamentary, after 06 months. (Listen to this belting out of the proposal at Galle face green itself - https://youtu.be/EqxHXfyTTfk)
Irony is, these unless accepted by political parties in parliament, will only be mere slogans. These “leaders” at Galle face have not made any effort to lobby any political party in parliament to have their demands carried through parliament. Nor are they inclined to have any dialogue with mainstream political parties. Thus, their demands are non-starters with Rajapaksas least interested in them and firm on their decision to enjoy their elected term.
Their proposals clearly prove they are wholly clueless about Constitutional provisions. Constitutionally removing the President is a long process of having to impeach him/her in parliament. That again is only about removing the incumbent and not about abolishing the presidency. As they speak about a Constitutional process for regime change, abolishing the post of presidency elected on universal franchise needs a new Constitutional Amendment voted with a 2/3 majority and a People’s Referendum. Constitutional amendment to that effect is not possible with the rebel MPs in SLPP counting about 40 including the SLFP not willing to back abolishing of executive presidency. Their draft 21A handed to the Speaker does not include such provisions. Therefore, 21A submitted by SJB that wants abolition of presidency as a main provision will not have even a simple majority in parliament.
How then will the Galle face protest push through a constitutional process to have Rajapaksas step down? A “No Confidence Motion” can only dissolve the government. But then, that would allow President Gotabhaya to continue. Also, if the Opposition is not willing to take over responsibility to complete the term of the present parliament, we would have an election with all these issues and all these political parties led by the same political personalities.
They also have proposals that are unconstitutional. Interim or not, constitutionally the government is the cabinet of ministers. Technically an “interim or caretaker” government means a temporary cabinet of ministers with restricted responsibilities and powers for an agreed short period. No committee with few “specialists” intended to replace the cabinet of ministers could form an interim or caretaker “government” as the Galle face “leaders” say.
Far worse is their constitutional understanding of how a-political “specialists” could be brought to parliament through “National List”. All national list MPs are appointed by political parties on the number of votes polled nationally. Once appointed, national list MPs cannot be removed by anyone. They have to tender their resignations to create a vacancy. Thereafter the relevant political party has to appoint the replacement. Will political parties agree to appoint “specialists” as the Galle face protest want?
Most conflicting and also hilarious is their last condition. Now they are speaking about allowing parliament to decide whether it should be a presidential or a parliamentary election after 06 months. What does that mean? Do they want another executive president to replace Gotabhaya? Does it mean they do not demand abolishing the executive presidency? Are they compromising with Sinhala-Buddhist racists to continue with a Sinhala-Buddhist president?
None of those demands or conditions would pave way for a regime change with responsibility. None of those demands that carry bundles of contradictions and unconstitutional measures can provide for any pragmatic regime change and a way out for the more politically concerned Galle face protesters to achieve even a slice of their political dream. As in any major political intervention by People, there is only one way forward. That is to have a centrally organised leadership with a broadly accepted political objective that can be justified and a strategy to achieve it.
Galle face protest is a much-fractured protest, accepted as such even by some who now publicly project themselves as architects of the April 09 decision. This fractured protest needs a common leadership immediately, accepted by the majority in Galle face and by those who support it from outside. A leadership that can be accepted as authentic and as representing the protest. Their immediate responsibility would include,
01. publicly state they are for an interim government established within this parliament for a duration of 06 months, with a new 21A adopted as the first and immediate step that would restrict executive powers to parliament to the extent that a 2/3 majority could adopt, avoiding a Referendum and full implementation of the 13A as demanded by Tamil representation in and outside parliament.
02. request from all parties represented in parliament for urgent appointments to discuss their proposal of an interim government with 21A and full implementation of the 13A.
03. request all parties to agree on a common 21A that would restrict executive powers to parliament to the extent that a 2/3 majority could adopt, avoiding a Referendum
04. campaigning both at Galle face and outside for an interim government with 21A and full implementation of the 13A as main demands and call People to lobby their district MPs to agree to an interim government.
05. a social campaign to reform election law before elections are called for, that would hold all contesting political parties and their candidates mandatory to declare their election funds including sources and to declare assets and liabilities at the time of handing in nominations.
06. request an all-party co-ordinating committee outside parliament with trade unions and youth representations from Galle face protest included, to decide on the responsibilities and duties of the interim government and to keep the process on track till parliamentary elections are called for.
I sincerely wish this would happen in the next week or so to have a way out of this stalemate, the government is not much worried about, but the People are. People need socio-economic stability to pick their lives from where they have been dumped into and the protesting youth at Galle face too have the responsibility of paving for political stability.
2022 April 24