Sri Lanka has a new prime minister but there is controversy over the choice. There is criticism that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa continues to use his presidential powers in an arbitrary manner in a continuation of practices that have led to the present crisis. In facing the unprecedented economic and political crisis that grips the country, and widespread public protests, President Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister much to the consternation of all opposition political parties and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government.
The new prime minister brings to his job many years of experience as a five-time prime minister with an unbroken record of more than four decades in parliament. However, he has a very challenging task ahead of him. As the prime minister’s party has only a single seat in parliament, he needs to work in parliament with those from other political parties who are professionals and have a different ethos and have different political interests, but also have the welfare of the country at heart. It must be remembered that this is not a usual government but one established for the revival of the country from moral and economic collapse. Thus, it needs to be very different in those it chooses to hold public office whether from within or from outside parliament.
The National Peace Council wishes Prime Minister Wickremesinghe success in restoring economic and political stability and emphasises that facilitating the restoration of the broken trust between the government and people should be one of his important objectives. It is an opportunity given to the new prime minister to prove himself beyond parochial and familial affiliations and politics, as his success or failure will determine the future of Sri Lanka. For this he needs to build a consensus within parliament that includes the opposition political parties. It is our wish that all support him in this common task of recovery.
The National Peace Council also highly appreciates the commitment of the civic and political activists who have been engaging in public protest and advocacy at Galle Face and elsewhere for over a month without a break, and whose sacrifice has made political change possible. We denounce the use of violence by government-sponsored goons and by anti-government groups and individuals. The killing of people and the torching of buses and private property, including hotels that gave employment to hundreds of people, is especially unacceptable in a time of economic downturn. We are mindful that the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced upon him due to the attack on peaceful protestors by local politicians from the ruling party who were instigated to violence. It would also be important to ascertain who else was responsible for fomenting the violence and hold them accountable before the law.
We call for a structural transformation within the country in which corruption, bigotry and violence is made impermissible. We also call upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to honor the commitments he has recently made. The first of these would be to repeal the 20th Amendment without delay and within the next two weeks and transfer executive powers to parliament. We also call for a short time frame to be announced by the president and prime minister regarding the abolishing of the presidency and the holding of fresh general elections.
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka