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Anti-government protest, Sri Lanka, April 2022

Anti-government protest, Sri Lanka, April 2022. Photo: AntanO / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked below article

A cosmetic change of leadership will do nothing to address the deep-rooted crisis on the South Asian island, writes Sean Ledwith

The mass uprising against austerity that began in Sri Lanka at the end of March has forced Mahinda Rajapaksa out of the PM’s office. This is spectacular achievement for the thousands of Sri Lankans who have heroically taken to the streets day after day to confront the bullets, batons and tear gas used by the police and army on the orders of the island’s elite.

The former PM is one third of a venal family trio of politicians from the Sinhalese nationalist Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP) that includes elder brother Gotabaya who is clinging on as President and younger brother Basil who serves as Finance Minister. These three have been nicknamed ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ due to both the habitual disappearance of public funds under their control and the disturbing tendency of some political opponents to vanish without trace.

Mahinda and Gotabaya are the most powerful of this brotherhood of blood and have been arrogantly resisting calls to step-down for weeks. The fact that the huge wave of demonstrations and strikes have dislodged one of them reflects the power of collective and sustained working class action. The task for the near future must be to clear out the rest of the Rajapaksa clique and build on the confidence that is surging through the island’s population.

Gotabaya has now appointed Ramil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister to replace his brother. This is an act of desperation and a vain attempt to placate the anger of the Sri Lankan people. The latter is a stooge of the Rajapaksa brothers who has already served as PM in the past and proved himself to be a compliant enforcer of both the neoliberal diktats of the IMF and the imperial concerns of the US.

Stooge

Wickremesinghe’s appointment came just a few days after the Rajapaksa brothers initiated an attempt to suppress the uprising by sending armed thugs in to beat deminstratoators at the permanent protest camp at Galle Face Green in the centre of Columbo. This blatant attempt to intimidate the protestors backfired badly, only serving to enrage them even more   and forced Mahinda to quit the premiership. President Gotabaya shows no signs of following his brother off the political stage, however, and accompanied the appointment of the new PM with an outrageous order to the security forces to shoot to kill demonstrators.

Deadlock

Gotabaya is exploiting the executive powers vested in the Presidency to fill the cabinet with his cronies and to deploy lethal force against the protests. The other main parties including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) have so far refused to recognise the new PM so it is unclear how long he can remain in power. Other parties such as the Samagi Jana Balawegaya which has over 65 MPs has said it will only cooperate on condition Gotabhaya steps down as President.

All of these parties are complicit in the cost of living crisis that has overwhelmed the island as none are willing to confront the organs of global finance that are the root of the economic turmoil afflicting Sri Lanka. Rampant inflation, power cuts, huge queues at shops and shortages of essential medicines are daily experiences for the bulk of the population.

Workers’ power

Two general strikes have already occurred over recent weeks and the unions are now actively considering the option of indefinite action. The corporate leeches at the IMF and World Bank are unmoved by the protests and remain insistent that privatisation and attacks on public sector provision are the way out of the crisis. The government is due to repay $1 billion to the former in July, even though it now only has $500 million left in foreign reserves. An intensification of the hugely popular and noticeably non-sectarian strikes in defiance of both homegrown kleptocrats and international bankers has to be the way forward for Sri Lanka’s uprising.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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