Colombo (The Colonial Chronicle), May 14 (14/05) Political opportunism is the name of the game and political power is what he aspires to claim. Sajith Premadasa, the son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa hails from a popular political family in the Sri Lankan political space. Having witnessed the fruits of the presidential seat when his father was in power in the late 1980s, Sajith Premadasa began to walk the road to political power.
Like his father, Premadasa was affiliated to the United National Party (UNP), a top tier political functionality in Sri Lanka. His greed for power was evidently clear when in 2019, he broke off from the UNP after a dispute over party leadership against former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. While the internal political feud was underway, Premadasa made it a point to convince a large portion of UNP members to follow him in breaking away from the traditional UNP.
Premadasa believed that he had a better chance than Wickremasinghe in the presidential election in 2019 against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. However, Premadasa was defeated by an overwhelming number of votes for the current president. The UNP led coalition – the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government, made severe blunders in national security that resulted in the largest ISIS bombing outside of Iraq and Syria to be launched on Easter Sunday 2019 resulting in multiple coordinated bombings and over 260 dead and thousands wounded.
Premadasa seated as Leader of the Opposition and began his long walk to oust the president who had just defeated him. Premadasa tried tricks and flicks to create chaos all the way throughout. With adequate comprehension of the severe impact that the Easter Attack created on the Tourism industry, Sri Lanka’s largest export market, Premadasa intentionally led multiple political strikes and disinformation campaigns that were aimed at discouraging tourists from setting foot on the island nation. This was further worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic the following year that technically brought the Tourism industry to a zero-revenue level.
Whilst understanding the restraints on the nation due to Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, Premadasa colluded with multiple trade unions across the country and ordered them to protest and demonstrate against the government. Key industries in the country were targeted such as the education sector where teacher unions were sent on long strikes for wage increments, health sector where nurses and doctors were told to abandon thousands of patients to demand for bonus upgrades, and the power sector where Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) workers were ordered to intentionally neglect technical issues in the power supply that caused severe nationwide power outages in 2020 and 2021.
The lack of government action in curbing the influence of Premadasa on the trade unions and industries across the country is a line of discussion that is worthy of its own investigation. Extraordinary media bias against the government and toward the opposition enabled Premadasa to initiate multiple disinformation campaigns that were aimed at spewing anti-government sentiment while improving popularity for his newly founded Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party.
With severe government economic mismanagement coupled with a mounting debt, Premadasa and his party members called for the government to seek the support of the IMF. The ruling party declined claiming that the nation had not yet fallen to such a state of economic turmoil. It is interesting to note how Premadasa was actively involved in decimating the nation’s economy, whilst demanding in parliament that the president request a third-party external entity for support. One may opine that this raises questions on whether Premadasa is funded by Western governments.
The government used up the nation’s foreign reserves to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, PCR tests, oxygen supplies and other requirements and artificially printed money in order to pay the nation’s debt – 02 strategies that are responsible for the current economic collapse due to galloping inflation and depleted reserves.
In late 2021 and into early 2022, Premadasa and the SJB utilised rigorous anti-government campaigns through wide scale disinformation tactics on both the physical and virtual spaces. Premadasa called on major rallies with extensive funding where food, transport and equipment were provided for thousands of protestors to join him in mid-March.
Throughout his protests, the SJB used the slogan “Go Home Gota” and handed out thousands of placards and headbands with the same slogan. The SJB threatened to incite an ‘Arab Spring’ style protest to overthrow the government and place the opposition in power. An attempt was made by his party members to overrun the presidential secretariat in Colombo. During the same period, Premadasa dispatched the head of his Women’s Wing, Hirunika Premachandra, to protest and create disruption in front of the President’s residence in the capital.
The primary aim of Sajith was to create enough traction to become a trendsetter that will enable the general public to follow – an attempt that has been brilliantly conducted. Premadasa encouraged the general public to follow what his Women’s leader did in front of the President’s residence. On 31st March, hundreds of rioters created chaos in front of the President’s home with the same slogan the SJB used, “Go Home Gota”. Multiple vehicles were set on fire and clashes with law enforcement were rampant. Anti-government sentiment roared that night to a level that it created what Premadasa sought to establish – the trendsetter.
Following the protests at the President’s residence, the general public were encouraged to continuously protest resulting in the series of protests that are ongoing across the nation. The massive protests all use the same slogan that Premadasa promoted – “Go Home Gota”. Unbeknownst to the fact that they have fallen right into Premadasa’s trap, protestors are increasingly participating in demonstrations and riots across the nation as part of the protest trend established by the opposition.
Due to the ongoing protests, the President ordered his entire cabinet to resign. With no cabinet to run the nation, high anti-government sentiment and increasing riots and protests, the stock market and Sri Lankan rupee went into free fall.
The government appointed a series of professionals who have worked with the IMF in the past for his economic advisory board and as the new governor of the Central Bank. Premadasa on the other hand is faced with the shock of the series of professionals working with the government to consult the IMF to reverse the economic crisis. It comes as a shock due to the fact that the entire protest was built on the claim that the government does not work with professionals and do not want to work with the IMF.
Premadasa immediately moves from disinformation to political games, where he now attempts to push an impeachment motion of no-confidence against the President. After complaining for months that the government does not want to work with the IMF, Premadasa initiates an impeachment mechanism to oust the President mere days after talks with IMF begin.
In order to successfully impeach the president, the Sri Lanka constitution requires a two-third majority in favour of the notion. This would evidently be approximately 150 votes in favour. However, even if Premadasa manages to buy over all independent MPs in parliament, he will still only be able to obtain 108 votes in favour.
Therefore, if Premadasa cannot achieve the impeachment, why is he wasting precious public resources in vain and in the midst of a crisis? Premadasa attempts to wilfully create political instability in the government so that he can stop the IMF from working with the government of Sri Lanka. As what happened in Pakistan, if the political situation is unstable, the IMF will pause discussion and aid until stability is restored – a situation that Premadasa attempts to create in order to achieve political power.
In order to seize the reins of power from a democratically elected leader, Premadasa has tried an array of scandalous methods of political games, disinformation and underhand tactics. Like his father, Ranasinghe Premadasa betrayed the nation by arming the LTTE terrorist group, Sajith Premadasa is attempting to destroy the nation in exchange for political gain. It is time the nation realises the truth of what is happening in the political theatre in Sri Lanka.
By: Derrick Ravindran