The democratic moment today: A call for action and reflection

We are witness today to events that are unprecedented in our postcolonial history. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets spontaneously in protest; in an extraordinary demonstration of democratic fervour. The calls for change are loud and spectacular. They are driven by anger at a small elite group —the Rajapaksas, who have built a dynastic political empire with their cronies and allies in and out of Parliament and a supportive business elite. One of the worst spells of economic hardship that the country has experienced in the past few decades has driven people to the streets, demanding that the President of the country “go home”.  

But these calls for change are not just of the government in power, but of the forms of governance as well. Hard questions are being asked by the protesters: questions about economic policies, the functioning of the judiciary, relations between communities, and related concerns. People want prices reduced and essential items like food, medicine, milk powder, electricity, gas, and stationery, available in adequate amounts for their families; communities want the country’s stolen wealth returned and re-distributed; many want the divisive ethnic and religion based politics to end and past violations acknowledged and accounted for; the people are united in their cry for a country free of totalitarianism. The polyphony of slogans demanding economic, political, social, and gender justice must be heard and addressed.

The economic crisis was precipitated by the inability of the heavily indebted government to guarantee to the people essential imports, triggering the protests. Further, arbitrary decisions like the ban on the import of fertiliser badly impacted agricultural production. Shortages and exorbitant price hikes affecting food, medicines, fuel, and electricity, have induced widespread suffering. The impact is harshest on the working class, especially underclass, underprivileged, and multiply marginalised persons and communities, whose conditions have been rendered ever more precarious by the pandemic.

The origins of the present crisis are political, having been brought about by authoritarian policies of successive governments. Such authoritarian rule has been consolidated for decades through Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian mobilisations, one of the most recent being mandatory cremations, after a COVID death. It is built upon the notion that powerful, rich, professional, and militaristic men must lead the way through mechanisms isolated from the needs of the larger community. Such ideologies have discriminated against people on the margins and have little space for pluralism.  It has resulted in heightened militarisation, inequality, and injustice. It has narrowed the space for collective democratic action, and instead validated a culture of patronage and centralised authority.

It is important at this juncture that touted solutions do not compound the crisis. IMF involvement is very much on the table: the neoliberal economic thought that sees the IMF as the ideal solution extends across the political spectrum. However, it is decades of neoliberal policies that have led us to this crisis in the first place. Neoliberalism promotes policy that safeguards private property rights and free markets, overriding social concerns. Globally, social services such as transportation, health, and education have become spaces for racketeering and private profit, and transformed governments to be facilitators of this process. No longer is the State expected to provide services to the public and no longer do such services belong to the public. As a result, the role of the State has weakened and we have become victims of the vagaries of markets. We have witnessed the slashing of spending on social welfare.  Deregulation and privatisation have become the norm. Today, we rely on the remittances of exploited migrant workers and heavy international borrowing, instead of developing production along viable lines, leading to self-sufficiency. In the event of an IMF intervention, we should keep the above in mind.

As a means of addressing the economic crisis in the short term, provisions must be made for immediate relief for the suffering people. We must demand progressive direct taxation, including a wealth tax on property and vehicles, geared towards redistribution and greater equality. We must insist on a significant reduction of the funds allocated to the defence sector and insist that core public services, including health, education, electricity, water, and transport, are strengthened and funded by the State. Those who are landless should be given land for housing, agriculture, and other economic activities.

We must broaden and concretise this democratic moment into sustained political action, pushing for structural changes in the long term. Draconian laws, including the Public Security Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorism Act must be repealed. The country must engage in demilitarisation by cutting back on military expenditure, releasing lands held by the military, and confining the military to the barracks. Devolution of power from the center to the peripheries is required.  The Executive Presidency, together with the legislation brought about by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that consolidated powers at the center, must be done away with. Instead, we must nurture transparency and pluralism, through mechanisms such as tribunals, independent commissions, and an independent judiciary.

As a people, we call for solidarity at this historical moment! We call for a movement of workers, unions, women’s groups, all marginalised, disenfranchised, and discontented people towards a just and democratic future for us all.

11 April 2022

SIGNED BY

  1. Ruchini Abayakoon, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada
  2. Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  3. Asha L. Abeyasekera, Royal Holloway, University of London
  4. Asanka Abeyratne, Social Activist
  5. Sachini Abeysekara, Brock University
  6. Mohamed Adamaly, Attorney at Law
  7. L. Usman Akeel, Daily Ceylon
  8. Indi Akurugoda, University of Ruhuna
  9. Ashwini Amarasinghe , University of Peradeniya
  10. A. M. S. Anaf, Kalmunai
  11. Shani Anuradha, University of Peradeniya
  12. Nalin Galkanda Arachchi, University of Vocational Technology, Ratmalana
  13. Arivalzahan, University of Jaffna
  14. Swasthika Arulingam, Attorney at Law
  15. Odayan Arumugam, Trainer/Community Activist, Colombo
  16. Mohamed Ashfaque, Akkaraipattu
  17. N. Ashiq, Karaithivu
  18. Dhilma Atapattu, University of Peradeniya
  19. Fazeeha Azmi, University of Peradeniya
  20. Crystal Baines, Ph.D. Candidate, Kandy
  21. Dhanuka Bandara, Miami University of Ohio
  22. Sumudu Bandara, University of Peradeniya
  23. Bisliya Bhutto, Human Rights Activist
  24. S. Chandrabose, Open University of Sri Lanka
  25. Sasindi Chandrasekara
  26. Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo
  27. Kaveesha Coswatte, APIIT Law School
  28. Chamalee Ahangama Dayarathna, Counselor
  29. Ruwanthie de Chickera, Playwright
  30. Jan Ramesh de Saram, Colomboscope
  31. Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna
  32. Marisa de Silva, Colombo
  33. Mithma De Silva, University of Peradeniya
  34. Priyanka de Silva, University of Peradeniya
  35. Sulari de Silva, University of Moratuwa
  36. Hiranyada Dewasiri, Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka
  37. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo
  38. Janaranga Wijaindu Dewasurandra, The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka
  39. Kaushini Dammalage, Independent Researcher
  40. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya
  41. Chirath Dharmasena
  42. Visakha Dharmadasa, AWAW
  43. Shanka Dharmapala, independent researcher
  44. Malaka Dewapriya, Filmmaker and Visual Artist
  45. Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa
  46. Migara Doss, Attorney at Law
  47. Ruwanthi Edirisinghe, City University of New York
  48. Sarala Emmanuel Feminist Activist Batticaloa
  49. Sandya Ekneligoda, Social Activist
  50. Diroshan Fernando
  51. Sasindi Fernando, student
  52. Amal Fernando, Kandy
  53. Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo
  54. Corita Fernando, Washington State University
  55. Bhavani Fonseka, Attorney-at-Law
  56. Gnanabalan Gnanalosan, Point Pedro, Jaffna
  57. Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies
  58. Thilanka Gunaratne, University of Peradeniya
  59. Lesley Gunasekara, Independent Researcher
  60. Ranmini Gunawardena, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  61. Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya
  62. Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  63. Ashika Gunasena, Independent practitioner
  64. Tasneem Hamead, Colombo
  65. Azkha Hassen, Al Gazzaly NS
  66. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo
  67. Hasna Hasbullah, undergraduate, University of Jaffna
  68. Jafar Hasbullah, University of British Columbia
  69. Samal Hemachandra, University of Colombo
  70. Dhammika Herath, University of Peradeniya
  71. Himansa Herath
  72. Siri Hettige, University of Colombo
  73. Rajan Hoole, Jaffna
  74. S. Ishie, Ministry of Health
  75. Prince Jeyadevan, University of Jaffna
  76. W. Janaranjana, editor, Anidda newspaper
  77. Velayudan Jayachithra, Senior Project Officer, Women and Media Collective
  78. Sumedha Jayakody, Independent Researcher
  79. Pamoda Jayasundara, University of Peradeniya
  80. Gehan Jayasuriya, University of Peradeniya
  81. Shakila Jayathilaka
  82. Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya
  83. Chulantha Jayawardena, University of Moratuwa
  84. Janaki Jayawardena, University of Colombo
  85. Uthpala Jayawardena, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  86. Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo
  87. Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna
  88. Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Law and Society Trust
  89. Akhila Kahandagama, Concerned citizen
  90. Anushka Kahandagamage, Concerned citizen
  91. Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo
  92. Saman M Kariyakarawana, University of The Visual and Performing Arts
  93. Thisal Kaluarachchi, University of Moratuwa
  94. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya
  95. Anuruddha Karunarathna, University of Peradeniya
  96. Ransi Karunarathna, Sri Lanka Press Institute
  97. Inoka Karunaratne, University of Peradeniya
  98. Amal Karunaratna, Kandy, Retired from the University of Adelaide
  99. Apsara Karunaratne, independent researcher
  100. Charuka Karunarathne
  101. Inoka Karunaratne, University of Peradeniya
  102. Ransi Karunarathna, Sri Lanka Press Institute
  103. Portia Kemps, University of Peradeniya
  104. Thamali Kithsiri, University of Peradeniya
  105. Chulani Kodikara, University of Edinburgh
  106. Manikya Kodithuwakku, Open University of Sri Lanka
  107. Sandamali Kottachchi, Attorney-at-law
  108. Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Mannar Women’s Development Federation.
  109. Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya
  110. Chamali S. Kulathunga, University of Peradeniya
  111. Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna
  112. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  113. Vijaya Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  114. Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa
  115. Radha Kuruwitabandara, Attorney-at-Law
  116. H. Lareena, Lecturer
  117. Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya
  118. Menaka Lecamwasam, Independent researcher
  119. Liyanage, Attorney-at-law
  120. Saumya Liyanage, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  121. Mary Caroline Lurthunayaham, Wellawatta
  122. Gunasingarajah Maheshwaralingam, University of Jaffna
  123. Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya
  124. Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya
  125. Ruvinie Machado, Colombo
  126. Dulanjaya Mahagamage, Kandy
  127. Tharinda Mallawaarachchi, University of Colombo
  128. Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary, Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union
  129. Kalindu Matharage, Independent
  130. Sumudu Himesha Medawela, University of Peradeniya
  131. Mahim Mendis, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  132. Navindu Mendis, National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka
  133. Juweriya Mohideen, Muslim Women’s Development Trust, Puttalam
  134. Alikhan Mohideen, University of Peradeniya
  135. Sakina Moinudeen, Colombo
  136. P.Mohan, Heart’s Organisation Upcot
  137. Rumala Morel, University of Peradeniya
  138. Chathurika Munasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  139. Thaha Muzammil, Free Media Movement
  140. Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo
  141. Amizhthini Nakkeeran, Aze IT Consultancy (pvt) Ltd, Jaffna
  142. Narththanah, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka
  143. Pavithra Navarathne, Attorney-at-Law
  144. Pamod Nayanapiya
  145. Ammaarah Nilafdeen, Independent Researcher
  146. Abeysinghe Navaratne-Bandara, Retd. University of Peradeniya
  147. Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya
  148. Hasanthi Niriella
  149. A. Nuhman, Retd. Univ. Of Peradeniya
  150. Ranjini Obeyesekere Formerly Princeton University and University of Peradeniya
  151. Upali Pannilage, University of Ruhuna
  152. Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna
  153. Muditha Pathirana, Independent Researcher
  154. Oshada Perera, Kandy
  155. Paba Piyarathne
  156. Srinagaruban Pathujan, University of Jaffna
  157. Eshantha Peiris, University of Peradeniya
  158. Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo
  159. Sanjeeva Pieris
  160. Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo
  161. Kusal Perera, Political commentator, Journalist
  162. Nicola Perera, University of Colombo
  163. Nirmala Perera
  164. Tania Perera, Colombo
  165. Amalka Pinidiyaarachchi, University of Peradeniya
  166. Dimagi Pitawala, University of Peradeniya
  167. Fr. Samuel Ponniah, Church of Ceylon
  168. Padma Poshpakanthi, Savisthri National Women’s Movement / Women Acton for Social Justice
  169. W. Prins, University of Ruhuna
  170. Angel Queentus, Jaffna Transgender Network
  171. Mirak Raheem, Independent Researcher
  172. Rajadurai, University of Colombo
  173. Chandi Rajapaksha, University of Peradeniya
  174. Maheema Rajapakse, APIIT
  175. Selvaraja Rajasegar, editor, maatram.org
  176. Shafiya Rafaithu, Independent Researcher
  177. Rupika Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya
  178. Vasuki Rajasingam, Jaffna
  179. Sampath Rajapakshe, Lecturer
  180. Tharsiga Ramanaaharan, Jaffna
  181. Ramesh Ramasamy, University of Peradeniya
  182. Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka
  183. Kanchana Virajani Ranaraja, Kandy
  184. Piyumani Ranasinghe, Attorney-at-Law
  185. Rajitha Ranasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  186. Menaka Rathnayaka, University of Peradeniya
  187. Sriyani Ranatunga, Research Assistant, University of Peradeniya
  188. Dilini Ratnayaka, University of Peradeniya
  189. M. V. E. Ravichandran, University of Jaffna
  190. Ramzy Razeek, Social Activist
  191. Rasma Razmi, University of Peradeniya
  192. Stephini Sahid, Secondary School Teacher, Kandy
  193. H. Rasika Samanmalee, University of Colombo
  194. Aruni Samarakoon, University of Ruhuna
  195. Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo
  196. Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo
  197. Ganganee Samaraweera, University of Ruhuna
  198. Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo
  199. Shreen Abdul Saroor, Women’s Action Network
  200. Kalana Senaratne – University of Peradeniya
  201. Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, Belihuloya
  202. Sharmila Seyyid, Author and Researcher
  203. Tudor Silva, University of Peradeniya
  204. Shashik Silva, Independent Researcher
  205. Vanie Simon, Affected Women’s Forum, Akkaraipattu
  206. Krishan Siriwardhana , University of Colombo
  207. K. Sivaji, University of Jaffna
  208. Ratnasingam Sharveswara, University of Jaffna
  209. Sivagurunathan, Interpreter and translator
  210. Sivakaran, University of Jaffna
  211. Gopikha Sivakumar, Undergraduate, University of Jaffna
  212. Sumathy Sivamohan, University of Peradeniya
  213. Taniya Silvapulle, Social Scientists’ Association
  214. Sivasegaram, retired University of Peradeniya
  215. Gnani Somasundaram, Lanka Hospitals
  216. Sooriasegaram, Jaffna
  217. Sriyananda, The Open University of Sri Lanka
  218. Ermiza Tegal, Attorney-at-Law
  219. Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya
  220. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna
  221. Darshi Thoradeniya, University of Colombo
  222. Yathursha Ulakentheran, Independent researcher
  223. Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya
  224. Nimali Vineeshiya, PGIHS, University of Peradeniya
  225. Chethiya Waththuhewa, University of Peradeniya
  226. Manisha Weeraddana, University of Peradeniya
  227. Ishan Weerapura, Social Scientists’ Association
  228. Dasuni Weerasinghe, Attorney-at-law
  229. Devaka Weerasinghe, Colombo
  230. Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo
  231. Shiran Harsha Widanapathirana, APIIT
  232. Amali Wedagedera, University of Hawaii
  233. Poornima Weerasinghe
  234. John Wesley, University of Peradeniya
  235. Carmen S. Wickramagamage, University of Peradeniya
  236. Namal M. Wickramasekera, University of Colombo
  237. Maithree Wickramasinghe, University of Kelaniya
  238. Upul Wickramasinghe, University of Durham
  239. Priyan R. Wijebandara, Journalist
  240. Gayatri Wijekoon, University of Colombo
  241. Ranjit Wijekoon, Colombo
  242. Asanka Wijesinghe, Economics researcher
  243. Maneesha Wijesundara, University of Peradeniya (former student)
  244. Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo
  245. Roshani Wijewardene
  246. Shermal Wijewardene, University of Colombo
  247. Apsara Wimalasiri, Colombo
  248. Lareef Zubair, Independent Researcher

Image credit: Ishan Amaraweera