ECONOMYNEXT – President Ranil Wickremesinghe must ensure that at least five “elderly” MPs leave their parliamentary seats to make way for representatives of Sri Lanka’s youth-led protest movement, the president of the Association of private bus owners of Lanka (LPBOA) Gemunu Wijeratne
Speaking to reporters on Monday August 1, Wijearatne suggested that five key figures from the ‘Aragalaya’ (struggle) protest movement should enter parliament through the national list.
Sri Lankan youth have been demonstrating since April against the government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis and their protests have seen the ousting of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country on July 13.
One of the demands of the Galle Face protesters is for greater youth participation in parliament. Wijearatne told EconomyNext that “older” MPs should resign of their own free will to make way for new personalities with new ideas.
We have ministers who cannot walk and we expect them to be able to run a country. So I make this suggestion in good faith, to give the younger generation a chance to make their voices heard.
“The president must decide which parliamentary seats will be replaced,” he said.
A majority demanded elections after President Wickremesinghe was sworn in, the head of the private bus union said.
“Even if there are elections under this proportional representation system, young people can never be elected to parliament because every day is the same wine in a new bottle,” he said. .
Wijeratne, who is not directly affiliated with Aragalaya, said he was making the proposal as a solution to Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence. He claimed to have witnessed injustices and disparities within the system, hence his call for youth leadership in Sri Lanka.
SV Nadarajah, a protester who has been involved in the struggle since its inception, is not hostile to Wijeratne’s proposal.
“Most politicians are at retirement age and there is no influx of new ideas or vision. When young people enter parliament, that will change,” she said, adding that the younger generation is seeking to join active politics.
“Sri Lanka is following a 74-year-old policy that no longer works today,” she said.
However, not all protesters are interested in entering parliament and working with the establishment. Chathura Bandara, a frequent protester, said: “Five members of Aragalaya against 220 current members of parliament will, once again, not be a reflection of the people.”
One of the main arguments of the anti-government protesters is that the current parliament is not representative of the public and that the current leaders are not in contact with the people and their difficulties.
“If we had wanted to enter parliament, we would have campaigned during the elections. This is not what we want. We want a system change, but we don’t want a system change with the existing 225 [members of parliament]”Bandara said.
Despite some setbacks, sections of Aragalaya persist in their demand that President Wickremesinghe also leave office. This has been particularly the case since critics claimed it was an unprovoked attack on peaceful protesters on July 22, when the military allegedly attacked protesters at Galle Face and forcibly removed them from the Presidential Secretariat even after giving notice that they would be leaving.
“We did not come to demonstrate to fill a vacant seat in parliament,” explains Melanie Gunathilaka, a Galle Face occupant who has been demonstrating since April.
Wickremesinghe was elected president by parliament with 134 votes out of 225. On Sunday July 31, he renewed his call for a multi-party government to pull Sri Lanka out of its economic crisis.
A Wall Street Journal interview on Sunday saw him reiterate his call for political stability.
Political stability will help Sri Lanka turn the corner, president tells WSJ
The president has also controversially claimed that Aragalaya has been hijacked by what he calls fascist elements aiming to destabilize the country. It highlighted acts of violence including arson and the murder of government MP Amarakeerthi Atukorala.
Since the protest is a decentralized movement with the participation of a wide range of citizens, Gunatillake said, some might be keen on the idea of entering parliament. But it went against the fundamental demands of the Aragalaya, she said.
“It is a decision to bring new young faces with the group of old faces. You cannot have new ones when you are surrounded by old ones,” she said. (Colombo/August 1, 2022)