Posted on June 11th, 2022


There was tremendous excitement and expectation in the country when Aragalaya appeared in Galle Face. Artists and media fantasized about it. Intellectuals romanticized it and read into the Aragalaya lofty ideals of systems change, ensure accountability, and bring forth an ideal democracy of the people and for the people of Sri Lanka. Even Professor G.L. Peiris has said that the Aragalaya is for systemic and institutional change

Galle Face Aragalaya also claims that their struggle is for systems change. But their 8 demands do not spell systems change. The changes they demand are within the prevailing system. For, if Gota goes there will be another President. An interim government and amendments to the Constitution are within the current system. Fair and independent elections are provided in the present law.

Devotees of Aragalaya claim that the radical changes that have taken place in the government are due to the forceful and persistent demonstrations of the Aragalaya. The fact that the Aragalaya has endured for weeks after weeks in sun and rain and even spawned another demonstration at the Temple Trees gate have reinforced this argument.

The notion that it was the pressure exerted by Aragalaya which made the radical changes in the government is ill-founded and spurious and gives too much credit to the Aragalaya. Loss of faith in the government started with the sugar scam in March 2021. Serious stress and tension on the government was building up from August 2021 with the fertilizer debacle and the demonstrations by angry farmers which was the SLPP political base. Then came the gas explosions on which still the responsibility for the change in the composition of the gas has not been divulged. From early part of the year there was a prolonged strike by teachers with regular marches in main cities conducted with impunity despite the Corvid19 pandemic. In early March 2022 a nationwide daily power cuts were imposed. In late March there was the crisis in fuel and gas supply and people were subjected to torment with never-ending queues. A turning point in the people’s protests came with the violent demonstrations on 31 March in Mirihana close to the residence of the President. It was under these circumstances that on 3 April 2022, all 26 cabinet ministers except the PM resigned en masse.

The Galle Face Aragalaya demanding Gotago started on April 9 almost a week after the dissolution of the cabinet.

If one looks at the composition of the participants in the Aragalaya there seems to be a core group of mature youth who are permanently there and provide services and organize the crowd. The bulk of the crowd appears to be middle class Colombo residents who are temporary visitors. The Colombo group facilitates the continuation of the protest as they can shuttle between homes and Galle Face without much inconvenience. In the evenings the crowds enlarge when the usual Galle Face visitors join the Aragalaya partly out of curiosity. The Aragalaya has been able to sustain internal interest with a mix of activities like a library, barber saloon, medical center and other innovative events. Musical shows, and other performances have given the Aragalaya a carnival atmosphere which helps to retain continued interest. Other than these peripheral happenings the binding energy is the opportunity afforded to youth to express their identity, to form new associations and derive a sense of well-being and self-respect.

The strength of the Aragalaya is its apolitical posture although some pollical parties claim that their members are very much there. The difference in the welcome given to the leader of the opposition and the leader of the JVP when they visited the protest site gave a clue to the political leaning of the Aragalaya. The appeal of the protest is on its non-violent stance which has not being so far compromised.

The weakness of the Aragalaya is the lack of focus in its dissent. Although external devotees try to give the protest a broader perspective of ‘systems change’ even their battle cry Gotago is against the holder and not on the post of president. Aragalaya would secure much wider support from the community if it addresses the critical national issues which needs urgent change of systems. A few of the major issues which need attention are described below.

·      The root cause of scarcities, queues and deprivations is the import orientation of the economy. Since independence we have neglected export dependent growth as the path of economic development and covered the yawning trade gap with borrowings. Most IMF interventions in the past have concentrated on import liberalization. This is a priority for a change in the system which encourages import and discourage production.

·      The country has been burdened with a power sharing system which nobody wanted introduced by Indian intervention. It has become a massive white elephant and continue to be a security threat and encourages separatism. Power sharing should be on the principle of subsidiarity where it is shared with the lowest level in the administration which can manage it. In Sri Lanka it is at the district level. This is systems change which needs attention for better governance.

·       The energy and enthusiasm of youth energy have turned into destructive militancy due mainly to the absence of a power sharing by youth at the center and a place in the governance system. This has been a problem affecting the women of the country as well, who are today a majority in the population. A major system change has to be introduced to resolve this situation and make people’s sovereignty more meaningful by creating a second chamber in the Parliament for youth with equal participation for males and females.

·      A sovereign right of the citizens is the right of franchise at a national referendum. This facility is liberally used in many democratic countries to convey the will of the people. But in Sri Lanka it is rarely used due to the colossal cost involved. It was used only once and that too was as a substitute for a general election. This deprives the citizens of any opportunity to express their common will in between elections. It is proposed that a new constituency of the around 9000 elected representatives of local authorities and Pradeshiya Sabhas be established to decide on referenda which should be by secret ballot of individual representatives. Such a referendum should be on a decision by the President, a simple of majority of the members of Parliament or at the request of a majority of the new constituency. This is a system change necessary to bring about a balance of power among the executive, legislature, and the sovereign people.

·      World today is driven by science and technology. Most countries have adopted education policies which prioritize their systems of education to meet the demands of science and technology which cover STEM education and vocational training. Although vocational training was a recommendation in the Kannangara proposals as far back as 1944 this aspect received scant attention.

Taiwan is an Island smaller than Sri Lanka with a similar population. It was a predominantly an agricultural economy. Today it is a high tech powerhouse leading the world in a number of high tech industries. It has a per capita income of 36, 000 dollars. At the beginning of the 1980s, Taiwan increased the ratio for senior vocational schools and general high school to 7:3. By 2012 there were 155 senior vocational schools, 14 junior colleges, and 77 universities/colleges of science & technology, totaling 246. It is the education system that has sustained the significant development of this small nation. Our education system must be revamped if we are to progress in technology and expand into high valued exports and create productive employment.

We urgently need systems change and not just a musical chair shuffle of personnel. Even the best of individual can become a victim of inefficient systems. I hope the Aragalaya consider graduating to be an instrument of genuine system change and not stagnate in a narrow change of persons. This may be a demand which fits into an ingenious scheme of some political interests but not in the interest of the nation.


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