ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) plans to launch a “massive” farmers’ protest on November 16, SJB MP Harin Fernando said, inviting all workers to join.
Edited to add: SJB MP Dr Harsha de Silva told EconomyNext a short while ago that the protest will be held in Colombo joined by “not just farmers, but many others”.
Farmers in Sri Lanka have been protesting a controversial decision to ban agrochemicals in what experts say is an ill-conceived overnight shift to organic fertilizer.
Related: Sri Lanka president defends controversial agrochemical ban amid mounting opposition
Fernando told reporters on Monday (08) that the objective of the protest will be to see if the government will make good a perceived threat to “grab farmers by the neck”.
Fernando, a vocal critic of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration, was ostensibly referring to a remark made by Rajapaksa on Saturday (06) that he did not wish to force organic fertilizer on farmers who aren’t receptive to it.
Speaking at a public event, a visibly annoyed Rajapaksa said that the transition to organic fertilizer was always going to be a great challenge.
“Some say they expected a military-style Gotabaya. I could do that, but that would mean, when the farmer is asked to use organic fertilizer, I can go with the army, grab them by the neck and say ‘use this’, but I have no need to do that. Is that what was expected? No.
“Some said that if I won, democracy would disappear. Now they themselves say ‘oh no, this not who we had expected, [we had expected] someone like in the army.’ I can do that if I want. But this is a democratic country,” the president said in Sinhala.
The official English translation of the speech, as released by the President’s Media Division, had the line: “I can. To tell the farmers to use organic manure by resorting to physical force similar to how they do it in the army. But I have no need to do that.”
Some critics saw, or chose to see, a veiled threat in the president’s words.
“The wave of protests in the country cannot be stopped. On November 16, we plan to start this with a massive farmers protest. The objective of the protest is to see if the protestors can be grabbed by the neck, the way he said they could be. We will take to the streets with the farmers on that day to see if this can be done,” said MP Fernando.
Farmers are not the only group protesting the government. School teachers and principals were on a strike for a record 100+ days over salary anomalies that have remained unresolved for 24 years. Trade unions only recently returned to work after much back-and-forth with the authorities, but protests continue islandwide with teachers demanding that the cash-strapped government find a solution to their woes fast.
The teachers again took to the streets on Tuesday (09). Meanwhile, health workers too are on a 24-hour token strike over salary anomalies of their own.
Related: Teachers, health workers in Sri Lanka promise TU action on Nov 9 over salary issues
“We believe the people of this country, not just farmers but all workers in the country can come out,” said Fernando. (Colombo/Nov09/2021)