ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan protestors have rebuffed President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s suggestions for alternative agitation sites as the iconic GotaGoGama site is on track to be closed following a court order that came in the wake of the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Protestors say the Aragalaya site on the Galle Face promenade facing the Presidential Secretariat is a symbol of a country-wide phenomenon.
Wickremesinghe became President thanks to the protestors who came to the streets after being hit by high inflation and shortages of fuel and cooking gas due to forex shortages coming from money printing.
In a meeting with protestors Friday President Ranil Wickremesinghe, had suggested that protestors move the “agitation site” to Campbell Park, Hyde Park or Viharamahadevi Park. The President had also suggested to the youth protestors that the Floating Market in Colombo City be converted as a space for protestors to “chill, enjoy a beer” and appreciate art, music and discussion.
Several groups involved in the Aragalaya’ protests told EconomyNext that the occupation part of the people’s movement was effectively over following the court order.
GotaGoGama ends, struggle continues
“It’s not an occupying movement anymore,” Buddhi Karunaratne of the Black Cap Movement told EconomyNext. “We respect the court order, we respect the wishes of the people…but we have not left the struggle.”
The protest site at Galle Face was set up on April 09, when Sri Lankans decided to camp outside the Presidential Secretariat and show their dissent against ex President Gotabaya Rajapaksha and his government, whose money printing to keep interest rates low, led to an economic collapse.
“The Government does not have to point out agitation sites,” Samith Bodhipaksha of the Sarwapakshika Aragalakaruwo group told EconomyNext.
“The people have a Constitutional right to protest, and they will choose a site that is convenient for them.”
The largely peaceful movement was organically initiated by independent individuals from all social strata, who were suffering from an economic crisis. Some eventually banded into organized groups.
Protestors had asked about the possibility of erecting a monument or a People’s University for Sri Lankans to enhance their political literacy as a way to show homage to the Galle Face agitation site.
“This is a symbol of peaceful protests which was able to topple a government and send leaders home,” said Sahan Wiratunga of the Liberal Fellowship Representatives.
During the discussion, the President had floated the idea of converting the Manning Floating Market into a place where youth can gather to express themselves.
“They were looking into a few places if youngsters wanted to get together and demonstrate on a particular issue. He said that if [protestors] wanted to have a good time, there was no issue in having a beer and having a good time,” according to Wiratunga.
Karunaratne said that the President had suggested the Floating market as a place to “play some music and have an art gallery.”
“We have decided to make a space for [protestors] with art and everything…I told them that they can call it RanilGoGama if they like, so my name is in too, at least,” Wickremesinghe said in a recording broadcast over national news networks.
Protestors said that while the idea of a youth hub was not unreasonable, it was not the change that they were calling for, and stability should the priority.
Wickremesinghe is an art and literature connoisseur, and owned many valuable and historic books and artworks, many of which were lost to fire set to his home by ‘fascists’ as he called them.
He has been cracking down hard on protestors since his appointment, with a key trade union leader also arrested.
Only the tip of the iceberg
Protestors are still calling for a system change and say the Galle Face protest was a representation of a national movement.
Bodhipaksha said, “Ranil and [in the past] Mahinda Rajapaksha are trying to put the struggle to only one area…the struggle is all over the country, Galle Face is just a symbol.”
They also said that they would continue with pushing for a system change.
“We are wrapping up the occupation part [of the aragale] but we are carrying out with the aragale to bring in reforms, to bring in more youth and female representation,” said Wiratunga.
“We got to the streets not just to chase out Gotabaya, but to bring in reforms, to change the system. So we are continuing until that happens.” (Colombo/6Aug/2022)