Colombo, June 1: As a result of the 50-day “Gota Go Home” campaign demanding the ouster of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the exit of the Rajapaksa clan from the government, the President as well as his new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have woken up to the need to consult and formally take on board, representatives of the youth in governmental decision-making.
President Gotabaya did not quit office as demanded by the demonstrating youth, but all other members of the Rajapaksa clan went out of office. His elder brother and Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe from the opposition United National Party (UNP).
But he even he stubbornly stuck to his office saying that he still has the peoples’ mandate that he received in the 2019 Presidential election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa realized that he could not entirely ignore the anger of the youth.
Therefore, he is now trying to placate them by trying to involve them in decision-making.
On Tuesday, the President met young professionals and a section of the youth who were part of the agitation in front of his office day in and day out for more than a month. In a press release after the meeting, his office said that he got “concise proposals” from the youngsters to solve current political and economic problems.
“The Confederation of Professionals for a National Policy (CPNP), a group of professionals and youth involved in the ‘Aragalaya’ (Sinhalese term for ‘struggle’) presented to the President,a “concise set of proposals outlining actions that should be taken to resolve the current political and economic situation.”
“The discussions focused on short, medium and long-term measures that should be taken to address the current political, social and economic crisis. The adoption of a new ‘people-friendly’ Constitution was also discussed.”
Subsequently, it was agreed to hold the next discussion within the next few days, the release said.
President Gotabaya said that several groups representing experts in various fields are ready to build the country and added that he is ready to provide the necessary powers and resources to implement the positive plans of these groups.
The professionals pointed out that a development program with specific targets should be provided to all Ministries annually, and steps should be taken to review the progress towards those targets on a quarterly basis.
The proposal calls for the removal of Ministers and Officials who fail to meet targets by the end of the year.
The discussion which was held under the patronage of Ven. Prof. Pathegama Gnanissara Thera and Shastrapathi Ven. Vitiyala Kavidhaja Thera was attended by Dr. Asoka Jayasena and Mr. Nelum Weragoda representing the Confederation of Professionals for a National Policy and a group of professionals and youth involved in the ‘Aragalaya’ (Struggle). Justice Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe was present.
In his address to the nation over TV on May 30, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe delineated his own plan for the involvement of the youth in decision-making.
“The youth are calling for a change in the existing system. They also want to know about the current issues. Therefore, I propose to appoint four youth representatives to each of 15 committees (in parliament).”
“One of the representatives will be appointed by the Youth Parliament. The other three will be from the protesting groups and other activist groups. The methodology used to choose the representatives can be decided by the youth organizations themselves,” the Prime Minister said.
Going further, he said: “We hope to involve people with expertise in specific fields in this work. Through this work, young people will be able to learn about problems and provide solutions to them on their own. They will be able to contest elections if they wish to do so.”
It remains to be seen if these proposals will be acted upon. They are clearly a departure from the past and outside the existing institutional framework. The attitude of the entrenched political class and bureaucrats is also uncertain. But an agitation brewed in a severe crisis was bound to have an impact and the new moves of the two men at the helm bear testimony to that.