Not even the strongest supporter of the Joint opposition (JO) or the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) would have expected their protest march on Wednesday to bring down the Government, in spite of the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists having succeeded in creating the public opinion that present Government was extremely weak.
Leaders of the SLPP and the JO said that they were coming to Colombo not to return (Enne yanna novei), meaning that they would capture power at the end of their protest march.
But they returned empty-handed. They said that they would bring one million people to Colombo for their protest. However, the converging point of their four processions – the Lake House Roundabout in Colombo Fort- did not see any stampede, though it is too small a place to accommodate one-twentieth of the total population of the country, expected by the leaders of the protest.
In fact, the credit for the public opinion on the weakness of the Government should not go to the Rajapaksa loyalists alone.
It was this very Government that authored this reputation, by way of showing weakness in every sphere of Governance, especially in handling their adversaries.
Within weeks, after assuming office, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena visibly started to demonstrate its weakness, when the SLFP members joined anti-Government public meetings. Both, SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera, said that disciplinary action would be taken against those SLFP members who participated at those meetings.
But the threat only made them a laughing stock. The weakness was also manifested by way of Government’s failure or inability or unwillingness to put what they called the thieves of the former regime behind bars, despite it having become the theme during the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
And the Weak Government label was further asserted with the Government’s failure to lay claim for any visible economic progress in the country.
When the President commissioned the Moragahakanda Reservoir this year, claiming that it was the largest project under the Mahaweli Scheme, it was too late and the marketing of such projects among the people by the Government had also been another case in point for its weakness.
Yet, the protesters did not have even a faintest dream of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or one of them being forced to flee to another country or at least to resign their posts due to the Janabalaya Kolambata march on Wednesday- as what happened to Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in 1986, Pahlavi Shah of Iran in 1979 and several leaders in the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.
"Muslims who supported Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2005 and 2010 Presidential polls voted en-masse to the then Opposition’s common candidate Maithripala Sirisena following a three-year-long anti-Muslim campaign "
Long before the agitation the demonstrators very well knew that they would just have to go home after the demonstration.
The demonstration was organized to maintain the momentum that had been created by the results of the February 10 Local Government elections, where the SLPP swept the electorate by capturing more than 230 Local Councils out of the 340 councils for which elections were held.
The leaders of the JO and the SLPP knew that they need at least two or three more shows of strength before the next national level election - Parliamentary or Presidential - in order to keep the momentum high.
It is because they expect the provincial council elections to become an opportunity in this regard; those elections have been at the top of their priority list.
Though they would not accept it publicly, the leaders of the Janabalaya Kolambata campaign knew that the demonstration was a flop compared to their past agitations including the Rise with Mahinda rallies in 2015 and 2016 and the Pada Yathra from Peradeniya to Colombo in July 2016.
Nevertheless, the Government seemed to have prepared for a bigger show, with Police requesting three courts to issue Restraining Orders to curtail movements of the demonstrations in Colombo. However, their requests were denied by the courts. They informed the courts that the demonstrators were planning to lay siege at the official residences of the President and the Prime Minister.
Though the demonstration failed to cripple the State and private sector institutions, as some of the JO leaders threatened to, the fear they instilled in the public sector employees and the school children through their big fuss about the agitation had resulted in the low attendance of employees and students.
The slogans the demonstrators shouted and displayed on the placards they were carrying did not seem to be crowd pullers. Except for the allegations on the Central Bank bond scandal, almost all other allegations they levelled against the Government during the demonstration had a boomeranging effect on themselves.
For instance, they accused the Government of selling national assets such as land to foreigners, while they too were being accused of the same.
While the demonstrators charged that the Government had given land in Hambantota to Chinese Rajapaksa regime is being accused of selling outright a huge land plot in the Galle Face to a foreign Hotel Company and the Port City to a Chinese company, among others.
"It was the frustration over the failure of the current regime to keep its promises on economic development and action against corruption that pushed the masses back towards Rajapaksas."
One could also justify their branding of the leaders of the Government’s thieves, as many leaders of the United National Party (UNP) had openly defended the culprits of multi-billion rupee bond scam after attempting to cover up that national crime. Yet, court cases against many leaders of the former regime including the members of the Rajapaksa family, question their moral right to point the finger at the incumbent Government leaders.
Interestingly, the posters put up by the JO/SLPP leaders during the run-up to the Janabalaya Kolambata rally accused the Government of disturbing the communal harmony, while the main reason for the fall of the Rajapaksa administration in 2015 had been the dissociation of Muslims from Rajapaksas.
One cannot deny that it was due to the Government’s inaction against the lawbreakers that the riots against Muslims spread in the Kandy District in last March.
Nonetheless, Muslims who supported Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2005 and 2010 Presidential polls voted en-masse to the then Opposition’s common candidate Maithripala Sirisena following a three-year-long anti-Muslim campaign during Rajapaksa regime by certain groups, that Muslims believed had the blessings of the Rajapaksas.
However, now the political trend has turned towards the Rajapaksas, as indicated by the February Local Government elections. But that does not mean that they had won over the people by assuring them of economic progress or an administration free of corruption and waste.
It was the frustration over the failure of the current regime to keep its promises on economic development and action against corruption that pushed the masses back towards Rajapaksas.
And Rajapaksas too do not have any tangible plans for economic development or a corruption-free system of governance or communal harmony.
Yes, the pendulum seems to continue to swing for an unknown number of decades to come.