Sri Lanka marks first May Day since IMF deal amid political headwinds

By Himal Kotelawala

COLOMBO – Sri Lanka, still recovering from a series of financial, political and social crises that erupted in a singularly cataclysmic year, on Monday (May 1) marked its first International Workers’ Day since entering a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed reform program.

Supporters of mainstream and fringe political parties new and old congregated in various parts of the capital Colombo and elsewhere in the island to celebrate the Day. As is tradition, the events were less about workers and more about power – either its capture or its consolidation – with every party doing their best to project an image of strength and resilience against myriad odds, real or imagined.

The United National Party (UNP), headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, held its May Day event at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium in Colombo. In a notable departure from convention, President Wickremesinghe addressed party members remotely, via Zoom, purportedly in a bid to keep the office of the executive prescient separate from party politics.

Addressing the gathering, Wickremesinghe spoke of his vision of a developed Sri Lanka by 2048 when the country is due to celebrate its 100th anniversary of independence from the British Empire. He also touched on the contentious matter of Sri Lanka’s decades-old ethnic issue, which he said must be resolved by the end of the year.

Wickremesinghe has on several occasions spoken of both of these objectives since he was elected president by Parliament following the ouster of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July last year. Wickremesinghe’s ambitious plans to arrive at a final solution to the ethnic issue by February 4 this year, the country’s 75th anniversary of its independence, did not materialize as consensus on an India-backed devolution program could not be arrived at on time.

In his May Day speech, the president said he is committed to rebuilding Sri Lanka by following the path of his uncle and Sri Lanka’s first executive president J. R. Jayawardena who opened the economy in the late 1970s after years of central planning and nationalization.

“It is imperative that we move beyond our current economic system and establish an economy that can achieve a rapid GDP growth rate of 6% to 7% annually. To illustrate this point, I have two examples: one is from the time of [Ceylon’s first prime minister] D. S. Senanayake, where we had the second strongest economy in Asia and were even able to lend to England. The other is from the tenure of J. R. Jayawardena, where we advanced with an open economy, and Sri Lanka became the second country in Asia to adopt this system. After our success, China followed suit.

“Therefore, I am determined to pursue a new economic model that will elevate Sri Lanka’s economy to new heights and foster continued growth and prosperity for our citizens,” an official translation of Wickremesinghe’s speech quoted him as saying in Sinhala.

Former finance minister and UNP heavyweight Ravi Karunanayake speaking at the event said the UNP must work toward forming its own government together with all parties allied with it and have Wickremesinghe elected by the people as president by next year.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) held its May Day rally at the A. E. Goonesinghe grounds in Colombo after a march led by SJB and opposition leader Sajith Premadasa.

Addressing a large crowd of party supporters, Premadasa said he is in politics not for power or position but to change systems. “System change” has been a popular if vaguely defined demand in Sri Lanka since the Aragalaya (Struggle) youth-led protests that emerged in April last year around the time the then government announced that it would be defaulting on its debt obligations.

Premadasa also took what sounded like a thinly veiled swipe at those in his own camp that are rumoured to harbour crossover plans.

“We’re not a group of people’s representatives that are greedily salivating over government positions. There are people like that in today’s political world. I have a clear message for them. Do not be two-timers. Do not plant your feet on every side. Stay if you want, or just leave, I say,” he said to applause from the crowd.

“There are no such two-timers. I’m just saying, just in case there was any,” he added wryly.

The SJB has been dogged by weeks of speculation that an unspecified number of its more visible members were planning to cross over to the Wickremesinghe government purportedly to support the latter’s IMF-backed reform agenda. While various party spokesmen have denied reports of coming crossovers, at least one MP – former health minister Rajitha Senaratne – has openly expressed his admiration for Wickremesinghe. Another MP has alluded to “one or two” members possibly breaking ranks. All this, however, was before all but one SJB MP chose to abstain from an important parliamentary vote on Sri Lanka’s 17th IMF program. A real, indisputable evidence of changed loyalties has yet to occur.

With one possible exception, depending on how things go in Sri Lanka’s central hills. SJB MP Vadivel Suresh, who was speaking at a parallel SJB-led May Day rally in Badulla Monday afternoon, issued an ultimatum to the opposition leader. Suresh demanded an apology from Premadasa to a perceived slight on his people, Sri Lanka’s Indian-origin Tamils, most of whom have historically worked in the plantation sector and live in dire conditions on wages widely considered unacceptably low. The Badulla district MP said Premadasa must apologize to the estate Tamils for allegedly snubbing them at an event in Madulsima that he failed to attend.

“I would like to say to our leader, sir, do not take us for granted,” said Suresh.

“If you need us to stay with you, come right now to Madulsima and apologize to my people and then we shall restart our journey. Otherwise I won’t be part of that journey. There will be no Vadivel Suresh. If you don’t apologise to my people, I won’t be with the SJB,” he said.

Making matters worse, the MP also expressed a willingness to join President Wickremesinghe if he was able to raise the daily wage of plantation workers and resolve their grievances. He also said the president has been successful in containing the disruptions caused by the currency crisis.

“On this May Day, we say to both the opposition leader and the president, I and my people would join hands with a leader that worked to increase [estate workers’] wages and give them [access to the Samurdhi welfare scheme] and include them in national policy,” he said.

Back in Colombo, Premadasa said his party has no intention to work with a corrupt government, which he accused of a litany of financial crimes. This is against a backdrop of a call for a national government or an arrangement where the opposition parties could support reforms while remaining in the opposition.

“This is a government that asked for commissions from the Japanese government, a government that paid dollars to fertiliser ships it never saw, a government that pays penalties for non-existent Airbuses, a government that robs even from the X-Press Pearl tragedy,” said Premadasa.

“We’re asked if we intend to join the government. We will go to the government with an SJB president,” he said.

Premadasa added that there was no need to wait till 2048 for development, as, according to him, the SJB has the right team with the likes of MPs Harsha de Silva, Kabir Hashim and Eran Wickramaratne who have the vision to rebuild the country in the very first term of a future SJB government.

Meanwhile, the Marxist-Leninist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) who leads a more “social democratic”-oriented alliance known as National People’s Power (NPP) – which according to at least one opinion poll currently enjoys a significant lead over the SJB – held its May Day rally in Colombo under explicitly anti-IMF themes. True to its communist roots, the JVP parade leading up to the rally was led by vehicles displaying Marxist iconography, with larger than life images of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and V I Lenin leading the way, followed by a portrait of slain JVP founder revolutionary Rohana Wijeweera.

A sea of red was seen making their way to the event proper near Town Hall, where a platform for the speakers had been erected against a backdrop of high-rise luxury apartment buildings. One of the slogans on display read: “Let’s save the country from IMF imperialism.”

JVP frontline and former MP K. D. Lal Kantha called for a new Aragalaya that unites trade unions, many of whom have been on strike against IMF-backed progressive income tax hikes, and the general public.

“Since everyone is under immense pressure now [in light of Sri Lanka’s worst currency crisis in decades which triggered high inflation that’s now on the decline], a single people’s Aragalya is needed,” he said, inviting the country’s frontline “fighting forces” such as trade unions, student movements, women’s and youth movements, among others to come together.

JVP and NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, meanwhile, warned of repercussions of Sri Lanka’s plans to restructure its domestic debt.

“Before they restructure external debt, they have to restructure domestic debt. Total debt of the government is 27 trillion rupees, 14 of which is owed internationally and 13 owed locally.

“A third of this debt is to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and the Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF),” said Dissanayake, adding that 96 percent of the EPF is invested in the government.

“This is the working people’s money. Every month, workers in the private sector have eight percent of their salary taken as contribution to the EPF. That money is being lent to the government,” he said, claiming that the government has either wasted or looted the money it loaned.

“This is not wealth earned by the Wickremesinghes. This is the people’s wealth, which they’re attempting to trim,” added Dissanayake.

President Wickremesinghe, however, has insisted that EPF members will not be hurt by domestic debt restructuring.

“I would like to say that we will not allow any harm to come to the beneficiaries,” Wickremesinghe said in parliament on April 26.

Dissanayake also took a pot-shot at the main opposition and other parties, claiming that they were all fixated on the rising NPP.

“[They’re all] talking about us. There was a puddle of mud at Gunasinghepura. There too, it’s us being discussed,” he said.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the former behemoth which has splintered into several factions post-Aragalaya, held what had the appearance of a comeback event for the Rajapaksa family that controls the party. Party leader and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and organiser Basil Rajapaksa were among those in attendance at the SLPP May Day rally held at the Campbel Park in Borella.

“Some criticise us. In 2004, there were those who claimed that they held the remote control to the government. They’re the ones who helped us come to power,” said SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, referring to the JVP which campaigned hard for his presidential bid in 2005.

“The SLPP will never be agitated. I’d like to remind you all that we will take the right decisions with you at the right time,” said Rajapaksa.

The former president said the previous SLPP government, under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, but acknowledged that “mistakes” were made.

“We had to start with COVID, from a place where the economy had collapsed. We must admit that some wrong decisions led to that. But we now understand where we went wrong,” he said.

Rajapaksa also told SLPP affiliated union leaders who faced “problems” recently that the party will not abandon them. He was likely referring to union leaders in the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) who were recently sent on compulsory leave after a disruptive trade union campaign against IMF-backed reforms. These unionists reportedly included an SLPP member.

Rajapaksa also warned that any undemocratic means to grab power will not bear fruit.

SLPP stalwart and MP Johnston Fernando swore that his party will never allow anyone to illegally form a government.

“Even if you kill us, we won’t let you form a government. We remind you that not just the next government, but also the next president will be democratically elected from our party,” he said.

The former minister’s comment came against a backdrop of speculation that the SLPP, specifically the part of the SLPP that’s in government under President Wickremesinghe, is divided on its support for him at a future presidential poll.       

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

otc high blood pressure treatment blood pressure guidelines medications blood pressure pills that is safe for the liver high blood pressure medication levothyroxine blood pressure medication that reduces blood pressure is there any difference in blood pressure pills high blood pressure child medication blood pressure medication recommendation nose blue blood pressure medication blood pressure is 150 68 should i take my medication blood pressure medication while nursing taking a bunch of high blood pressure pills aerobic exercise and blood pressure medication good blood pressure medication acupuncture treatment for low blood pressure best over the counter pills for high blood pressure blood pressure pill amlodipine besylate high blood pressure signs and treatment moderna vaccine blood pressure medication which blood pressure drugs do not cause tinnitus blood pressure medication fights cancer blood pressure medication skin rash side effects of high blood pressure medication impotence medication to avoid on blood pressure medications high blood pressure rx medication peripheral neuropathy caused by blood pressure medication high blood pressure in pregnancy treatment nice runny nose do to blood pressure medication how to get off of blood pressure pills hiv medication and high blood pressure niacin treatment for high blood pressure two drugs for blood pressure that caused cancer high blood pressure causing medications high blood pressure medication names canada blood pressure medication side effects alcohol i take 3 blood pressure medication blood pressure pills that help with anxiety what iv drug raises blood pressure list of doctors who formulated blood pressure medications how to remember blood pressure medications sleeping pills blood pressure how fast does blood pressure medication take effect sweet n low high blood pressure medication home treatment for blood pressure high blood pressure medication matrocet high blood pressure medication doses blood pressure drug bystolic iberstaron blood pressure medication blood pressure medications st alphabetical celexa and high blood pressure medication does blood pressure pills irritation skin can i take combivent with high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications beta blockers list what to do if blood pressure medication does not work drugs to lower your blood pressure red beet pills for blood pressure taurine and blood pressure medications how ling for garlic pills to lower blood pressure blood pressure medication list and side effects can i take aspirin with high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication teaching about hot tubs water pills high blood pressure over counter what is an arb medication for blood pressure resveratrol high blood pressure medication high blood pressure medication and weight loss gum disease and blood pressure medication benzenesulfonic acid in blood pressure medication taking two blood pressure pills by mistake allergy pills for high blood pressure blood pressure prescription drugs safety blood pressure medication in pregnancy trazodone and blood pressure medication which blood pressure medication is linked to skin cancer list of blood pressure medications with the least side effects could blood pressure medication make blood thicker disadvantages of high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications ludipril typical drugs for high blood pressure otc water pills for high blood pressure blood pressure medications that do not doncause bowel blockage high blood pressure after corrosion treatment how soon does high blood pressure medication work blood pressure medication teaching amertyrine high blood pressure medication increased blood pressure and heart rate after drug overdose over the counter drugs high blood pressure blood pressure medication 25 is blood pressure medication a nitrate most effective blood pressure pills blood pressure medical does red yeast rice interfere with high blood pressure medication can apple cider vinegar pills lower blood pressure does blood pressure medication give you headaches high blood pressure medication and driving should you take blood pressure pills with food inn blood pressure drugs can you eat bananas if taking blood pressure medication popular high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication los blood pressure medication second drug low blood pressure and hypertension medication do water pills lower blood pressure high blood pressure pill aqunadine high blood pressure cholesterol medication how does medication lower blood pressure acetaminophen blood pressure medication blood pressure medication 30 mg that works around the heart what does grapefruit do to blood pressure medication can red yeast rice be taken with blood pressure medication pharmaceutical treatment for high blood pressure are blood pressure pills statins blood pressure pills that start with r blood pressure medication and male impotence taking baby aspirin with other high blood pressure medications what is the medical name for a blood pressure cuff leg cramps and blood pressure medication blood pressure pill name starts with p natural high blood pressure treatments blood pressure medication names losartan higher blood pressure with radiation treatment medical marijauna high blood pressure how to avoid medication for high blood pressure what time is best to take blood pressure medication medication for palpitations and high blood pressure latest news on blood pressure treatment what if i take two blood pressure pills does xanax interfere with blood pressure medication amlipan blood pressure medication vitamin e and blood pressure medication tell me the side effects of high blood pressure medication herbs pills to lower blood pressure blood pressure medication urge to urinate what medication will safely replace lisop as blood pressure medicine active ingredient in high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications cause adrenal tumors is biktarvy ok to take with high blood pressure medication alembic blood pressure medication sandoz blood pressure medication exercise high blood pressure medication grapefruit pills blood pressure treatment for high blood pressure at home blood pressure medication for patients with osa cycle on off blood pressure medication blood pressure drugs that do not cause heat sensitivity blood pressure medications that do not cause coughing what blood pressure medications do not cause rosacea pfizer blood pressure medication side effects do garlic pills really help lower blood pressure should i take medication for anxiety induced blood pressure treatment for uncontrolled blood pressure decongestant medication high blood pressure can stiff days be used with high blood pressure medication how long does it take medication to lower blood pressure what if i miss a blood pressure pill tribenzor high blood pressure pills law lawsuit 2023 treatment of sudden drop in blood pressure zoloft and blood pressure medication orange high blood pressure pill cancer blood pressure pill why cant people with high blood pressure take keto pills how long for blood pressure to go down mini pill should i get second opinion before taking blood pressure medication blood pressure erectile dysfunction medication high blood pressure medication m lot ben medical device lowers blood pressure puppy ate blood pressure pill are there medications for low blood pressure dod blood pressure medication is losartan a blood pressure pill combination drugs for blood pressure marijuana and blood pressure medication interaction blood pressure medication interactions with grapefruit can you eat bananas while taking high blood pressure medication steps before going on high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication when to cut down foods to avoid on blood pressure medication blood pressure medications depression blood pressure medication non beta blocker tattoos and high blood pressure medication what is the medications used to lower blood pressure quickly high blood pressure medication leg swelling blood pressure medication men in your 40s blood pressure medication wieight loss blood pressure medication hy can blood pressure medication lower blood sugar does blood pressure medication make you pee natural treatment high blood pressure during pregnancy can you take l arginine with high blood pressure medication what class of blood pressure medication can can blood pressure pills reduce appetite faa approved medication for high blood pressure high blood pressure medication during pregnancy best blood pressure medication for type 2 diabetes blood pressure and pain medication pain medication that does not affect blood pressure best high blood pressure drugs on the market if you take incorrect medications to lower blood pressure low blood pressure treatments does your body have to adjust to blood pressure medication why water pill for high blood pressure drugs for treatment of very high blood pressure during pregnancy can i drink grapefruit juice with high blood pressure medication can blood pressure pills make you feel cold high blood pressure medication that helps with weight loss amlodipine blood pressure drug blood pressure medication for infants varicose veins blood pressure medication life extension high blood pressure medication does tylenol interfere with blood pressure medication can i take diamox with other high blood pressure medications prestige medical blood pressure cuff calibration drugs used for high blood pressure chamomile tea and high blood pressure medication narcotics stored alongside blood pressure medications in does nutrigrove blood pressure pills work extremely low blood pressure treatment blood pressure medication for iga nephropathy blood pressure medication low side effects can i increase my blood pressure medication what is the best blood pressure medication to take drugs that cause increased blood pressure does biotin interfere with high blood pressure medication cani od on high blood pressure pills blood pressure medication that also helps with jerking blood pressure medication categories first line treatment of high blood pressure medication for low blood pressure in usa armour thyroid drug interactions blood pressure meds hepatitis c treatment high blood pressure high blood pressure arb drugs low blood pressure treatment with essential oils high blood pressure medication list for pregnancy blood pressure medication and snake venom blood pressure medication low dose liquid blood pressure medications ivf drugs and high blood pressure left my blood pressure medication does it matter when you take blood pressure medication can you take blood pressure pills twice a day privilin blood pressure medication how big are blood pressure pills once you start blood pressure medication can you stop diuretic in blood pressure medication what medication reduce blood pressure new blood pressure treatment prescribed home medications for high blood pressure blood pressure medication side effects forums taking blood pressure pills dizzy when bend over a lot blood pressure medication and nyquil cinnamon pills and high blood pressure temporary high blood pressure treatment single agent blood pressure medication blood pressure medication made in china fda approved medications to reduce blood pressure immediate treatment for high blood pressure at home best time to take blood pressure pills muscle loss on high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication when needed treat high blood pressure without medication blood pressure medication side effects for men cbd pills for high blood pressure blood pressure regulation without medication blood pressure medication and pre workout high blood pressure alzheimer disease and antihypertensive treatment miss blood pressure medication blood pressure pills suicide peaceful emergency drugs for low blood pressure common blood pressure medications in canada systolic blood pressure define medical viril and high blood pressure pills can statin drugs help lower blood pressure do you have to wean off blood pressure medication new drugs for blood pressure when is high blood pressure medication necessary drugs for hi blood pressure cold medications and blood pressure taking 2 blood pressure pills mistake why doctors stopped prescribing blood pressure medication common high blood pressure medication canada what side effects does blood pressure medication have ulcer medication high blood pressure can high blood pressure medication elevate alkaline phosphatase blood pressure medication warning getting blood pressure medication jamaica alkaline water and blood pressure medication blood pressure going up and down with medication drugs reduce systolic blood pressure treatment for rapid high blood pressure low blood pressure alternative treatment do all high blood pressure medications cause weight gain medication for increasing blood pressure blood pressure medication for african american males vitamins for high blood pressure treatment aleve with blood pressure medication how to lower blood pressure without pills blood pressure triple pill who blood pressure guidelines for hygiene treatment what drug reduces blood pressure blood pressure medications enalapril met blood pressure medication