How deep is the political insecurity in Sri Lanka?

The Wickremesinghe government argues that sustained protests undermine the rule of law and create an anarchical situation in the country. Using these justifications, the government has been continuing its brutal and often violent repression in order to remain in power.

Thilina Hettiarchchi Jan 10, 2023
Political insecurity in Sri Lanka (Photo: Twitter)

Sri Lankans who strove for a revolutionary change in their country commenced widespread mass protests called Aragalaya in March demonstrating the deep-rooted and pervasive problems in the political and economic structure of the country. Protest sites sprung up across the country and these evolved from isolated protests to a public uprisings. Although the major motive of the series of protests was to make a constructive transformation in the political structure of Sri Lanka, the prospective outcomes could not be achieved as the protesters had expected. 

Aragalaya has some distinctive characteristics when comparing it to the contemporary civil uprisings in other parts of the world. For instance, its nature and process differ from the Arab Spring which was initiated in Tunisia, Libya and other Middle-East countries. The peaceful nature of Aragalaya can be acknowledged as a key characteristic. The May 9th incident  - a sudden attack launched by the previous government against the peaceful protestors by the government-supported political groups - altered the peaceful nature of Aragalaya. Although the orientation of the mass protests altered to some extent, the protestors tried their best to maintain the values they initiated throughout the movement. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the previous president of Sri Lanka, had fled the country due to the mass protests that had demanded his immediate resignation. Newly-elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe came as a savior of the Rajapaksa regime. Although the appointment of Wickremesinghe can be acceptable under the constitution of Sri Lanka, it cannot be justified in an ethical context. Wickremesinghe runs the United National Party (UNP) and in 2020 the party suffered the party’s worst defeat in its history at the parliament elections. Further, Wikremesignhe failed to secure his seat in parliament. Even though he was not selected to parliament by the people's vote, he managed to secure his parliamentary seat through the national list.  Members of the parliament of Sri Lanka who represented the Podujana Peramuna Party (a party of the Rajapaksa regime) elected Wickremesinghe as the new president despite his vast unpopularity with the general public.  

Violation of human security

Wickremesinghe has been the leader of the UNP (UNP can be identified as the largest liberal democratic party that exists in Sri Lanka) for decades. He was a well-known person who raised his voice over human rights and democratic values. During the Argalaya protests, Wickremesinghe had a deal with the Rajapaksa regime which paved the way for his presidential appointment. Security forces carried out a violent attack at the iconic Galle Face Green in Colombo a day after he came to power. Over the last few months, security forces have launched numerous attacks against peaceful protestors and the detention of civilians. Wasantha Mudalige, the governor of Inter University Student’s Federation, Galawewa Siridhamma Thero, the governor of Inter-University Bhikku Federation, and some other student leaders were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Amnesty International said the protesters should not be detained under the draconian anti-terror law.

The concept of security has evolved on many fronts and the focus has expanded to the concept of Human Security. State Security solely focuses on the protection of a state and its interests. The Sri Lankan government utilizes the concept of State Security as a tool to justify the detentions of civilians. But the concept of Human Security revolves around individuals which prioritize the safety and well-being of human beings. The author argues that Human Security and State Security are interdependent, and concurrently cannot be seen as two isolated concepts because of their interrelated nature. When Human Security is not secured properly in a country, it can lead to protracted social conflicts. 

The Wickremesinghe government argues that sustained protests undermine the rule of law and create an anarchical situation in the country. Using these justifications, the government has been continuing its brutal and often violent repression in order to remain in power. In terms of State Security, the arguments of the government can be justified. But the concept of security has two sides; a government should give its fullest attention to both the State Security and Human Security of a country. When people are insecure because of political repressions, it can be seen as a violation of Political Security. Under the concept of Human Security, when people are assured of Political Security, human rights violations and repressions are pushed to the background. But the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka is a complete reversal of the values of Political Security.

(The author is an Independent Researcher and a Research Coordinator Consultant at Transparency International, Sri Lanka. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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