Hundreds of Sri Lankans demonstrated in state capitals on Australia’s east coast on Sunday demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapakse and his government. The rallies followed similar protests the previous weekend.
Organized via social media, around 700 people gathered at Martin Place in Sydney, 150 at Reddacliff Place in Brisbane and more than 70 at Dandenong in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs. Socialist Equality Party activists distributed hundreds of copies of an April 7 statement from the Sri Lankan SEP.
The Sydney gathering included recent migrants from Sri Lanka, as well as high numbers in Australia but whose parents were from the island. Entire families came, with participants ranging in age from teens to their 60s.
Banners and homemade chants included the abolition of the executive presidency, denunciations of the 225 parliamentarians and calls for the wealth amassed by the political elite to be returned to the people.
dayam, a 38-year-old computer scientist who moved to Australia in 2015 with his wife, explained the dire plight facing millions of Sri Lankans. “They don’t have medicine, food, basic necessities and certainly no luxuries like politicians.
“I mean in Rajapakse, the majority of people voted for you because they thought you would develop the country, but you can’t even meet their basic needs. The message is therefore clear and it is spreading around the world: all you have to do is quit.
“The majority gathered here believe that if these people are still in power, the country will never go in the right direction. They are dividing the country by racism, which is unacceptable. I call it Rajapaksaism because it’s like a religion, it’s that bad!
“I don’t think anyone here or in Sri Lanka has a race at this point, we’re all just Sri Lankans. Religion is your personal decision. It’s about the bad class running the country against the good one. The things they did are beyond human.
“The civil war started by declaring Sinhalese the national language and divided the country by triggering a 30-year ethnic war. All the political parties that have governed the country for 74 years have not taken it the right way. They have divided the country on race or religion – Muslim against Sinhalese, or Sinhalese against Tamil – it is divide and conquer. Now is the time to transform into a true democracy.
Tristan, who has family in Sri Lanka, said: “You see a lot of corruption not just in Sri Lanka but all over Asia. It’s good to see people coming together in all the major cities to demand that fairness be brought to the situation. We need people to step in because we see governments taking advantage of it…
“The [Rajapakse] government that arrived deceived the people. I saw a statistic that 95% of the country’s economy is spent on loan interest, leaving 5% for everything else. It’s good to see people coming together. It shows the power of the people and it’s a bit of a warning to other governments that are doing the same thing.
Asked about the SEP’s call for the working class to mobilize and fight for a socialist program, Tristan replied: “Personally, I don’t have too much experience in socialism but I think it’s a good idea because the government takes advantage of the people.
“The working class absolutely must take advantage of this and intervene because the current government does not seem to be leaving any time soon, despite all the protests. We need as much international pressure from the people to push them forward and restore power to the working class.
Pasan, a computer scientist, said: “Corruption has been going on for many years, but it has reached a breaking point. People suffer endlessly there. It’s time for a big change in a peaceful way.
“My family in Sri Lanka said it was very difficult to provide for even the most basic needs. Food prices are exorbitant. Finding something like essential cooking gas can take hours. There are power outages for eight or more hours a day, sometimes extending into the night. The water and everything is disturbed. What started very slowly with corruption has pushed people to the brink.
“People do their daily work to support their families, but they don’t have the means to get by. How can they live without reliable electricity? How can they get to work if there is no petrol or diesel?
“The opposition won’t help either. All of them are trying to divide the people and make the best of the situation for themselves. The new generation is very smart and intelligent. They don’t want to fall into traditional ways of violence. They just want corrupt politicians to return the money they laundered from Sri Lanka.
“The people will rise up with this revolution against all the politicians who have been there for thirty or forty years. They are so ingrained in the system. They extracted all the resources for their own families. They used all these international loans to increase their own wealth, not to invest in the country and develop it.
“People don’t want it anymore. People come together, be they Christians, Buddhists, Muslims.
In Dandenong, Pramodi, a computer scientist, who left Sri Lanka four years ago to study in Australia, said she came to the rally because the Rajapakse government was “destroying my country”. She was with a group of friends and brought a sign that said, “Return the stolen money and get lost.”
Pramodi said his family and millions of Sri Lankans were suffering from lack of food, electricity and other essentials. President Rajapakse, she said, “takes money from other countries, but he does not pay them back, which adds more debt. We don’t know what’s going on with the money he gets from other countries, but it’s not going to the people.
Sat, a graduate engineer, insisted on his “political neutrality”, but added: “It is above all the current government that really disappoints us, but we are also thinking about the whole system. He who enters makes false promises and never keeps them. They all make deals with all parties and just try to survive in power. That’s all they do and so four or five years go by, and another government comes along, and they do the same thing. And the country is going down.
“My brother in Sri Lanka runs a transport system so he has to queue for two, sometimes three days to get fuel for his vehicles. This fuel lasts two or three days, but after that he does not know what will happen.
In Brisbane, suda, an educator, said: “I have always opposed the behavior of President Rajapakse. His government took all our money out of the country, which is why all these protesters showed up. It is the most corrupt government we have seen in the history of Sri Lanka.
“A lot of people are struggling in Sri Lanka because they don’t have fuel or electricity. Now they lack food and are currently in a very difficult situation due to low incomes and very high prices for food and public services. »
Suda accepted demands made by the SEP in Sri Lanka, including the abolition of the anti-democratic executive presidency, and that working people should not have to pay with their means of subsistence for the crimes of the rich.
Referring to the $8.6 billion debt owed to the International Monetary Fund, he said: “Rajapakse and his government are the ones who put Sri Lanka in debt, so we should get the money from them. People shouldn’t pay for it, because it’s not their fault; it is because of what Rajapakse did.
“I also agree that attempts are being made to divide people on the basis of religion. The people in power created this problem and that’s how they came to power in the first place.
Suda was critical of opposition parties. “I don’t think they are puppets of the current regime, just asking ridiculous questions. We should call for Rajapakse’s resignation, but the opposition has other ideas. They hijack the goals of the people.
Ruwarti, who is caring for her elderly mother and father, said her family was living in dire conditions due to food shortages and soaring fuel prices. “Everyone in the Sri Lankan government and parliament is corrupt and should step down,” she said.
“Workers shouldn’t have to pay for the stupidity of the rich. People in other countries would struggle with similar conditions. We are in this situation because the right people are not in power. If there is a good system, ordinary people should be in power.
Ranley, a worker, explained: “I am opposed to the corruption that exists in the whole of the Sri Lankan government. They stole money from the people. The Rajapakse family, in particular, robbed the country.
When asked if workers should accept the debts incurred by their country’s capitalists, Ranley said, “No! I agree that the workers should not pay anything. These loans were taken out to pay for white elephant projects that did nothing for people.