After public outcry President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered that road closures be stopped for VIP traffic. The move comes after a video of angry drivers honking loudly in protest of a road in central Colombo being closed for a VIP convoy, went viral. The move is an interesting one, especially in the context of upcoming elections, but is unfortunately little more than a token nod to the public’s demands.
Vehicle convoys and road closures for VIPs have been a bugbear of the masses for a long time. Road closures for VIP convoys were all the vogue during the war years, which paid little heed to the fact that innocent civilians were overwhelmingly the victims of suicide blasts and not VIPs. However, the masses grudgingly accepted that additional security measures were needed for top political and military officials as they were at the forefront of battling the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) menace and shelled out tax rupees accordingly.
However, after the war ended the convoys continued. After 2009, thanks to massive sacrifices made by Sri Lanka’s armed forces the country entered a decade of peace. Since the Easter Sunday attacks it is not surprising that many Sri Lankans feel that this period was like a happy dream that passed them by too swiftly. Adults were overjoyed that not only could they now live safely but a new generation may have the chance to grow up never knowing the horror of war and terror.
Unfortunately those dreams have now been shattered, largely due to the incompetence of the Government and in particular President Maithripala Sirisena. Much has been written about the multiple warnings from local and international intelligence operatives that could have saved hundreds of lives but it is now too late. The Government then compounded their ineffectiveness by failing to respond swiftly to communal tensions that eventually spilled over into anti-communal violence in several districts earlier this month.
Even though the public are understandably extremely angry they are bereft of means to adequately convey this anger to the Government. So in lieu of taking to the streets the road closures, which have always irked the public, have now become a space to vent their frustrations against the Government. President Sirisena may seek to alleviate some of this anger by ordering roads to remain open but the horn protests point to much deeper discontent that does not bode well for either President Sirisena or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The results of the Local Government elections in February 2018 indicated the level of public dissatisfaction, which the Government hoped it could recover from ahead of a national election. However that was before the Easter Sunday attacks and the anti-Muslim violence in Digana and more recently in the Gampaha District and North Western Province. It is unlikely that the five months before the announcement of a presidential election will be a sufficient cool-off period.
There are already social media posts calling for people to honk at any VIP convoy to express their discontent and this is unlikely to be lessened by the President’s olive branch measure. Incumbency fatigue has set in deeply and at this point the Government has no answers on how to combat it.