Dr. Udan Fernando
From One Government, to Two, to None: New Civic Activism, Actors and Dynamics during Sri Lanka’s Political Crisis in 2018
On 26 October 2018, Sri Lanka plunged into an unprecedented political crisis. The country’s President, acting as the Executive branch head of state, suddenly sacked the Prime Minister, and instead appointed a Member of Parliament and former President as the new Prime Minister. The deposed Prime Minister denounced this move, claimed that the President’s action was unconstitutional and illegal, and refused to leave office while the newly appointed Prime Minister assumed duties with a new Cabinet, resulting with there being two governments in Sri Lanka. This disrupted Parliamentary proceedings, and led the judicial branch to intervene and declare the appointment of the new Prime Minister and Cabinet as unconstitutional, thus resulting in no government being in office. For 51 days, this turbulent political situation resulted in social unrest, the weakening of the economy, political uncertainty and instability, putting Sri Lanka on the verge of anarchy and possible socio-political and economic collapse. Amidst this acute crisis that the country had not faced before, the response and role of diverse groups, organisations, networks, citizen alliances, professionals, artistes and intellectuals— loosely defined as civil society – had a significant impact. During this time, there also emerged a plethora of new civic activist groups exerting pressure on political parties to restore democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism, and did so through different mobilizations and methods. The diverse demographics, ideological formations, choice of strategies, alliances and networks of these new groups added a further layer of nuance to the already diverse and heterogeneous civil society in Sri Lanka. Hence, the recent developments and experiences in Sri Lanka warrants renewed scrutiny of existing theories of civil society, particularly in this context where boundaries between political society and civil society are blurred, and a context where aggressive neo-liberal policies and a post-conflict ideologies prevail in the background.