A change of heart? Pro-Rajapaksa figures who joined Sri Lanka’s anti-government protest

As the anti-government protest continues at Galle Face Green in Sri Lanka, a host of Sinhalese celebrities, from cricketers to musicians and politicians, have joined the protest.

However, social media users were quick to spot a few familiar faces, ranging from those who had previously been staunch Rajapaksa supporters to racists and homophobes.

We take a brief look at a few of them that were seen at the Galle Face protest last week.

Sanath Jayasuriya

Former Sri Lanka cricket captain Sanath Jayasuriya was seen addressing protesters this week, telling them “Your message is loud and clear…I hope the authorities will listen and secure a better future for us all”.

His presence at the protests marks a remarkable shift from his previous stance in support of Rajapaksa. Jayasuriya was previously a member of parliament representing the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. A year later, at age 41, he joined the Sri Lankan cricket team, a gesture described as “selfish and an overtly political act”.

Just over two years ago, Jayasuriya campaigned fervently for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

During his campaign, he tweeted that Rajapaksa is “the only leader who can create a better future” and declared that the date of the presidential election will be “changing the destiny of Sri Lanka”.

In the aftermath of Rajapaksa’s victory, Jayasuriya tweeted “this shows the confidence we Sri Lankans have in you”.

“Rest assured of my commitment to strengthening your hands along the way.”

The tweets are still visible on his profile.

Jackson Anthony

Jackson Anthony, a popular actor who has been described as a ‘veteran’ in the Sri Lankan film industry, has claimed he has been a ‘non-partisan entertainer’ since 2016 and this week sent a message of support to anti-government protesters .

“I sincerely hope that this struggle of young people, which has no political affiliations, will not be another deflated balloon, but a revolution with a double success,” he said. mentioned on Facebook.

In the past, Anthony has been a strong supporter of Rajapaksa.

In 2011, he hosted the reality show “Ranaviru Real Star”, a show described as the “original ideaby Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

While delivering a speech at the finale, Jackson praised the Rajapakasas, including then-President Mahinda who was the chief guest in the audience. The actor, who also describes himself as a tele-historian, went on to say that the Rajapaksa lineage traces back to the former Sinhalese King Dutugemunu who defeated the Tamil King Ellaalan.

Jackson continued and even claimed the Rajapaksas are descended from the Buddha himself.

Samanth Subramanian describes what happened next in his book “This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War”:

“Anthony continued. Earlier in the opening ceremony, 10 burly men, representing Dutugemunu’s 10 legendary warriors, had marched to Mahinda and delivered a missive to him. “It occurred to me that ‘this was a complete incident in its meaning, in all its aspects, for two main reasons,” Anthony said. “The first is that this is the ultimate moment in the history of the governance of the Sri Lanka. If King Dutugemunu sent a royal message to any head of state of Sri Lanka after independence, he would naturally choose our great military leader. The camera panned to Mahinda, who allowed himself a long , slow, relentless blinking I couldn’t tell if he was the least bit embarrassed, or if he knew well in advance – or perhaps even directed – the contents of the lavish introduction from Anthony.

The second reason, Anthony continued, was Dutugemunu’s “generational attraction” to the Rajapaksas. In the modern Sri Lankan region of Giruwapaththu, a 12-year-old Dutugemunu is said to have participated and won a debate, with a man far older than him, on the subject: “The political heritage of this country belongs to us.” and who hailed from the Rajapaksa family, which was rooted in Giruwapaththu. “It is therefore fitting that a ruler of Giruwapaththu, destined to lead a free and independent Sri Lanka in the future, should be chosen to receive a royal message from his great ancestor King Dutugemunu. It is fitting that this message be delivered on some occasion where the country’s war heroes are commended.

At some point during this speech, Gotabhaya and the rest of the audience fell to soft applause. Antoine beamed. The President was seated with his hands clasped in front of him. I remember he laughed out loud once, either because he was sharing a joke with his brother or because Anthony had said something particularly obsequious. Otherwise, however, he had no expression at all. He just absorbed these attributions of greatness and divinity without flinching, accepting them as his due.”

Racist Sinhalese Buddhist monks

On April 12, a crowd of Sinhalese Buddhist monks were seen speaking their blessings over the protesters, during a religious ceremony held at the Galle Face demonstration site. Many of the monks involved have openly flouted their racist policies, including avowed racist Omalpe Sobitha, a monk who is also an extremist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) MP.

JDS Lanka pointed out that those leading the monks “have always been die-hard racists, including OPPP candidate Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara, who has already accused “marauding Muslim extremists” to vandalize the Devanagala temple in Mawanella, Budugala Jinawansa and others.

Read more: Openly racist Sinhalese monk ‘blesses’ anti-government protests in Sri Lanka

Ama Dissanayake

Councilor Ama Dissanayake was seen waving a Sri Lankan flag as she attended the protest at Galle Face this week.

The controversial adviser is currently facing trial, after a video surfaced last year from Dissanayake during a training program for Sri Lankan police, claiming that “gay people” in Sri Lanka prey on young people to integrate them into the island’s LGBTQI community. In the video, she goes on to state that such relationships are “unnatural” and asks all participants to say out loud that they are against such relationships.

According to a petition filed by Equal groundDissanayake has repeatedly made similar homophobic statements in the past.

Meththika Vithanage

Dr Meththika Vithanage is the Director of the Ecosphere Resilience Research Center at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura’s Faculty of Applied Sciences, and a proponent of one of the regime’s most controversial policies – cremation force of Muslim victims of COVID-19, which goes directly against Islamic practices.

Despite clear guidelines from the World Health Organization that burial was safe and widespread outrage from Muslims around the world, international governments and human rights groups, Sri Lanka has maintained the policy of forced cremations, emphasizing the advice of scientists like Vithanage.

Vithanage was seen at the protest this week, with a Sri Lankan flag in her hand.

Earlier this month protesters in Battaramulla turned away a Sinhalese Buddhist monk who leads the nationalist Janasetha Peramuna party, and a man told him ‘it is because of people like you that we are suffering like this today’ .

However, it seems that none of the characters listed above have been challenged for their presence.

“Co-conspirators of the Rajapaksa regime are slowly surfacing at protests to oust them”, tweeted an user. “It’s irony.”

“I wish when celebrities/academics apologize for supporting Rajapaksas, they tell us WHY they are sorry,” added another.