Sri Lankans on Staten Island call for democratic elections in their home country and want America’s support

STATEN ISLAND, NY – As Sri Lanka grapples with governmental and economic instability following protests that led to the resignation of its president last week, the Sri Lankan community on Staten Island has called for free and fair democratic elections, and international support for Sri Lanka’s recovery.

Activists, the Sri Lankan community and political hopefuls gathered on the steps of Borough Hall in St. George on Sunday for the rally.

“We are one nation and let us be a united country under a democratic government,” said Sri Lankan activist Masha Wickramasinghe, who lives in New Springville. “As Sri Lankans living abroad, we all call on the international community to stand with us in expressing their strong support for the dissolution of the Sri Lankan government – appointing the speaker of parliament as temporary speaker of the temporary parliament for six months [and call a] general elections where the locals will have a say in who to send to parliament.

According to the Associated Press, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned last week and fled the country after months of unrest that resulted in protesters converging on the presidential palace.

The country is rushing towards bankruptcy; basic necessities like food, medicine and fuel are hard to come by, and political corruption has deepened distrust of government. Ordinary Sri Lankans wait days to cook gas and gasoline. The government has also closed schools and some universities.

“Young people successfully organized the revolution,” said Fr. Ruwana Mendis, who represented the Sri Lankan Catholic community in New York and New Jersey as vicar parochial at St. Charles in the Archdiocese of New York. . “The president resigned and left the country and now the real struggle begins. This crisis must be used to form a government that is more responsive to the needs of the people and capable of making difficult economic decisions without harming the most vulnerable in society.

This photo shows Sri Lankan activist Masha Wickramasinghe, who lives in New Springville, speaking at the rally. (Staten Island Advance/Annalize Knudson)

Dr Fawzy Saleem and his wife, attorney Loulou Pahssim Saleem, said they have lived on Staten Island for more than 50 years and try to visit their home country at least once a year. Their last visit to Sri Lanka was in February, when they visited several family members. Saleem explained that he talks to his cousin as much as possible to keep up to date. The biggest concern he has for his family and friends abroad is access to food and education.

On Friday, the country’s prime minister was sworn in as interim president until parliament elects a successor to Rajapaksa. The Associated Press reported lawmakers were due to meet on Saturday to begin choosing a new leader to serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.

“[Sri Lankans] woke up to a nightmare – of starvation, insecurity, corruption and a tyrannical government,” Wickramasinghe said. “The people of Sri Lanka have been peacefully protesting in the streets, in the cities, for the past few months…I know that we have heard and seen many incidents of human rights violations, beatings and killings in Sri Lanka. As reports of brutality on protesters mount, we cannot forget those soldiers and police who refuse to shoot protesters and those who refuse to shoot protesters and have been punished for it. The soldiers who marched openly with the demonstrators and those whose hearts beat with the demonstrators.

Sri Lanka Rally

This photo shows Father Ruwana Mendis, who represented the Sri Lankan Catholic community in New York and New Jersey, as vicar parochial at St. Charles in the Archdiocese of New York. (Staten Island Advance/Annalize Knudson)

Congressional candidate, former Rep. Max Rose, state senator candidate Jessica Scarcella Spanton and state assembly candidate Vincent Argenziano were among those in attendance.

Former Rep. Max Rose said it’s “not lost” on anyone that Staten Island is the epicenter of the Sri Lankan American community. Regarding the political and economic devastation that Sri Lanka and the people of Sri Lanka have been enduring for months – Rose said it’s no surprise that Staten Island’s voice is being heard.

Thousands of Staten Islanders hail from or have roots in the South Asian island nation of 22 million, and census data shows the borough is home to at least 30% of all Sri Lankans in the town.

“Our demands are very, very clear and direct and it’s not just the demands of the Sri Lankan people of Staten Island and today all the people of Staten Island are Sri Lankans, all New Yorkers are Sri Lankan,” Rose said. “But these are also very clearly the demands of the majority of the Sri Lankan people themselves. And it is – there must be a democratic transition, real democracy in Sri Lanka and the United States of America must do all it can to support this process. That we cannot lose sight of the fact that Sri Lanka’s economy will have to be squeezed out of it. Mistakes have been made, but innocent people should not pay the price for those mistakes made by corrupt criminal leaders.

Rose said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the forefront, alongside US leadership, should put Sri Lanka on a level playing field and be ready for equal success and participation in the global economy. . Additionally, Rose said U.S. foreign investment in Sri Lanka should be “at the forefront.”

“When residents of Sri Lanka feel pain and suffering, their family members here in Staten Island, their friends, feel that pain and suffering. When people living in Sri Lanka feel the effects of despicable criminality at the hands of their leaders, we here on Staten Island feel that pain and we will not remain silent and American leaders cannot be silent either” , said the former congressman.

Sri Lanka Rally

This photo shows former Rep. Max Rose. (Staten Island Advance/Annalize Knudson)

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