2 March, 2024


In Two Minds About Violence And Rule Of Law

By Rohan Samarajiva

Dr. Rohan Samarajiva

Dr. Rohan Samarajiva

Irrespective of political loyalty or ideological position, few would justify the increasing levels of violence in the run up to the election and the flagrant disregard for the law exhibited by the supporters of the incumbent President. Many are the public condemnations.

Actions that belie our words

Yet, previous election results show that candidates who engage in violence and disregard election law are rarely punished by the electorate. Those with the most cutouts win; leading to even greater excess in the next iteration.

I participated in a TV discussion where my fellow panelist, a senior lawyer, said all the right things against violence. But at one point he recounted with satisfaction how the Sama Samaja Party had met violence with violence in the old days. We are against the violence unleashed by our adversaries; but celebrate when our side does. In the abstract, Deputy Minister Muthuhettigama is condemned for springing his supporters from police custody. But any political candidate will tell you that a politician who cannot get his people out of remand is considered a wimp and will not last long.

How can this ambivalence be explained? It is by choosing a different starting point for analysis.

Conventional discourse on democratic process presupposes a “rational” individual who weighs the various promises made and the track record and credibility of those making them and decides who to vote for. This is not valid in our conditions.

Kandyan-era peasants

We are not rational and we do not act as individuals. We act like peasants living under the Kandyan Kings. We think of governments as distributors of largess to our group, the rest of society be damned. We expect our political representatives to be rewarded with Ministerial or other positions by those above them. We care little about legislation. We like people who command money and resources. We may not be in favor of the executive presidency; but we want our representative in the legislature to exercise executive power in some way.

We expect our representatives to behave like local potentates, rewarding the loyal and advancing the fortunes of their families and loyalists. We are offended if they do not come to our funerals and other events, and make some financial contribution in addition. We give nary a thought to how these expectations impinge on the responsibilities of a legislator and to where the money comes from.

The daily drum beat of cross-overs by politicians at all levels of government is best understood with reference to Kandyan history. Back then, battles were decided by the shifting allegiances of regional leaders such as Kangara Arachchi. They would be allied with the Portuguese at one point, shift en bloc to the King’s side at another point and shift again as the conditions and the incentives changed. When 13 MPs crossed the aisle in 2001, power shifted. Not much different from how King Vimala Dharma Suriya I (1591-1604) outmaneuvered the Portuguese.

There are no discernible differences in the policy positions of most of our politicians. Many are professional “representatives” allied with different blocs at different times. Regional leaders in Kandyan times delivered soldiers to the King and dancers and drummers to the temples in return for the right to enjoy the spoils of rulership in their areas. In same way, our regional rulers are also allowed certain privileges in return for the supply of campaign workers and votes. It is understood that laws will be implemented flexibly on them and that they will be allowed a share of construction contracts and so on.

This explains our ambivalence toward violence and the rule of law. Beneath the thin veneer of modernism, we remain Kandyan peasants, yearning for strong leaders who will “look after” our group. This is why our political behavior is out of sync with public pronouncements about good governance.

I believe that the country will be a better place, economically and socially, under the rule of law rather than under the rule of men, as is the case now. But the facts on the ground have compelled me to accept that the majority seem to prefer the latter.

Is there a way out?

We keep electing those who violate the letter and spirit of the law. We tolerate the actions of those in power that reduce the democratic space even further. The only way these creations of ours can be dislodged is by throwing those who are even more adept at these kinds of behaviors against them. By our behavior, we discourage the ethical from entering politics and drive out those who are not “strong enough” to win at any cost.

Contrary to many, I see improvements in our behavior at the micro level. Sri Lankan drivers are on the whole more disciplined now than they were a decade ago. And they are definitely better behaved than their counterparts in two countries I spend a lot of time in: Bangladesh and India.

Our improvements have come from incremental change: Better lane markings and signage on the roads, rather than draconian enforcement campaigns. Dramatic change such as making the executive fully accountable to Parliament could even make things worse, allowing regional satraps to hold the chief executive hostage every day of the year, rather than only at election time.

I believe that the cumulative effect of small changes may lead to gradual suppression of our feudal proclivities. Sarvodaya Leader Dr A.T. Ariyaratne’s call that both candidates commit to eschew violence and ensure the safety of the losers after the announcement of the results is an example of kinds of actions that can be taken. The test is whether these words are heeded when ballots are cast on the 8th of January.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    The country would be a better place if Dr Ariyaratne was president.

  • 5

    violence, to be honest – we had anticipated a lot more than what they unleashed as of now.

    At least there is not a single lose of life yet and a lot of credit should goto the opposition by making the regime believe that they will be going home on the 9th and those perpetrators will be taken to task in a new govt.

    I may be too early to comments here with 3 full days to go for the election, lets hope things will not go out of hand and My3 will be come-out in a clean election.

    • 1

      it is the opposition caused not to count any dealth losses upto now. I believe Opposition has done an efficient campaign this time than any comparable times before. Their arguements based on the proofs (on abuses and all kind mal issues) spread to the nation (common man) as no times in the past. Hope the rural common man consider all these while voting on the 8th. Srilankens in general are not fools but they highly emotional -not thinking twice before doing anything. The few that would do properly will have to suffer if the bugger would be reelected again. I have no doubt even with a thinner margin, if MR would be relected, people across the country will create a new crisis -since every 2 I spoke with were against Rajapakshes.

    • 0

      Matilda, I wish I could agree with you that not a single life has been lost yet in this campaign. If we are to believe reports (including that of Dr Brian Senewiratne) Loku Athula, erstwhile Deputy Minister, died in Temple Trees during some kind of confrontation with the President and several Cabinet Ministers. At the very least whatever pressures were brought to bear on him, resulted in a heart attack. He was dead on arrival at hospital. One can only speculate how this could have happened when he was reportedly in good health uo to the time of his death.

      I understand that he was the SLFP ORganizer for Gampaha. That’s a key post and especially iimportant during an election. He knows the district, the party’s members, the probable voting patterns, the identities of many who will turn up to vote. His loss to the Opposition campaign just as he was about to cross over must have been a real blow.

      However, let’s hope his death is the only one, tho even putting out of commission dedicated supporters — landing them in hospital or intimidating their families so much that they will fear to work, can be equally undermining,

      I long for the day when I can wholeheartedly vote FOR someone, rather than vote AGAINST, but I doubt I shall see that in my lifetime.

      • 0

        Smart thinking. I want to get the full details of the “mason” who did the economist in. I bet there will be a deep story there.

        I also want to get the full history of the Driver of the baby Thondaman, who ploughed through a political rally. I bet there is a deep story there too.

        Then I want to get the full story of the ruggerite who was burned to death in his car, and the sight he reported that was allegedly what led to his undoing.

        These and many others will reveal the character of the Rajapaksa Regime.

  • 1

    Well, the answer to this problem ought to be obvious. It must be in the Election Commissioner’s power to warn any candidate that if their party followers resort to violence, intimidation and vote rigging,then it is the candidate themselves to be blamed for it, because they do not control their supporters.

    Already we hear that a bloke called little Thondaman (a supporter of UPFA) has been issued with arrest warrants, because he has asssaulted a Postal delivery man, robbed him off the Official Voting Notifications, and stolen the man’s phone and gold necklace. Clearly this is an example of an attempt to rig votes. Another deputy minister has and hios goons have shot and caused grievous bodily harm to 3 people at Kahawatta, and Rambukwella’s Private Secretary MP has attaked a monk. We already know about that basket Muthuhettiya, another villain minister.

    The Commissioner must formally disqualify any candidate, whose supporters resort to these violent tactics and vote rigging.

    From what we have already seen and heard on the media, MR ought to have been disqualified immediately, if this EC has any spine left in him.

    Our problem is that EC is nothing but a rookadaya, and this fellow is working only for MR. Yours truely disgusted by governments politcial campaign ………..

  • 0

    I think Sarvodaya movement led by Ariyarthana advice is totally irrelevant and not so important timely; the very reason is President Mahinda Rajapakase only the head of state, bring back that PEACE, STABILITY AND SECURITY FOR SRI-LANKA AFTER 1977 of 35 years.

    Indeed Long-term lost of peaceful environment and lost of lives of hundred thousand people in Sri lanka ,that had been totally eliminated by President of MR the result of defeated LTTE Tamil Terrorist-outfit 2009 May.

    The policy of MR Party do not want advice, from unknown policies makers, who now enjoy peace and security since 2009 may,of their NGO activities incoming that before and after 2015 Election.

    MR’s key policies are base on NON-VIOLANCE that PATH OF DEMOCRACY.

    And the Rule of Law is founded by popular custom a stage is necessarily reached by progressive mindset of outlook by MR leadership.

    The fact that rule of law under MR becomes more and more the special act by state, that democracies is professional, neither strange nor regrettable, of People of Sri Lanka.

    The concept of RULE OF LAW as applied to democracy and to these ecclesiastical persons has not for historical reasons produced unsatisfactory result like that UNP Ranil W,, and CBK or TNA, or JVP of their line of democracy.

    • 3

      ‘MR’s key policies are base on NON-VIOLANCE that PATH OF DEMOCRACY’

      Who is this bloody clown? He belongs in a circus.

  • 1

    Scorching reggae tune exposing the Bodu Bala Sena mad monks complicity with the Rajapakses! http://youtu.be/MnHMQJdBke0

  • 0

    increasing violence is due to the Western conspiracy hatched by CBK and goebbels Mangala.

    If there was a home grown agreement between RW & MS, there would not be any violence as the diehard UNP’ers would be out in force.
    This was inevitable the RW failed to come forward as the 03rd candidate instead turned the great ELEPHANT into a SWAN.


    Diehard UNP’ers made to look pawns today by CBK. This is the anger unleashed by the masses & MS to whom the contract was outsourced has to face the brunt. Specially his misled supporters.

    SL has been under Colonial rule for over 500+ years and would not tolerate another brought by CBK.

    According to MS, Sampanthan & TNA does not mind the forces stationed in the North. otherwise, why must they support MS ?

  • 0

    The Tharaki…there are political clowns in UNP, SLFP, TNA, MC, JVP and JHU, who has been who polices by overnight.

    I am holding my independence views political democracy of ground reality of Sri lanka.

    I decided by fact on observation and experiment of social class and their political activities.

    Not that by favoring any position or power of Ruling classes in power by hook or crook.

  • 0

    From under what stone have you crawled out of ? You tried your hand at working with this lot didn’t you….and got kicked out !

    Looking for another job under the new Government eh ?!!

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