By Kusal Perera –
A news report in the English print media today (04/12/2014) said, defected government MP and former deputy minister Duminda Dissanayake’s 20 member security detail had all been transferred out to rural police stations. Seriously, this number is unimaginably a XXL number for any politician now. This also means, well over 100 such ministers, deputy ministers and “Kangani” MPs attached to ministries are running about with such or even heavier security details, some not just with armed police, but with special military squads too. It is a legal fact, transfer of public servants after an election is declared officially, amounts to a clear violation of law. Yet it happened before, especially in the police department and would happen again. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) remains directly answerable for all such violations and so should the Elections Commissioner (EC). He of course would say, the law does not give him enough teeth to bite the issue whole.
Added to the issue of violating law during elections, there are two other politically important issues, the two top officials cannot avoid by saying, “We are independent. Can’t answer political issues”. They cannot dodge these issues as they emerge out of their disregard and negligence in holding on to law as independent public officials. Their disregard in allowing the regime to violate the law for political and personal gains.
First comes the issue and more relevant and directed to the IGP which is, “What threat do these politicians have now, to go about with large contingents of security men?” Armed security for politicians was accepted without questions when the LTTE was targeting politicians, especially key ministers. With the war declared over and the LTTE crushed and wiped out, all barricades and check-points on roads were regarded a hindrance and removed. Absence of the LTTE threat in day to day life thus demands the absence of armed security in public life. Why should these ministers and parliamentarians go about with armed escorts now? Is it not the responsibility of the IGP to raise the issue of men with arms, now in public life? Is it not the responsibility of the EC to tell the Minister of Defense (irony is, the minister is not only the President, but the presidential candidate too) to at least remove armed security men from politicians, from the day of nominations ?
Second and the more brutal issue is the serious discrepancy now, a disadvantage and a threat to peace and fair play during elections, in allowing ruling party politicians to hold on to heavy security details, while removing such from defecting and or opposition MPs. This is not to say, allowing security for the opposition makes it a level playing field. It may at the cost of human lives and chaos, with retaliations and counter attacks every where. But such is not what is required in a functional democracy. In a functional democracy, elections run on the principle of equal and peaceful opportunity in competing. Therefore the issue raised here is the brutal advantage given to ruling party politicians in subverting elections to their advantage through armed might, where no opposition can be raised against such armed interventions. A scary issue, the two top officials most important in ensuring a free and fair election will have to address and address soon.
It is no secret that even wives and children use official security details or some of it, for their own private work. Six men of PR Minister Mervyn’s security detail were arrested over the fracas his son is accused of in a night club and not for the first time either. Use of armed security backed by army deserters and private security men in such brawls are no isolated events. They are frequently reported and forgotten too. During elections, the same takes place, as was evident in the killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. That again is no accident or isolated tragedy. Ever since the infamous Wayamba elections that was ugly, uncivilized and savage too under then President Kumaratunga, ministers were directly involved using their armed security men and goons too. Voters in most parts of this country ever since have seen and lived through thuggery led by ruling party politicians in all elections. Udathalawinna election violence in 2001 December where 10 Muslim men were gunned down for which then Deputy Minister of Defense Anurudha Ratwatte, his sons Rohan and Chanuka were indicted is enough and added proof, in how armed security is used for violent electoral advantage.
With heavily politicized law enforcement, ministers and deputy ministers totaling over a hundred now, will have the freedom to go about with armed security, as they wish. That would give the ruling UPFA an undue advantage in controlling and coercing districts, when election campaigning starts proper, after nominations on 08 December 2014. Arms and armed men with ruling party politicians will therefore decide not only how free and fair the election would be, but perhaps also what the final result should be.
IF this situation is allowed to continue and would surely go violent as momentum gather in campaigning, the IGP and the EC will have to ensure the safety and life security of all 15 million voters, who they expect to go to polls in the morning of 08 January, 2015. The question is, do these two men holding the most responsible positions in an election, want the voter to risk his or her life going to polls ? Does the EC and the IGP wish to say elections were successfully concluded with heavy polling and therefore is free and fair ? If they do, then they will have to provide security to every single voter. Not just on the day of polling, but from a few days before to ensure the voter is safe to go to polls. That, if ministers and parliamentarians are allowed roam at their free will, with dozens of armed security men.
We thus come to a situation that’s fairly predictable, where armed men and ministerial security will play a bastardly key role in this election. A situation that needs immediate and sane intervention from all quarters. Most importantly from the IGP and the EC. I wish they would, despite the difficulties they will have to face.
P.S – It is also the responsibility of the citizenry led by academics, professionals and social activists to flag these issues and bring pressure on both EC and IGP to act proper and to lobby opposition politicians to raise issue with all relevant officials and decision makers. The issue of a violence free election depends on how much the people would want such an election and how far they would go in ensuring their own right to participate in a free and fair election. Things just don’t happen in this paradise isle.