By Malinda Seneviratne –
The gains made by the Democratic Party (DP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at the recently concluded elections for the Southern and Western Provincial Councils, along with modest performances by the ruling party and the main opposition party as well as a relatively lower voter turnout can be read in many ways. One explanation has been dissatisfaction with the law and order situation in the country.
This is not about rise in crime. It is not about a blanket dismissal of all entities coming under the Defence Ministry. After all there’s been no objection whatsoever about the operations that led to the elimination of a group that sought to re-invent the LTTE. What probably demanded disapproval to the point that many stayed home while other gravitated to the DP and JVP (and not the UNP) is the abysmal track record of this government when it comes to dealing with the vexed issue of politicians playing policemen and policemen playing bystanders.
Certain crimes are solved at amazing speed. Kidnappers are nabbed and abducted children rescued in record time. The whole business of capturing Gobi, Appan and Thevian, all hardcore terrorists, along with the entire network of operatives was swiftly done. Thus incompetence is a non-factor. The police and other investigative entities of the state are more than capable of bringing to book criminals. They can uphold the law and enforce it too. If and when they want to. Therein lies the catch. In other words there are ‘untouchables’ in the business of maintaining law and order.
During the last election, there was an incident where thugs working for one of the ruling party candidates assaulted a fellow candidate from the same party. The police refused to act on the complaint. Friends of the victim had to use all resources they could muster to do their own investigation and then call upon high-ups known to them before the perpetrators could be apprehended. A senior minister was part of these moves. If that’s what it takes for justice to take its natural course in instances such as the one described, then what hope is there for an ordinary citizen who is not thus endowed if and when he/she has to deal with an abusive politician?
These things are noticed. They are known. They are talked about. Some may take it as a ‘systemic inevitable’ but others will fault those who are able to but do nothing about correcting these flaws. Some may stay at home and others will choose to ‘teach a lesson’. The dynamics will no doubt be different when it comes to major elections when other issues come into play, but these ‘minor’ elections can make ‘loyalists’ do a bit of ‘betrayal’.
On the other hand, lesson-teaching can have consequences, especially if it is felt that lessons are not being learned. In 1994, for example, the People’s Alliance (PA) led by Chandrika Kumaratunga won not on account of the lady’s alleged charisma or some kind of manifesto-edge the party enjoyed over the UNP; it was largely about ‘had enough’. Things add up. True, even then the PA secured only a wafer-thin majority in Parliament and Sarath N Silva hadn’t issued a determination that made for large scale ‘purchase’ of MPs by the ruling party, but 1994 was nevertheless a turning point.
We are a long way from a 21st Century version of 1994. We won’t get another 1977 anytime soon either. We won’t get another ‘LTTE time’ if we are alert enough. We might, however, get to 1988-89 not because people are starving to the point of desperation (the wine stores and clothing stores were full during ‘Avurudu’ and even a cursory glance at Diyatha Uyana on a holiday would make the UNP’s doomsday predictions sound hollow) but because they feel they are lesser citizens vis-à-vis the politician.
This government is not only saying ‘the law is our plaything’ it is giving a green light to the lawless. Those who are left out of this game will find the government a more tangible target to vent anger on than hooded thugs that prey on the random helpless. It might take the ‘lesser form’ of picking Hirunika Premachandra in order to let the powers that be know that bending over backwards to protect Duminda Silva is nauseating. It might take a more potent form of looking for a default -option outside the UPFA. It could also take violent form which needless to say won’t change status quo but would probably plunge the country into a blood-letting situation that no one really wants or would applaud.
The primary flaw here is the callous disregard for system and a preference for a case-by-case approach which of course is basically a play of protecting favorites. Systems, logic, strategies and such are what made it possible to defeat the LTTE. Systems are not perfect but they tend to deliver more than random, hit-miss, one-off tactics.
This is about elections and regime-preservation, which of course are what politicians are most concerned about. It is also about squandering all the positives of eliminating terrorism just because egos get in the way and because ‘friends must help friends’. That’s politics. It is not statesmanship. Whatever you want to call it, a door is slowly being opened for anarchy. When that door swings open fully, there’s no telling who will be left to tell the tale. The UNP regime prevailed over the JVP, the TULF/TNA survived the passing of the LTTE, but many in these political parties didn’t live to see ‘Victory Day’.
That’s a problem that politicians must resolve, especially those in the UPFA. As for the people, they have little choice in ‘methodology’. Having ‘little choice’ is breeding ground for insurrection. It constitutes ‘final push’ from apathy to action.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com