Political Column

25th November 2001

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Crying foul, doing foul

By Our Political Correspondent
The polls battle between the ruling PA and the opposition UNP has descended to so low a level that one cannot recall a past campaign that was fought in such a foul manner.

The PA which is blatantly making use of the state media, state resources and public servants for its campaign in utter disregard to election laws with the Elections Commissioner being reduced to a powerless puppet or a soldier who cannot or does not know to shoot the enemy.

Though the 17th Amendment to the Constitution has conferred enormous power on the Elections Commissioner, he has not acted when his directives issued to state agencies were ignored.

The opposition UNP is screaming "foul" from the top of its voice and vows to establish a disciplined society if it is elected to office on December 5.

Who is responsible for the deterioration of the social order and ethics? The UNP certainly cannot absolve itself of the blame. Had they led an exemplary political life during its 17-year rule, things many have been different now.

The present PA regime is repeating what the UNP regime did or did not do. Thus in Sri Lankan politics it is always the case of crying foul when in opposition while doing 'foul' when in office.

Take for instance, the issue of the executive presidency. The UNP alleges today that President Kumaratunga is misusing the executive power and talks about a seven-year curse. But the UNP also acted in a similar manner when its leaders were the executive presidents who became the villains of a 17-year curse in the eyes of the PA. When one wields absolute power, little does he or she realise that his or her acts may tend to infringe the rights of others.

Armed with a five sixth majority in parliament, the UNP regime of 1977-88 had little or no respect for public opinion? Some of its acts and omissions laid the foundation for the creation of an unruly society.

Its scant respect fo r the law reduced the dignity of the judiciary and contributed towards an erosion of confidence people placed in the judiciary. Who can forget the stoning of judges' residence an act justified by the then UNP rulers as freedom of expression?

An investigation by the now defunct Sun newspaper revealed that the culprit who led the attack was 'Kalu Lucky' who was photographed with two UNP bigwigs. 

In a way, people should have the right to express their opposition to judicial orders if they feel that they are unjust and unfair, but within limits of the law without intimidating those who dispense justice.

The UNP did not stop at that. The Supreme Court was insulted by promoting those who were found guilty in fundamental rights cases. (The PA government is no better. Those who have been found guilty of violating fundamental rights of people have found a place in the PA cabinet.)

The UNP should be commended for making fundamental rights justiciable. But when LSSP veteran Vivienne Goonewardene who had a judgment in her favour, the police officer who attacked her was promoted by the UNP regime. 

But was there a miscarriage of justice when the Supreme Court found some one else who had not been cited as a respondent guilty of violating fundamental rights?

But even if the Supreme Court had made an error, was that the way that a government should act?

The UNP's role in respect of the judiciary was questionable and there was disregard for the order of precedence and seniority. There was an erosion of public confidence in the judiciary with the then government attempting to control the judiciary.

What is more regrettable today is Chandrika Kumaratunga who gave a solemn pledge to the people to rectify all social ills and undo the wrongs done by the UNP is also committing the same mistakes.

Ms. Kumaratunga who pledged that she would tolerate dissent is now allegedly seeking to suppress it through her agents.

The PA has miserably failed to rescue the social order that has now fallen into an abyss.

In fact, her 1994 slogan was the creation of a free society without corruption and intimidation, but today the PA regime is submerged in allegations of corruption and intimidation .

Ms. Kumaratunga has failed in her mission to put the country on the right path. As things stand today, democracy is at peril and the economy is on the brink of virtual collapse.

It is because of this situation that the civil society is inclined towards demanding the setting up of commissions at least to stem further erosion of the democratic structure in Sri Lanka.

It is quite evident that discipline is fast disappearing from every state agency, including the Police and the Armed Services a fact the President herself has admitted during her recent visit to Europe. 

Tuesday's incident at Dikowita in Wattala where the police opened fire killing three fishermen and strictures passed by the Supreme Court on the Seeduwa police are two such occasions. The Supreme Court pointed out that the police had even altered the entries with impunity. This is the state of the Sri Lanka Police. So how can we expect the Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku, to fall in line with a request made by the Elections Commissioner with regard to the suspension of police transfers. Opposition parties have described these transfers which the IGP went ahead with despite the plea from the polls chief as political transfers aimed at facilitating election malpractices in areas earmarked by the PA.

These are not new to the UNP. UNP regimes, too, did this kind of manoeuvring during times of elections, but today UNPers are doing everything possible to stop election malpractices. 

Making matters worse, the President wrote to security forces personnel in the North and East. It was clearly aimed at influencing the voter and an abuse of executive power. The President's letter to the Armed Forces personnel states among other things.

Our government increased your salaries by three times. Allowances were increased. Salaries and allowances will be increased again from January 2002. An insurance scheme has been started for you.

"The unemployment problem will be over by the year 2005. Under these circumstances, your strength and dedication will be required in the future.

"We are strengthening you daily as much as we could do. If needed, I am prepared to end terrorism by war. At the same time, with the concurrence of the people I am prepared to share power without dividing the country. I have presented that proposal before the country.

"Prabhakaran is opposed to that. That is because he is a murderer. Some in the opposition also oppose that. That is because they thought of coming to power in the name of the war. But other parties in the country uphold my proposal.

"An international trade centre, a number of international airports, a number of harbours and super highways are all in our future programmes. Your services are essential for these. You will not be sent home empty handed once the war is ended. You will not lose your jobs either.

"We have already taken steps to give you an opportunity of serving in the peace-keeping forces in foreign countries with the assistance of the United Nations Organisation.

"Extend your support, strength and heroism to me and our government to protect the country against separatism.

"May the Triple Gem Bless you!"

Signed: Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President/Commander of the Armed Forces.

The President also had to allocate some time for young entrepreneurs of the PA a group formed on the advice of Deputy Foreign Minister Harendra Corea. 

Around 250 businessmen/women were invited to President's House for a special audience on Monday. Many representatives from the Garment industry, the hotel and travel industry and a sprinkling of professionals were among the invitees who gathered initially at the Galadari Hotel to comply with security requirements before being transported by Mercedes mini buses to the President's House.

The President was almost punctual this time. Her address took almost an hour and dwelt on past performance and plans for the future. Later she moved among the invitees chatting with them informally. Dinner was served in the garden. The evening closed by 11.30 p.m. and the guests departed after being persuaded or otherwise on how to cast their vote on December 5. 

President Kumaratunga also appears to be carrying out a vigorous campaign against the UNP, probably reacting to intelligence feedback that spoke about UNP performing better this time around.

At Tissamaharama, the President warned the UNP and said that her government had given freedom to all to do anything they like but if somebody killed any of PA supporters this time, they also would not spare him. "There is no harm in killing a murderer," the President said.

The President may have told this on the spur of moment, but it is a serious statement because it tends to legitimise extra judicial killings. The President's statement could create chaos in the country if her supporters and others also act in accordance with her statement. The seriousness in this statement is that it could create a situation of lawlessness in the country when the head of the state becomes vindictive and calls for an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. 

Both President Kumaratunga and her brother, Anura, came under heavy fire by the UNP for statements they made during their campaign meetings.

PA defector and ex-minister G. L. Peiris said the statements amounted to an offence under section 100 of the Penal Code which prohibited persons from inciting murder and Section 101 which made persons guilty of such crimes even if the actual crime did not take place.

From Attanagalla to the Tissamaharama doctrine

By H.O.R.A. Chanda Dhamma 
Back in 1973, satyagra hees who came to At tanagalla, the pocket-borough of the Bandaranaike family got their heads smashed and sent home. It was said that the people of Attanagalla exercised their democratic right, and the incident later acquired the notorious expression as the 'Attanagalla doctrine'. Last Saturday,far away from Attanagalla, President Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga took that doctrine to a higher (or lower as the case may be) state, and entered the historical records of contemporary Lanka by enunciating the "Tissamaharama doctrine'. 

Down in the deep south, campaigning for her struggling party, Chandrika Kumaratunga forgot that she was not only head of her political party, and not only that she was the head of the government, but that she was the head of the state of Sri Lanka too. 

When she extolled her partymen to 'maruwoth maranna' their political opponents,she was infact giving an open license for anarchy and mayhem;for Sri Lankans to take the law into their hands and kill fellow Sri Lankans if the need arises.With one deft remark,she propelled Sri Lanka back into a time reminiscent of the medieval ages in Europe when the monarch and feudal lords gave orders to the serfs to break the law because they were the law themselves. 

The fact that a 42-member delegation from the European Union was present in the island meant tuppence for the Sorbonne-educated Chandrika Kumaratunga.The fact that her own Foreign Minister had only a fortnight ago proudly asserted to the country's democratic and franchise track-record while addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, and urged all political parties in Sri Lanka, that there was more to it than winning elections, that the democratic way of life must be ensured at all costs - was lost on his President. 

Winning at all cost, by killing your perceived opponents is now official government policy. Or has the President regretted a slip of the tongue;Was it an unintentional statement made in the heat of the moment while rallying the rank and file in a keenly contested political debate? 

What could have been worse than the utterance? It was that there was no retraction. No regrets; No clarification. Which only meant that she meant what she said. And said what she meant. 

If ever the President is to be impeached on a future occasion, it will not be the allegations of corruption against her or those of misuse of and abuse of power that ought to take precedence, but this one command she gave from the political pulpit at the historical city of Tissamaharama on the night of November 17, 2001. 

She then said that she had not said this before "but I'm sayng it now".Which only gives rise to justifiable reasoning as to whether this is the first time she is saying it but need not be the first time she has meant it. One's mind swiftly rewinds to the notorious elections at the Wayamba Provincial Councils followed by the General elections of 2000. 

No doubt, the underground elections machinery is working over-time keeping in pace with the official machinery of the beleagured Elections Commissioner. Reports are trickling in of not only goondas sharpening their knives, but of pencils used for marking ballot papers having leaked out and being already sharpened. In some areas,ballot cards are being purchased for a 1,000 chips a piece. 

Officially, it is patently clear that the Elections Commissioner has too much on his plate, and what one should worry about today is whether by trying to organise an all-island election in an atmosphere where even the high and mighty want to win by hook or by crook, and the hapless Commissioner is asked to hold the scales of media coverage evenly, whether he could do any one of the things entrusted to him properly. To expect one man to stand up to the ranks of Tuscany and say to them," hold it, buster, I'm in charge, just shoo off" is to expect pigs to fly. 

Take for example the pains he is going through to formulate a Code of Ethics for the State media. He has tried to hammer out such a code, but not succeeded. Originally, the Commissioner produced some half-baked guidelines on how he thought the media should conduct itself during election time. 

Then, the private media took up the position that the law under which the Commissioner was acting, i.e. the 17th amendment of the constitution did not apply to them, but only to the state media. 

The state media, especially Lake House claimed that they were entitled by statute to their own freedom of expression and that the law by which they function did not make them a state venture, but agreed to a code of conduct provided, however, the private media was also enjoined. 

The private media says they will not come to a collective agreement with the state media and that it is upto the courts to decide whether Lake House is infact a state institution. While there is no doubt that Rupavahini and SLBC are state media, ITN and Lake House are de jure and de facto state media they argue. In simpler terms it could be said that whereas the Elections Commissioner has said that he would take appropriate steps against the use of state vehicles by any political party he cannot, however, take similar action against a private sector company. It is simply a question of the use of state finances on behalf of a political party. 

All this is too complicated presumably for the Elections Commissioner, who is upto his eye-balls with work, that he has passed the baby of working out a code for the blatant partisanship of the state media to the Attorney General. 

And so, this election warms up to the final and decisive stage. The astrologers have made the people see stars as they find out that even they could be made to make the right readings. That there is so much more than the stars can ever tell. And opinionated opinion pollsters believe they are smarter than others but have a 'margin of error' as a safety-net to wrong 'scientific' predictions. 

The President says she works from 4a.m to 2 a.m.-22 hours a day, conning the people. The UNPers go in a weird-looking air-conditioned bus from town to town past muddied farmers in loin-cloth toiling in the sun-kissed paddy-fields, carrying cellular phones, wearing Peter England slacks and Ray Ban sunglasses, frightening the people. 

But what of issues? Don't the people want to discuss issues? Are they so lamby-pamby that its not macho enough for gutsy candidates to debate? What about the rights of the disabled? No party has that subject on their Manifesto. 

What about the voting rights of a million Sri Lankans overseas who sweat it out to send monies back home? Nobody has addressed that issue. Can the Army win the war? Will the LTTE abandon its eelam dream? 

But let us not kid ourselves. Let's rub those misty eyes of such Utopian visions, and get down to brass tacks of Lankan electioneering. Let's get back to the 'maruwoth maranna' doctrine, and the poster-pasting, police bashing and the hora vote syndrome of our real-politics. 

There is an election to be won, damn it.

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