Political Column
By our Political Correspondent
4th November 2001
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When will this violence end?

Most of the top politicians in the country believe that violence is part and parcel of the Sri Lankan political culture.

At a time when the civil society is striving hard to wipe out violence from the country, it is sad to note that we still have politicians who perpetuate violence. Worse, it is the mature politicians with several years of legislative experience who are in the forefront of violent politics.

Take for example the case of former Minister Reggie Ranatunga. Mr. Ranatunga, himself a victim of political violence when his house and property were set ablaze by UNP hooligans during the post election violence in May 1977, had a clean record.

But of late, his name has been linked to a couple of violent incidents, marring his political career. Opposition critics say Mr. Ranatunga, a Bandaranaike loyalist, is trying to fill the vacuum created by those who defected from the party.

During last year's general election campaign, it was the supporters of S. B. Dissanayake who allegedly killed a JVP activist, Sudath Silva, while he was pasting posters. And during this year's campaign, the first death has been reported from Udugampola in the Gampaha District. The victim, Lionel Rodrigo, died after he was allegedly assaulted by Mr. Ranatunga's supporters.

On Thursday, soon after a Gampaha magistrate ordered police to arrest Mr. Ranatunga, some of his sons had reportedly met the District's Senior Police Superintendent Lucky Peiris and suggested that their father be charged under Section 314 of the Penal code that deals with assault. The SSP had reportedly told them that his hands were tied and he was unable to act on their advice. 

The Ranatungas had later left the SSP's residence after an argument. This incident was reproted in the Sirasa radio. Highly purturbed over the Sirasa news, the Ranatungas again met the SSP and asked him to issue a denial to the Sirasa correspondent whom they said would be brought before him.

The SSP had reportedly told the Ranatungas that they could take the correspondent before the person who had given him the story. 

But the SSP's troubles did not end there. The following day he was summoned by his superiors in Colombo. 

The SSP was asked to hand over the file related to the Ranatunga case, but the officer had reportedly said he did not have any files.

These incidents are reminders to civic organisations. They have failed to convince fellow members of society, that violence will only bring misery to their family members while politicians would try to get mileage out of it. 

Mr. Rodrigo will soon be forgotten in the euphoria of an election victory by either of the major parties while his family is left in the lurch.

It is sad that the people of this country have not realised the stark realities behind Sri Lankan politics.

This may be due to poverty or a belief among the poor that if they do not actively support a political party, life would be difficult for them. Especially the unemployed youth, in the hope of getting a job, pin their hopes on a party and even go to the extent of getting involved in violence. This political phenomenon has been more evident since the 1970s.

During the Sirima Bandaranaike regime, none could get a job in the public sector if he or she was not a SLFP supporter or of one of the left parties allied with it. This trend became worse during the regime of J.R. Jayewardene who created an employment bank which dished out jobs mainly to UNP supporters. These policies divided the society right down the middle and in some villages the UNPers and the SLFPers carry longstanding animosities, sometimes even severing relationships owing to political differences. During election times these animosities aggravate and lead to mass-scale violence, destruction, arson and even death. So what? This is politics, Sri Lankan style.

Violence is not an exclusive property of PA politicians alone. Even UNP politicians are said to have engaged in violent campaigns. 

These incidents are far too numerous to mention individually. But what is sad is people never learn from these incidents. They still want to go in procession, shouting slogans and attack rivals. All this display of thuggery and tomfoolery are till the election is held. Soon after the elections, the party that wins is called upon to form a new government. 

Politicians will take oaths as ministers or deputy ministers and some of those who supported them are driven into the wilderness. But these supporters have no alternative but go behind the politicians, begging for various handouts.

The rich who support politicians sometimes stand to gain in a big way. They fill the politician's campaign coffers with ulterior motives -to get contracts, tenders and other business favours. The politician also benefits from these businessmen because these deals involve various kickbacks.

Once again, after six years, the same game is played and the poor people will be pawns of these so-called political saviours who are supposedly sacrificing their time and wealth to do good for the country.

As far as the Ranatunga episode is concerned, it could have some negative impact on his son, Arjuna Ranatunga's campaign. 

Arjuna, Sri Lanka's World Cup winning captain, is making his debut in the political field, but his task will be uphill due to the bad publicity over the Rodrigo killing.

Arjuna in a recent TV talk show said he entered politics with the intention of giving what he could give to a country that had done him so much. But he stressed that his entry into politics was not to get involved in political bickering. He said that his father has led an exemplary life and brought them up to be good citizens.

At the same time, it is disturbing when a responsible party leader like Rauf Hakeem described violence as an occupational hazard.

Does it mean that Mr. Hakeem cannot get rid of such practices or does he mean that violence should go along with local politics?

In the east, there had been some incidents of violence perpetrated against his rival Ferial Ashraff, but no one so far has pointed a finger at Mr. Hakeem, because he claims he upholds the principle of clean politics. But when he says political violence is an occupational hazard, it means that all politicians and people will have to live with it. Does it not create some confusion in the minds of the people?

That is why we call upon politicians to create a new political culture in the country where electioneering would be done without any hindrance through the print and electronic media in the new era of technology.

It is the duty of politicians to show some kind of maturity without resorting to acts of violence, which brings misery to some while others revel. At the same time, it is time to put an end to political victimisation after an election. Hundreds, if not thousands, of public servants are sacked, transferred or denied promotion for the simple reason that they voted or supported the ëother' party. In this regard, the setting up of an independent public service commission is a crying need.

Meanwhile, the LTTE's stance in the run up to the December 2001 elections has baffled many. 

The PA is trying to take advantage from every incident the LTTE is involved. The PA propaganda machinery is ready to exploit the situation by linking the UNP with the LTTE.

The PA adopted a similar tactic during the 1999 Presidential election and 2000 general election as well. 

The LTTE attempted to kill President Kumaratunga and exploded another bomb in Ja-Ela, killing some UNPers including Major General Lakshman Algama. During the 2000 election, the LTTE exploded a bomb in Medawachchiya, killing some innocent bystanders.

Monday's bomb at Chitra Lane, Colombo, stands in favour of the PA, which exploited the situation immediately. In its very first reaction to it, the party claimed the LTTE was targeting Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. 

Thereafter, PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne came out with a conspiracy theory linking the UNP.

UNP's Assistant Secretary Gamini Atukorale while condemning the bomb attack requested the authorities to conduct an independent inquiry as to why the police let the suicide bomber go even after identifying him. 

Mr. Atukorale has made a valid point, but the PA is apparently harping on a statement purported to have been made by UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during the last general election. What he said was all barricades blocking Colombo roads would be removed if the UNP came back to office. The PA claimed that it was an open invitation to the LTTE to attack the city's economic targets while the UNP said that even with so many barricades around, the government could not protect the Katunayake Air Force base and the Bandaranaike International Airport.

The mindset of Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is such that he does not want to extend his support to any party in the South but he is hell-bent on creating chaos in the country by liquidating its leaders.

It would be much easier for the LTTE to achieve its goals when there is chaos in the South and what the LTTE is aiming to do is to instill some sort of fear psychosis in the South.

Was the Narahenpita bomb meant for Prime Minister Wickremanayake who was to participate in a state function in the area?

Some say that the LTTE would have targeted Prof. G. L. Peiris who lives in Narahenpita. 

Whatever it may be, the Tigers failed in their endeavour and an alert policeman sent the Tiger plan haywire. 

If somebody is trying to say that the Tigers are working in connivance with the UNP, it sounds amateurish and begs commonsense. However, the UNP Leader, too, came out strongly against such PA propaganda while denouncing Tiger atrocities in the country.

True enough, the UNP had openly said that it would advocate direct talks with the LTTE to resolve the ethnic crisis. President Kumaratunga also says the same thing. She has gone to the extent of saying that she is ready to talk to the LTTE without any pre-conditions.

Monday's explosion in Colombo and Tuesday's attack on an oil tanker could well be taken as grim reminders to the power hungry leaders of the South that the ethnic crisis should be resolved on a priority basis.

Questions are asked whether the UNP is actually harnessing LTTE resources to win the election.

Minister Mangala Samaraweera is the most vociferous of all. He alleges that the pact between the Tamil parties and the UNP is formed to bring chaos to the country if the UNP is elected to office.

Has the UNP been able to effectively counter this allegation? The UNP academics seem to be worried over the propaganda blitz by the state-owned media against the UNP.

A group of UNP academics, perturbed by the PA propaganda, has urged the UNP leadership to take urgent action to counter it.

They lament that the UNP has been silent when the government is carrying out false propaganda.

PA propagandists are now planning to ask a series of specific questions from the UNP. One question is whether the UNP is trying to lift the ban imposed on the LTTE if it comes back to power. It is likely that the PA will play the LTTE card in the Sinhala Buddhist majority rural areas to get maximum political mileage out of it.

Therefore, it is not too easy for any one of the two parties at the December hustings, though there appears to be a general trend against the government. 

PA leaders are expected to pool all the resources available to turn the tide in their favour. If it comes to a push, the PA might resort to its old tactics of rigging the election and stuffing ballot boxes with votes cast for the JVP.

Amidst all this, President Kumaratunga came in for criticism by her opponents and some industrialists for the manner in which she dragged internal matters to the international scene.

Analysts said the President's interviews would have unhappy consequences for Sri Lanka when she dragged internal political squabbles to defend herself when the interviewer posed questions about the government's human rights record.

Her answers and the defence she had taken by blaming the previous government and comparing hers with the previous government would Sri Lanka's ailing tourism industry.

One analyst said that if somebody listened to the interview, he would not desire to step into this country.

'She has buried her diplomatic skills purely because of the present situation, and in the end put the whole country in jeopardy, he added.

President Kumaratunga inaugurated her election campaign from Anuradhapura by attending a religious ceremony at the Sri Maha Bodhi on Friday. The President is scheduled to address many meetings during the period preceding the elections and would make an appearance through satellite where it is inaccessible or due to security reasons.

This year's campaign is likely to have another attraction Somawansa Amarasinghe who is returning to the country with a new passport he got through government blessings. 

But questions are now being asked about a case in the Negombo High court some years ago. The court found an army officer guilty of helping Mr. Amarasinghe to flee the country. 

If a presidential pardon is offered to Mr. Amarasinghe, the scales of justice won't be even for the army officer, some legal experts say.

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