Opinion columns and letters to the editor in almost all major newspapers in this country have tried and failed but bullets have succeeded in sending a powerful message to the government which has done precious little to check the growing menace of political thuggery.
Although the government is seen to be taking some action -- and that too after one of its strongmen was killed in a shootout that exposed the rot within and would have prompted some to see it in the light of the biblical phrase on those who lived by the sword - its commitment is still not evident.
Instead of dealing with the symptoms, the canker needs to be totally eradicated if this country is to enjoy the full dividends of the war victory two years ago. In his funeral oration for the slain Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, the Prime Minister pointed out that it was only a handful of people who had resorted to political thuggery in this country where the multitude are peace loving. But what he did not say was that in the tyranny of the handful, the multitude live in fear.
Political violence in this country is as old as the party system. In the past when elections were conducted on a first-past-the-post system, victorious party thugs who felt they had been victimized and politically discriminated against by the ousted government would unleash their vengeance on their opponents. Election violence, more precisely post-election violence, broke out despite the fact that the country on both sides of the divide had some brilliant and cultured politicians whose words in the legislature were so erudite and scholarly that in comparison the utterances of some of the present-day politicians pale into insignificance.
With the introduction of the Proportional Representation voting system, the country saw political violence at both inter-party and intra-party level with the battle being more acute in the latter as we saw last Saturday at Mulleriyawa. The PR system, despite its democratic representative features, nurtured the bond between the politicians and criminal gangs dealing in the drug trade and contract killings.
It has become a well-nigh impossibility for a candidate to be true to his conscience and win elections. Morality and politics apparently no longer mix in Sri Lanka. Candidates carrying out campaigns with party or personal funds are features of the past. Now most solicit the financial backing of smugglers, drug lords and criminal gangs for campaigning and canvassing. The stronger one's bond with the underworld, the greater the chances of success at the polls. It is a case of criminalization of politics and politicization of criminals.
What's more, the system has spawned morbid competition. Even before the dust settles on an election, the politician who has been pipped at the post on the preference vote count would yearn for the death of a colleague who has just been elected so that he could get in. Such is the greed for power.
Last year, opposition politician Palitha Range-Bandara was almost killed in intra-party violence; last week, it was Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra who is no more; tomorrow it can be another high profile politician. This system that breeds corruption and political violence needs to be changed. It is not too late to reform.
Both the PR and the first-past-the-post system have their merits and demerits. But years of deliberation at Parliamentary select committees have only succeeded in producing heaps of recommendations focusing on a hybrid electoral system.
In the final analysis, it is not the system that matters but those who handle or mishandle it. A good system could be bad in the hands of the bad and even a bad system could be good in the hands of good people. We should aim for a system where even a ruffian-turned-politician is able to shed his past and move on to be a good politician or statesman.
Cynics may say such idealism has no place in politics. But even a system where a modicum of morality prevails is better than a system where political thuggery is the order of the day.
Neighbouring Pakistan, a country that ranks low on the Transparency International's corruption perception index, has made it mandatory for those aspiring to be legislators to possess a university degree. This is to prevent popular misfits from entering Parliament. Obviously law breakers cannot be lawmakers. On the other hand, Gandhi wanted every Indian to rule India, but some Indian experts say this constitutional provision which is a fundamental feature in almost all constitutions upholding democracy has opened the floodgates for criminals to become politicians and politicians to become criminals. In this garbage heap, a statesman is often a rare gem.
Whether President Mahinda Rajapaksa who gave the political leadership to end the 30-year-old separatist war is a statesman will be determined also by his other actions, especially his moves to promote democracy and a decent political culture where mafia leaders have no place, where the parent of a school-going child will not be threatened by an area politician for petitioning against corruption in the school lottery, where alleged rapists, murderers and bribe takers cannot escape the long arm of the law, where the judiciary will not be seen as favouring the ruling party or being subservient to the executive branch.
Sadly, since the end of war, hardly any law has been enacted to strengthen democracy in this country which prides itself as one of the first to enjoy universal adult suffrage. The government's record in promoting democracy is woefully inadequate, to say the least.
The 17th Amendment which sought to set up independent police, public service, judicial and election commissions was revoked. The one replacing it does not guarantee non-interference by the executive in the composition of these commissions. The opposition sought to bring in a Right to Information Act but the government defeated the bill and its promise that a comprehensive bill would be presented remains unfulfilled so far.
True President Rajapaksa and his administration together with the then military leadership deserve credit for ridding this country of the scourge of terrorism. Now that this fear no longer stalks the populace, the goal should be to ensure that every citizen in this country can live free from the fear of hunger and oppression by those who misuse power. To this haven of freedom, only statesmen can take us.
After winning the war, the major task at hand is to build the country. This does not mean building roads and high-rises or beautifying the city alone. Development should also be seen in the socio-economic, political and cultural life of every citizen of this country. Only then can the citizenry think of the Dhamma Rajya which has been eluding us.
|From : prasad
Global 'dupli-macy' and what’s fair in war
From : B.Fernando
Are the elections free & fair !!!
From : P.L.J.B.Palipana
Thanks lot for this valuable EDITORIAL.
From : bandula chandraratna
Most probably, foreign powerful Governments who are longing for a 'regime change' in Sri Lanka, for their own gains will be using these powerful underworld gangs to eliminate our leaders.
We cannot talk about their double-standards when we too practice double standards. Mervyn was allowed to lecture the pupils of Darmaloka Vidyalaya the merits of using ones hands as weapons. What kind of future generations are we making to run our country in the future?
No one must be above the law. We cannot be lakadaisical about implementing this.