The stabbing to death earlier this month of much-loved Sir David Amess, a true representative of the people and an MP for 38 years, has only hardened the resolve of British parliamentarians not to succumb to death threats and physical assaults. They have refused to call off what is called here constituency “surgeries” where MPs [...]


Defiant MPs refuse to let democracy die


The stabbing to death earlier this month of much-loved Sir David Amess, a true representative of the people and an MP for 38 years, has only hardened the resolve of British parliamentarians not to succumb to death threats and physical assaults.

They have refused to call off what is called here constituency “surgeries” where MPs hold face-to-face meetings with their constituents in church premises or even street corners to discuss electorate issues or personal problems and try to resolve them without the false promises and spurious help offered by many MPs back in the Resplendent Isle I had become accustomed during my near three-decades of political and parliament coverage back in Colombo.

It seems so ludicrous in a way to compare the conduct of MPs here and there, be it in the chamber or in the public arena, the abuse of power and national assets and the display of thuggery as a sign of political impunity and a dubious kind of legal licence and moral superiority.

While in this country, MPs are killed by those imbued in racial and religious bigotry and extremists of different radical persuasions, back in the country that is being touted as Asia’s oldest democracy — and before that as a country with a 2500 year civilization — MPs shoot other politicians and gun-toting parliamentarians ride roughshod over people becoming a menace to society. In fact, they are a disgrace to democratic governance and the institutions that represent functioning democracy.

Consider the case of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte who as State Minister of Prison Management caused quite a ruckus when he reportedly made incursions into two state prisons probably with the intention of living up to his portfolio mandate to manage prisoners by allegedly threatening them at gunpoint.

Not only did this act unbecoming of a minister make international news but the long arm of the law that reaches out to arrest members of the public for not wearing face masks or for some minor infraction of a health directive and stretch out into newspaper offices in search of journalists goes limp when it comes to dealing with government parliamentarians.

News reports last week said that though more than a month had lapsed since the two prison incidents the police had failed to record any statement from the offending minister in a remarkable display of one law for all.

One cannot but help being struck by the blatant contrasts between the performances of the elected representatives of the two countries, the services they actually provide on behalf of the people who elected them and even who did not, and the huge difference in the facilities granted to them as representatives of the people—and all this at State expense, never mind the fast dwindling coffers.

One needs to hark back for a moment to the foul deed that ended the life of the 69-year-old Sir David Amess who had such a long and unbroken history as an MP. He never sought nor accepted a position in the upper echelons of government as some MPs ‘adorning’ the Diyawanna Oya abode might of crave for as an escutcheon signifying personal importance and a criterion for accumulating more perks at state or somebody else’s expense.

Five years ago in June, before the dastardly killing Sir David earlier this month by a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali origin, Labour MP Jo Cox was stabbed and shot to death when she was on the way to a constituency surgery. They have not been the only victims of ultra nationalist brutality or religious savagery in the long history of British democracy.

But even the latest killing and the continuing threats and abuse on social media and emails are not going to deter MPs here from performing their democratic duties. When the House of Commons paid tribute to this highly respected and much appreciated parliamentarian who preferred to remain a backbencher serving the people, the tenor of the Commons was clear enough.

Labour MP Stephen Timms who survived a stabbing attack during one of his meetings with constituents set the tone when he said “we mustn’t give up on the accessibility of members of parliament. If we do that, the sponsors of those who attacked David and those who attacked me will have succeeded”.

When Home Secretary Priti Patel said they were reviewing policing for politicians, Labour Party’s Emma Hardy suggested that MPs should have the “flexibility” to request police help at meetings “rather than it being a mandatory yes or no”.

While British MPs in the face of mounting threats and foul abuse via emails and social media are still reluctant to call for police protection, one wonders how some of Sri Lanka’s MPs and politicians would have reacted had they been confronted with a similar situation. The cry for more protection and more fire power might well have risen above the rising din of a disgruntled public

Not only would those over there who shed crocodile tears for democracy be demanding more police protection but even faster vehicles to get away from their angry and disgusted constituents.

Here most MPs travel to the Commons and back in public transport and they have no body guards though their bodies might be more worthy of guarding. Our MPs need luxury vehicles every five years or so to travel to their constituencies and that too at duty free.

I remember W. Dahanayake used to travel to Galle by train and used to sit on the parapet wall in front of the old parliament by the sea waiting for a bus to take him wherever he was heading. Dr N.M. Perera even as finance minister used to come to parliament in his rather old car often giving a ride to LSSP colleague Bernard Soysa. No, there were no flashy vehicles for them.

The public is hardly likely to forget ministers and MPs of a more recent vintage racing along the Colombo streets and suburbs with uniformed gun-toting escorts in front and the rear, shouting and waving other motorists to the pavements and pedestrians into ditches and drains as though the roads belonged exclusively to such persons of little national value. Such flamboyant displays of power and wealth are not seen on streets here though in that country like no other, these are considered necessary symbols of political and social power and importance. It is scant wonder that the fast expanding social media satirise politicians and their hangers-on, questioning the ultimate worth of some of their representatives and the contribution they make to society and its well being.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)



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