The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

28th February 1999


Let's abort the coming crisis

It was with some dismay and a deep foreboding that I read in some newspapers of Sunday February 14, that Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the UNP, is proposing to create armies of 1000 strong each, in each of the provinces for the polls on April 1.

Ostensibly, the purpose is to protect UNP's supporters in particular and the entire electoral process in general, against the acts that wrecked the Wayamba elections. One is therefore prepared to concede that this proposal is borne out of a genuine commitment to the democratic process. One can also see that it expresses the dominant mood in the country, which is a lack of confidence in the ability of the state apparatus, the police as well as the elections department, to perform their roles effectively.

On the other hand,when some fearful consequences that could result from its implementation become self-evident, the proposal comes across as deeply flawed.

Let us see what grounds there are for supposing that the latter scenario might unfold.

If the UNP's provincial armies are to perform the task expected of them, which is to counter coercion by the other side, they will have to be comprised mostly of 'toughs' capable of meeting coercion with coercion. It is inevitable therefore that men of violence will be drawn to these armies, men whose instinctive response to coercion will be a higher level of coercion. These armies are therefore likely to include more than a sprinkling of delinquents, army deserters, local thugs and criminals.

In fact the UNP's armies can easily degenerate into rampaging mobs. Consequently, in next to no time the two opposing forces will be locked in a rapidly escalating spiral of violence. The outcome of such a spiral is easily predictable. The forces opposed to the armies of the UNP will quickly call upon the state's coercive apparatus to their assistance and the UNP armies will be routed. Not only that. The government's propaganda machine will quickly swing into action and paint the UNP as the offending party, as the party that mobilized mobs to disrupt the electoral process and as the party that had planned even to overthrow the government and stage a coup.

If I am a government strategist in the diabolical mould (and I am sure that the government will not rush to recruit my services because it has an abundance of them) I will welcome Mr.Wickremesinghe's proposal with a fiendish glee. I will actually encourage him to build up his armies but making sure that each of them is liberally infiltrated by my agent provocateur. Then at the critical moment I will taunt the UNP's armies into action and spring the trap. The government's security forces will be called in to put down a " concerted attempt by the UNP hooligans to disrupt the polls." The rest is a cakewalk!

There is another distressing aspect to this proposal. Let us assume that the UNP's experiment works and that these mini - armies perform the role expected of them. When the UNP forms an administration, would that not place it under obligation to a coterie of people who though not the most reputable, will have to be rewarded in some form or the other, even with appointments to high office? By relying on toughs from the underworld for realizing its objectives will not the UNP perpetuate its Soththi Upali image, an image from which Mr. Wickremesinghe has promised to deliver the UNP? What then happens to Mr. Wickremesinghe's vision for a clean administration?

The claim that these armies are intended to practise " non- violence" is too farcical to even deserve comment. Practising non- violence on a mass scale for achieving social or political objectives in the face of extreme provocation by the other side requires spiritual disciplines perfected over a period of years. Therefore, in the light of cold reason, Mr. Wickremesinghe's well-intentioned proposal shows up as a knee jerk reaction, lacking in foresight and wisdom and even from the point of view of his own party's long term interests, as a strategic disaster. Having said that, we are still left with the problem which Mr. Wickremesinghe's proposal had been intended to address. How do we deal with the problem of running a fair and free poll?

When it appeared as if we had reached an absolute impasse, President Kumaratunga's gesture in inviting Mr. Wickremesinghe for talks seemed at first a magnanimous and rare statesmanlike gesture. Sadly however the invitation has been couched in the language of recrimination, more calculated to open old wounds than to start a healing process

The President must surely know that there is a widespread scepticism concerning the motives for her gesture, the general view being that she is merely trying to salvage her personal image and that of her administration from the abyss into which Wayamba had plunged it.

All that notwithstanding we still have to work with what we have. It is now really up to the two leaders, President Kumaratunga and Mr.Wickremesinghe, to cut loose from the culture of pettiness and recrimination and start talking. The mood in the country is such that any repetition of Wayamba is likely to bring the people on to the streets and drive them to extra - parliamentary forms of struggle, with or without the support of Mr. Wickremesinghe's mini armies. It is therefore not only in the interests of the country but in the interests of their own survival as well, for the two leaders to start talking and rapidly to forge an alternative to Wayamba.

Neville Jayaweera

Religious leaders on right path

There cannot be a better third party mediation than by a congress of religious leaders of this country. If they can, and there is every reason to believe that they can, then there is reasonable hope for an end to the hostilities in Sri Lanka. After all, the basic cause which has brought about the present situation, is misunderstanding.

The misunderstanding was created by opportunist politicians who thrive on it. Let us ponder for a moment, why the two major parties are not getting together to solve the major problem of the ongoing war. Primarily is it not because they are greedy for power?

Once the misunderstanding is removed and there is a climate of trust and understanding and a give and take policy, the solution would become quite simple. So much energy, so much time and money has been wasted and so many valuable lives lost.

Let us all wish and pray that the step that the religious leaders have taken will be consolidated and more of the clergy will join up with the religious leaders and less of them will take sides in party politics.

S. Thambyrajah
Colombo 3

There are no roads that lead to Sri Jayawardenapura

There are three approaches to the Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital. The main one is the Sri Lanka Japan Friendship Road skirting the Parliament, the second one through the Madiwela MP's Hostel and the third one is through the Madiwela-Embuldeniya junction and then through Thalapathpitiya Road.

The first one, namely Sri Lanka Japan Friendship Road, gets under water in certain stretches during times of heavy rain and the second one is now under construction for the road widening project rendering it to be inconvenient and hazardous for sometime more. The third one is the Thalapathpitiya Road approach.

To say the least, the Thalapathpitiya-Madiwela Road is in an appalling state. Nevertheless, those travelling from Nugegoda use this mainly as it is of shorter distance. This is also being used by the public bus as route number 259 due to its shorter distance and convenience. Unfortunately this road has a large number of ruts, craters, trenches, corrugations etc.

It can be safely stated that under certain circumstances there is no proper approach to Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital at present. There are a number of additions and improvements being planned for the hospital but the existing access road infrastructure thereto is far from satisfactory.

A disgusted regular road user,

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