Polls, dysentery and loincloth
The Joint Opposition (JO) has taken the government to task for a right royal bath some of its MPs had near Parliament on Saturday. They were meeting a group of former local government members engaged in a protest march, demanding that the LG polls be held without further delay when the police trained their water cannon on them and liberally fired teargas.
There is nothing wrong with the JO MPs getting a shower free of charge once in away. When people asked for water they got bullets and tear gas from the Rajapaksa government at Ratupaswala in 2013. Today, those who demand elections receive water plus tear gas! However, the fact remains that water is much better than bullets and goon attacks.
The JO members had no qualms about justifying repressive measures the Rajapaksa regime used to crush Opposition protests led by the UNP while they were in power. Pro-SLFP goons, armed with clubs and bicycle chains, used to operate alongside the riot police openly to attack Opposition protests. The then Police Spokesman had the chutzpah to claim those goon carried ‘sticks’ to ward off stray dogs! The boot is now on the other foot.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has condemned the police action against the JO MPs and former LG members loyal to him. But, UNP MPs received far worse treatment at the hands of his backers on several occasions on his watch. The brutal crackdown on a UNP protest on Feb. 04, 2011 is a case in point. Many UNP activists and MPs including Dr. Harsha de Silva and his son had to run for cover when a group of SLFP thugs set upon their protest march in Punchi Borella. Vehicles of the UNP MPs were smashed up and the underworld figures responsible for the attack went scot free. Where were the JO MPs who make a song and dance about getting their kapati suit wet at present?
That either the JO or former President Rajapaksa has no moral right to condemn attacks on protests does not mean the repressive methods the present government resorts to in a bid to counter dissent are justifiable. Two wrongs do not make a right as we have learnt in school. The present-day leaders obtained a popular mandate last year to govern this country by promising to usher in good governance. Sadly, what we are made witness to is the antithesis thereof. Racketeers are openly protected and the IGP has unwittingly made it public that he is no better than his predecessors who were mere puppets on strings. His assurance to a politician over the phone at a recent public event that the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) wouldn’t arrest a certain person has betrayed the fact that the police have not yet been liberated from the clutches of political potentates.
The dog is said to be man’s best friend, but a canine afflicted with rabies becomes man’s worst enemy. The same goes for a government which develops what may be called polls-phobia, which causes it to be a threat to democracy. Anyone who postpones an election does a great disservice to democracy. Nobody will buy into the government’s claim that the LG polls cannot be held owing to delimitation issues. Most of the political parties including some constituents of the ruling coalition want the mini polls held under the old electoral systems without further delay.
It was announced last Thursday that the work of the Delimitation Review Committee had been completed. That does not mean the government is going to hold the LG polls shortly. It will do its damndest to postpone them indefinitely on some pretext or another as the public is resentful due to its unfulfilled election pledges, inefficiency, extravagance and arrogance of power as well as the ever increasing cost of living. Perhaps, it will cause objections to be raised again and appoint another committee to review the Delimitation Review Committee report!
The original delimitation report prepared by the Jayalath Committee was accepted by President Maithripala Sirisena, endorsed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and duly gazetted. Moreover, the President praised the Jayalath committee for a job well done. Then, suddenly, the government ordered a review of the report to postpone LG polls as it was not prepared to face them.
The government is making a fatal mistake if it thinks it can overcome political dissent and crush protests against the postponement of elections with the help of the police. It is left with no alternative but to hold the LG polls forthwith without provoking mass protests. Using the police to neutralise political dissent is tantamount to an attempt to control dysentery with a loincloth as a local saying goes. It ought to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor.