Death Threat: Time to act

Image result for Dr. Jayampathy WickramaratneDaily News Editorial

The revelation by UNP National List Parliamentarian Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne that he was at the receiving end of death threats over the phone by a caller who demanded that he steers clear of the constitution making process should engage the serious attention of the authorities. Raising a privilege issue in parliament the MP said the threat covered his entire family and that he had lodged a complaint with the Welikada Police.

Death threats to members of parliament is nothing new in this country. During the second JVP uprising many members of the then UNP government was asked to resign their parliament seats on pain of death and some of them in fact were victims of JVP bullets, such as Merryl Kariyawasam, G.V.S. De Silva and Lionel Jayatillake. Local level people’s representatives resigned in their droves displaying banners announcing their decision while a host of them were ruthlessly gunned downed for opting to go against the tide. Many MPs of the Tamil parties too resigned under LTTE threat. In fact the length of the parliamentary tenure of most were decided by the Tigers.

This though was during unusual times when both ends of the ethnic divide was aflame. But today things are different, with peace and tranquility reigning and a government has been changed through democratic elections. It is certainly not the backdrop in which a politician should receive death threats. Dr. Wickramaratne is not alone in this respect. Some months ago no less a personage than Speaker Karu Jayasuriya complained of a death threat to him, similarly conveyed over the phone. The Speaker had reported the matter to the IGP and whatever happened to that investigation no one knows.

Dr. Wickramaratne, though, has stuck to his guns. As a former member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, which has a minority friendly ideology, he has vowed not to be cowed by the threat on his life and will continue to engage in the constitution making process which according to him is of utmost importance to the nation.

One need not be a rocket scientist to fathom from which quarter this threat emanated. The Joint Opposition is currently engaged in a most virulent campaign, replete with extremist nationalist rhetoric, against the proposed new constitution, despite the group being very much involved in the whole exercise as participants in the steering committees. It has evoked the bogey of separatism and division of the country, when the whole constitution making process is still in its embryonic stage. Various Buddhist monks, known for their hard line stand, are being paraded at media conferences, to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the public, the argument peddled being the unitary status will be retained only in name.

This, despite the assurance given by the Mahanayakas to JO firebrand Wimal Weerawansa, some time ago, that they had received a guarantee from both the President and the Prime Minister that the unitary status and the pride of place given to Buddhism will remain intact in the new constitution. It was only on Wednesday that President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated this assurance in parliament.

Speaking under the Defence Ministry expenditure Heads, in the committee stage debate of Budget 2017, the President enjoined the Opposition not to propagate misinformation about the new constitution to instigate the people and grab power. He asserted that no agreement has yet been ever reached on any issue in the constitution making process, adding that all points of view and opinions are being discussed at length and subject to amendments. He reiterated that a new constitution will be introduced only after considering all aspects that protect the national interest.

Giving credence to the President’s assurance is the fact that what we have today is a unity government comprising the UNP and the SLFP. There would have been cause for concern if it was only a UNP government, given the popular perception of it being always receptive to minorities and is only too willing to cede concessions – at least this is what has been planted in the minds of the majority by its opponents. But now, with the SLFP too very much a part and parcel of the government, plus the inputs of all stakeholders, including the Joint Opposition the JO’s attempt to mislead the public is bound to come a cropper.

Besides, any new constitution has to be passed by a two thirds majority in parliament, plus a referendum. Hence there can be no question of provisions being secretly smuggled into the document to upset the status quo as regards the unitary state or the preeminent place granted to Buddhism. Therefore it is clear that the JO is clearly opening yet another flank to attack the government and in the process its leading lights such as Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa are making incendiary speeches, to trigger yet another ethnic conflagration.

The country has gone through enough. The government should take stringent measures to prevent the nation plunging into yet another precipice, all because of the thirst for power of a few bankrupt politicians. The government has already declared it will come down hard against hate speech. It is time to act.