An unspeakable cut

Island Editorial (The newspaper’s yet another soft corner for MR)

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security has been reduced. He says as many as 42 police personnel including an ASP (Assistant Superintendent of Police) were removed suddenly on Wednesday night. That was something to be expected of the government, troubled by the Joint Opposition’s successful May Day rally.

Opposition politicians whose rallies attract large crowds always incur the wrath of their ruling counterparts. In the 1970s, the late J. R. Jayewardene came under goon attacks carried out by the SLFP. The Old Fox, while reciting nahi verena verani … (hatred never ceases by hatred …) paid his rivals back in their own coin after capturing power. The culture of political harassment and violence has since taken root firmly.

The Rajapaksas are no angels. They treated some of their political opponents in the most despicable manner. They reduced former war winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka’s security in the presidential fray in 2010 to a bare minimum. They sought to curtail Fonseka’s movements in that shameless manner because his rallies were well attended. They did not care two hoots about the fact that the war had just ended and Fonseka ran high security risks with LTTE combatants still around. One of the ministers who vociferously called for a drastic cut in Fonseka’s security at that time is currently in the yahapalana Cabinet! Maithripala Sirisena also suffered humiliation and harassment at the hands of the Rajapaksas after his defection from the SLFP to run for President. His security was slashed. He would also have been thrown behind bars had he lost the last presidential election.

The boot is now on the other foot and it is payback time, one may say. But, that does not mean the government is justified in downsizing former President Rajapaksa’s security contingent. It secured a popular mandate by promising to usher in good governance and pave the way for a new political culture. The success of the JO’s May Day rally is indicative of the government’s failure to make good on its promises. The yahapalana leaders should have provided economic relief to the public, got corruption under the previous regime proved thoroughly and the culprits prosecuted while taking action against the racketeers within its own ranks. If they had lived up to people’s expectations, they would have been able to reduce the JO to a mere name board politically without postponing elections and reducing its rivals’ security.

Most of all, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are now in a position to traverse all parts of the country, especially the former war zone, without fearing suicide bombers or snipers because terrorism has been defeated. That feat would not have been possible without the unwavering political leadership President Rajapaksa provided to the country’s war on terror. Therefore, he as well as all others who were instrumental in defeating terrorism must be protected.

True, there have been no terror strikes since the conclusion of the war in 2009, but the government must not be complacent. Many ex-LTTE combatants are around and there is no guarantee that all of them have given up their macabre cause. Several of them have been arrested and remanded for trying to harm TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran. Threats may also come from unexpected quarters. Paranoid delusions are to be avoided, but the government must not lower its guard or compromise the security of its opponents who were at the top of the LTTE hit list. The yahapalana leaders had better do so for its own sake. All it took to mark the beginning of the end of the mighty Premadasa regime was a single bullet, which felled Lalith Athulathmudali, who was addressing a political rally at Kirulapone in April 1993.

The best time to judge political leaders is not when they are ensconced in power, free from worries, but when they feel threatened and are faced with the prospect of losing power. The yahapalana leaders have laid bare their true faces once again and proved that they are ready to stoop to any level to retain their grip on power just like their predecessors.

Let the government be urged to restore Rajapaksa’s security forthwith while taking steps to ensure the safety of all wartime political and military leaders. The country owes it to them.

Cartoon from Island’s sister paper Divayna