| by Milinda Rajasekera
(October 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The media are now full of comments and analyses of the local government elections outcome. The angles and standpoints from which different persons look at these elections widely vary. For example, when UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake sees UNP victory in Colombo as the beginning the UPFA’s end, Prof. Nalin Silva says it is an awful defeat for the UNP which marks its further descent down the political precipice. These comments obviously spring from their prejudices and preferences and cannot be considered objective and impartial comments.
However, the consensus among the uncommitted and unaffiliated seems to be that Mahinda Rajapaksa Government’s polls victory at all the three phases of the local government elections is the result of voters expressing their gratitude to the government that still linger in their hearts for ridding the country of the terrorist menace thus curing their minds of the fear psychosis and paving the way for them to get on with their normal activities. While diehard party supporters remained solidly behind the party as usual, the additional support came from converts from other parties among whom were those disillusioned by the intra-party conflicts of their parties. The numerous criticisms of the policies and actions of the present administration that opposition parties as well as independent political commentators highlighted have had no effect on these voters.
The government victory could have been much more creditable and honourable had the government been more honest and faithful to its repeated expression of commitment to ensuring free and fair elections. Incidence of violence, misuse of state property and abuse of power, though remained at a low level in the third phase of LG elections, there, nevertheless, were numerous reports about election law violations. The muscle and money power played its usual role. The state media, both print and electronic, were blatantly used for government party propaganda and disparagement of the opposition parties and politicians. Some state officials openly campaigned for the ruling party. Various sections of people were summoned to Temple Trees and entertained not out of charity but out of greed for votes. These transgressions sullied the government victory.
The use of posters, cutouts and banners fortunately remained at a reduced level this time thanks to the stricter enforcement of election laws by the elections department and the police. But disgust assailed the nation when violence which also had been kept under control broke out in the form of the Mulleriyawa tragedy. This tragic shootout occurring between two main government party politicians and their supporters is an extremely serious matter that demands the urgent attention of all concerned about the country’s future. This event raises a number of issues ranging from law and order to deteriorating moral standards of people.
Both politicians involved in the incident held important positions regarding law and order in the country. MP Duminda Silva was a Defence Ministry monitoring parliamentarian while former MP Baratha Lakshman Premachandra was an adviser to the President on trade union matters. So it was unfortunate that they were involved in this tragic event when they were expected to set an example to others in conducting their election campaigns in a democratic and peaceful manner.
There has been personal rivalry between the two groups led by these two politicians. Duminda Silva was a UNP politician before he defected to the SLFP in 2007. What raises public concern is that both political parties had ignored the variety of charges made against him and considered him suitable for public office. Voters also accepted him as a good politician and elected him to high office with huge majorities.
This sequence of events inevitably places responsibility on the political parties concerned and the voters for ignoring high qualities of leadership in selecting candidates and representatives. What is unfathomable is whether the voters are ignorant about the misdeeds of politicians or are ignoring them in return for the benefits and promise of rewards held out to them. This is a question that needs investigation. What is obvious, however, is the damage that this type of conduct caused to the maintenance of social discipline and to the cherished principles of democracy.
In any event, it is a matter for satisfaction that the present tragic event has served to galvanise some responsible sections into activity. Media reports state that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has decided to use army personnel to keep tab on increased criminal activities of unruly persons backed by politicians. He has said, “Personal feuds have led to political rivalries, which in turn end up jeopardising law and order. The tragic events at Mulleriyawa have underlined the need to get tough with certain VIPs. They will be given new guidelines on the number of security personnel and vehicles that will comprise their security detail and the number of weapons to be carried.”
The Defence Secretary has further said, “Since independence criminals had made it a habit to back politicians belonging to the party in office and this had happened even at the time the United National Party (UNP) was in office. Gullible politicians fell for them. We have busted the Maligawatte underworld which was there for decades and we will do the same with Kolonnawa as well.”
Defence Secretary Rajapaksa will undoubtedly earn the gratitude of the whole country if he succeeds in this endeavour. It is the duty of all political parties and concerned sections to lend him the maximum support to achieve this objective of ridding politics of the curse of criminal elements.