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Thank You Sir, May We Have Another?

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Monday, 29 August 2011 15:38 No Comment]

The government has not renewed Emergency Regulations, which is right and good. The draconian Prevention Of Terrorism Act, however, preserves much of the same powers, including search without warrants and detention without charge.

Since the government so boldly defeated terrorism years ago, it is only fitting that the PTA, too, be repealed.

Emergency Regulations gave the President special powers to call out the armed forces, order curfews and gave the central government power to detain people without charge. It seems that he still has the former powers and the latter is a right given to the Minister of Defence under the PTA. That Minister can detain people for three months at a time without charge, up to a maximum of eighteen months. Who is that Minister? Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his brother is the Secretary.

In effect, the government has given up a dead letter and kept the word. The draconian parts of Emergency Law long ago became the law of the land. The police of Sri Lanka can still arrest a person “without a warrant and with or without assistance and notwithstanding anything in any other law to the contrary.” On the day the regulations ended, there were police and military surrounding the Elections Commission in Rajagiriya.

More to the point, the North of Sri Lanka is still largely run by the military. The entire country is still run by a family. Yes, our twenty eight year Emergency may be over, but over that, the extended trauma has left marks on our national soul.

The true sign of ‘emergency’ being over is when the police cannot take people of the street for no reason and detain them for months on end. Lifting of the official emergency does nothing to change this common practice.

Yet, at this time, it is important to remember that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has at least lifted the official emergency, something no other government was able to do for very long. Under great pressure, yes, but he has done it in his own time.

It is also important to note that Emergency was never voted down. It was simply not renewed by the centre. This shows that the current domineering power structure remains, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the dictator of the Opposition is largely to blame for Emergency continuing for so long, and for the PTA continuing unopposed. Ranil should step down because he has lost election after election and been too cowardly to even run in the last Presidential. He should be deeply ashamed, however, for abstaining from so many votes on Emergency. By bleeding and weakening the Opposition through his greed for personal power, he has distracted them from the actual task of opposing the government and defending the people. Thus Emergency is lifted not because the people and Parliament demanded it but because the President chose to not call a vote. We must thus also wait for his discretion to decide when terrorism is truly defeated enough to repeal the Prevention Of Terrorism Act. While the responsibility is ultimately Mahinda’s, Ranil stands in between the Opposition and change. Thus, he stands between the people and change, and he stands in the way of history.  It is also important to note that the UNP itself is responsible for not overthrowing their dictator, and that the people of Sri Lanka should also have the courage to demand their rights. For all the government crows about defeating terrorism, there are still laws on the books that act as if terrorism were an immediate emergency. This is an obvious contradiction, but one which the people of Sri Lanka have yet to point out.

While people have an unconscious frustration, this only comes out in mob violence as in the grease yakka scare. For too long this is the only feedback the government has been responsive to. As per the Angulana murder case, the system was only responsive after villagers came close to rioting.

The broader problem underlying these outbursts is that people do not trust the police, they do not trust the justice system and they do not believe in rule of law. Since Mahinda has only consolidated power and neutered the overseeing Constitutional Councils there is no other option for people to demand their rights. Since the Opposition has ceded any intellectual leadership under Ranil, there is no one to articulate this real problem and demand a real solution.

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