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The lights Are Going Out One By One

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 20 November 2011 11:36 No Comment]

Lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit up once again in our life time, Musings of Edward Grey, British statesmen, looking out of his London Foreign Office window at dusk on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War.

The lights have been going out with regularity in Sri Lanka too – not street lights but the lights of democracy – the right to life, freedom of expression and other basic human rights. Whether these lights of democracy would be restored soon or not will depend on the will and determination of the people.

The lights of democracy are being knocked out one by one by the Rajapaksa regime—the self proclaimed saviours of the nation who now unabashedly convey the impression that only the Rajapaksas know what is good for the nation.

The abolition of the executive presidency which was themain pledge of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his initial bid for presidential power has taken on a Frankenstein form where under the

18th Amendment he took over the appointments of all key officials of state in the: public service, police and armed services, Elections Commissioner’s Department, judicial appointments and is now threatening the autonomy even of universities. These powers in addition to the power of a two-third majority in parliament have made the Rajapaksa family invincible and its juggernaut is rolling over and flattening everything in its way. The most dramatic example of this is the Underperforming Enterprises and Unutilised Assets Bill rushed through to the Supreme Court as an urgebill and passed in one day of debate in parliament by the steam roller majority.

A continuous pall of gloom has been descending on this sunny island with the people not even making a whimper of protest or exhibiting any resistance till quite recently. The only glimmer of light appeared on Tuesday when the Colombo Additional Magistrate Prasanna Alwis ordered

the Criminal Investigations Department to arrest government parliamentarian Duminda Silva over the shooting incident at Mulleriyawa on October 8, in which another former government

parliamentarian Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and three others were killed while Duminda Silva sustained grievous injuries.

The Mulleriyawa shoot out was the high water mark in criminal activity in recent times in which star performers of the ruling party were involved. It did awaken the somnolent public. They became agitated because it appeared that the chief suspect (according to eye witnesses) Duminda Silva was being provided protection by the Rajapaksa regime. This suspect was in hospital with severe head injuries and police said he was unable to make a statement to them.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had spent long hours at his bedside. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence who is not qualified to make any judgement – least of all judicial judgements – was quoted in the media saying that Duminda Silva had not been  placed in remand custody because there was no evidence against him.  The CID team which had been investigating the crime had however made no such comment.

President Rajapaksa himself had visited the injured man in hospital the day before he was removed in grand style in a convoy of vehicles under police escort to the Katunayake Airport to be flown abroad for medical treatment.

Bharatha Lakshman’s family did not believe that justice would be done to the deceased by the Sri Lankan authorities and they even appealed to the Canadian Prime Minister for assistance. That illustrates the desperate plight of a Sri Lankan family seeking justice.

While, the order made by Colombo Additional Magistrate Prasanna Alwis is in keeping with expected standards of an independent judiciary it has to be pointed out that his order for the arrest of Duminda Silva will be subject to pressures of the juggernaut of the Rajapaksa

political, administrative and legal machinery. What would the police do following the magisterial order? Will they seek the assistance of Interpol in placing the suspect – still in bed – under Singaporean or Sri Lankan police custody? If he recovers what would be the

procedure? Whatever the procedure that may be required, depending on the turn of events, it has to be a judicial process where politicians should play no part.

We will refrain from commenting on this Mulleriyawa shoot out itself which is likely to come up before the courts soon but the association of government leaders with those of unsavoury reputations calls for comment. In democracies where the priority of a government is to protect

and nurture law and order, those at the helm of government give a wide berth to those tainted with criminal records or anti-social behaviour. This is not only for self-preservation and for the protection of the reputation of leaders in whom the people have reposed their trust but also the

good name of their political parties and governments.

These traditions of democratic governance have been thrown to the winds by the Rajapaksa government. The best known example is the tolerance and even promotion of Mervyn Silva whose disgraceful performances in public have been recorded on national TV, most likely

with the assistance of the miscreant himself. Whereas such scandalous performances such as assaulting a news director on National TV in the TV studio itself and the tying of a public service official to a tree exhibit his variety of kangaroo justice, such conduct should have

resulted in immediate sacking from the party and government of any such miscreant.  However, President Rajapaksa promoted him to the rank of a minister! Was there ever a greater inducement to make a mockery of law and order?

The argument adduced on behalf of Mervyn Silva by a government spokesman is that he is an elected representative of the people! Do these naïve and stupid defenders imply that any elected representative could commit any offence – even murder or rape and claim immunity? We need

not elaborate but we appear to have reached that stage in the Mulleriyawa incident.

Another defence made on behalf this uncouth behaviour is that our indigenous representatives, especially those from rustic regions, find standards of conduct of western parliamentarianism something alien to them. This is utter baloney because the standards of conduct of most

villagers are part and parcel of Buddhist ethics. If even killing of vermin is considered ‘un-Buddhist’, how would the shooting of political opponents with machine guns be justified or tying up of humans to trees be explained on the principles of ahimsa?

Quite apart from religion there are accepted societal principles that governed the lives of our ancestors in the not too distant past such as Lajja and Bhaya (shame and fear). All that has gone overboard and the system of law and order so essential to keep modern society intact

is crumbling. The lights of democracy are going out one by one and a dark curtain of fascism is falling on us.

This is only the second year of the six year term of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But all aspiring despots do think of going on till the sun and the moon lasts—‘Ira-Handa pavathina thuru’.

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