10 October 2011

Local Government Elections and an unscripted post-mortem

Just desserts aside, transgression requires response from the Law
It was not a war worthy of making songs about.  There is nothing historic about it and it is certainly not anywhere close to the epic stand of the Sinhalese against the invader several centuries ago.    It was a home-and-home match.   At the end of this petty turf-war a prominent politician is dead along with several loyalists while the erstwhile other of the story is still in critical condition after having several bullets surgically removed from his head.

These are not the first politicians who have opted for gun-brandishing, bullet-spewing modes of being and operation and sadly and even disturbingly they are not likely to be the last for quite some time to come.  What is important to note is that the issue is not about who fired the first shot but that there were shots ready to be fired and fingers ready to pull triggers.  It makes it difficult for people talk about ‘the law’ or ‘law and order’. Indeed, it forces all of us to add a question mark after such terms. 
It’s not new, yes.  The ‘gun culture’ has a long history.   Indeed it is no small miracle that democracy, even in the reduced parameters within which it can be described, has survived despite the proliferation of guns among those who don’t have the license to carry them nor the heads to handle them. 
In the run up to the Colombo Municipal Council election, many parties and candidates vowed to keep the city clean.  The truth is that the city was getting cleaned even without a Council.  ‘Clean’ has other connotations and one of them has to do with eliminating criminality.  There is no point in beauty if the ugliness of mismanagement, corruption and criminality are not dealt with decisively. 
Few, if any, would have surplus sympathy to spare for victims of gang-warfare, which is how the incident is best described.  Those who take the law into their hands or deliberately leave the law out of it when it comes to dispute settlement or indeed prods the law to do their dirty work for them, are not deserving of the ordinary citizen’s tears.    The fact that the main protagonists happened to be seasoned politicians with experience at all levels of representation indicates how serious the problem is. 
The consolation, if it can be called that, is that the victims included the order-givers; usually it’s the henchmen who attack and kill each other, leaving bosses to have a good laugh and offer a camera-moment after the long day’s thuggery is done. 
Some blame turf-wars to the preferential voting system but that doesn’t explain everything.  The two persons concerned were not contesting. Their proxies were, however, and they were being used to see who had the great testosterone reserves.  It’s all spent now, though.  There’s little to show for the energy except a manifest absence of sympathy. 
For me, it emphasizes the fact that Colombo needs to be cleaned up, comprehensively.  The thugs come in all colours, shapes and sizes and are not averse to wearing whatever disguise suits the moment, even the garb of politician.  Colombo needs to be cleaned up and not necessarily in ways like this, where the worst elements clean each other up. 
Dayasiri Jayasekera made a point in Parliament the other day.  It was about gun-toting politicos and their henchmen roaming around Mulleriyawa.  He was unceremoniously evicted from the House.  He has every right to say ‘I told you so!’ 
Political parties survive assassinations, by and large.  Others step in.  Some actually benefit from the human losses suffered by parties as a result of such violence.  Jayasekera in the after-word made the easy but necessary point that only the near and dear suffer.  Whether or not these ‘near and dear’ have what it takes to spare a thought for the ‘near and dear’ of those attacked, maimed and killed by their newly departed or hurt ‘near and dear’ we really cannot say.  Institutions don’t have patience for that kind of thing. 
For me, only one thing matters.  The incident shows that the institutional arrangement is full of holes.  We cannot have a decent Colombo where key institutions that are responsible for law and order are porous.  The Urban Development Authority has done an amazing job, no one will dispute this, but the UDA cannot erase the kinds of blots that criminality leaves in its wake.  It cannot deal with guns and gun-toting thugs or politicians who think they have some kind of right to take the law into their hands.  Something has to be arrested and it is not just errant individuals. 
The one positive is that apart from this incident, election day was relatively peaceful and a far cry from those terrible and blood-drenched elections of the eighties and nineties (held during the stewardships of J.R.Jayewardena, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga).  The United National Party won one local government body, the CMC, and lost the rest.  Not altogether unexpected of course, but it would certainly give that party a much-needed boost.  The JVP has gone from bad to worse in terms of performance.  The ruling party made gains in Colombo but these gains have to be read in the context of the natural advantages of incumbency (nationally) and the tweaking of election laws by way of misusing state resources.  The winners will celebrate, the losers will find something to cheer about.
In Mulleriyawa, though, there’s very little to cheer about.  The lessons are there to be learnt and they are not being touched by those who so badly need to be educated.  Dayasiri Jayasekera had a point, in the middle of all this.  Few were ready to listen to him.  Pity. 


DDadman said...

The rule of law and the right to bear arms. It is right to implement that the Police force who engage in prevention of minor crimes and traffic violation do not bear arms. Offences that require armed intervention must remain only with the uniformed Police STF. All matters relating to the security and sovereignty of Sri Lanka to be strictly only in the remit of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Most importantly any person carrying arms in Sri Lanka must strictly be in the uniform of the STF, Army, Navy or Air Force. All existing MSD or PSD officers to immediately revert to uniform. Declaring a gun amnesty of one month for all other arms with non-uniformed officers of law or citizens to be returned. Introduce new law, a non-negotiable sentence of three years in rigorous imprisonment for any citizen of Sri Lanka who are caught bearing arms. Whether a member of cabinet or private security individuals. The recent senseless killing at the recent local government elections illustrates the need for this with immediate effect. The Executive Presidency and the relatively average area of our motherland will make this task easy to implement. We must have a working supreme court and a judiciary that is equally powerful as the Executive Presidency enabling any errant cabinet minister to be brought to justice. The flouting of law, and the thuggery and violence practiced by many ministers in the cabinet must stop.

Patta Pal said...

It is important that the media (the fourth estate take up the cause) as the first three estates have clearly failed in this regard.

In a country where the first three estates are not functioning, it is a failed state, to which only the President can be held responsible, due to his unsurpassed authority over his other two estates, namely the Legislative and the Judiciary.

I would therefore plead with the esteemed members of the Media take it upon themselves to agitate for the needed change, as otherwise this country really has no future for the next generations, what ever plans and projects and outside decorations that the present government indulges in to fool the public.

Anonymous said...

Not entirely unexpected i.e. The entire situation. New light being shed on old issues.