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FeaturesNewsCrime, drugs and politics operate in synergy in the post-armed conflict context of Sri Lanka

Crime, drugs and politics operate in synergy in the post-armed conflict context of Sri Lanka

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”To some extent this entwining of politics, crime and drugs was explained by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in following words: “Unfortunately, due to the environment of this area; where the underworld existed with a gun culture, it was not unknown that the politicians working there would have such connections. The politics they have to play in this area is such that they have no choice in it.


Sumanasiri Liyanage
While waiting at the airport lounge for a Delhi bound flight, I happened to overhear a conversation between two persons seated behind me. I gathered that they were from Negombo.

They were discussing of a recent raid on a local politician Nimal Lanza’s house without a warrant issued by the magistrate. Hence, one positive thing that came out through this event was that even the high-level politicians tend to accept a common ethico-legal norm that magistrate’s warrant is a requirement prior to the arrest of a person or search of a place.

Will that norm be applied by the police hereafter in case of the arrest of an ordinary person or search of her/his house? Sorry, I am deviating from my topic.

Why did the Police Special Task Force make an early-hour intrusion into Nimal Lanza’s house? One person surmised: “Nimal Lanza was very active in organising the slain politician Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra’s funeral arrangements.” “Minister [Dr] Mervyn Silva also visited Nimal Lanza’s house after search operation, said the other. I was confused. How could those things be put together? I closed the book I pretended reading not wanting to miss a word of their conversation. Two men lowered their voice when they asked themselves whether was split in the ruling party.

For me one thing is clear. Even if two or more rival camps exist within the ruling coalition, the basis of their differences is not political. Daylight killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra has brought to light the fact that crime, drugs and politics operate in synergy in the post-armed conflict context and it has become one of the key characteristics of Sri Lankan politics today. Crime and drugs usually go together. It is also a fact that politicians often get the service of criminals to silence their opponents.

What is novel is not the use by politicians of criminal elements but the engagement of criminal elements themselves in politics. Crime, drugs and politics are not, if I use Michael Mann’s analogy, like billiard balls, which follow their own trajectory, changing direction as they hit each other. They “entwine,” that is, their interactions change one another’s inner shapes as well as their outward trajectories.

Entwined is the term that explicates this novel phenomenon that politics are now entwined with crime and drugs so that its inner shape and outward trajectories have changed. The executive presidential system and the proportional representation system introduced in 1978 have brought about a nexus between politics and crime. In practice the inner shape of the constitutional set-up has also changed.

To some extent this entwining of politics, crime and drugs was explained by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in following words: “Unfortunately, due to the environment of this area; where the underworld existed with a gun culture, it was not unknown that the politicians working there would have such connections. The politics they have to play in this area is such that they have no choice in it.

If you looked at some of the representatives you can see this. But unfortunately they are the ones that can get the votes from these areas. That is the ground reality.”And the so-called ground reality is so stubborn that even the strict orders by the Secretary of Defense have failed produce adequate results.

Electioneering has become an enterprise that requires substantial amount of capital, financial as well as material, and labour with multiple capacities. Elections to Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies are basically, have the trappings of war among political parties and among politicians. Hence, except the Presidential election, all other elections, as they can be manipulated by the President in determining election dates and areas, have become individualised. It was not the party, but individuals who decide the content, mechanisms, and people used in the election.

One may assume that the prominence of individuals may provide a basis for more diffused and ambiguous system facilitating anti-authoritarian tendencies. The same logic is the argument behind the notion that capitalistic system is inherently democratic (the liberal myth). However, what has evolved in Sri Lanka during the last 30 years or so is that these tendencies towards individualisation contributed immensely to the institutionalisation of authoritarianism. Political parties, especially those are in opposition, have become almost extinct species.

Besides those authoritarian constitutional provisions enacted in 1978, the current situation emerges from contextual factors, the prolonged armed conflict being the most important one. Had the politicians in power been really interested in reversing the adverse developments in the war time in the post-armed conflict context, the situation today would have been much better. However, the favourable situation that arose after May 2009 was hardly used in steering the country in that direction. Instead the development effort has been defined as another war and the country was placed once again on a ‘war’ footing.

Militarism or militarisation can take two forms and both forms can make simultaneous appearance. First, during the 2006-09 period, military and the war effort was the decisive factor that determined power configurations. In continuing this trend, military, instead of gradual disengagement, began to enter new areas, from construction to selling vegetables and coconuts. Secondly, militarisation appeared basically outside the formal security forces but oftentimes had the backing of the security forces. While the first is visible and formal the second is disguised and subterranean.

As the Defence Secretary explained, there were allegations but no proof beyond reasonable doubt. No proof, partly because of no proper investigation. If there are allegations based on surmises, they have to be investigated as happened in Lanza’s case. Why there are no proper investigations? My argument is that crime and drugs have become an integral part of politics.

Does this mean that we are in unbreakable vicious circle? This pessimism has psychologically conditioned us. Talcott Parson talked of a distinction between distributive power and collective power. The latter in multiple forms operated in modern period in both ways, positive and negative or destructive.

The political issues of this nature have moral dimension and that has to be addressed through collective means. We need a social movement not oriented towards capturing power, but to rejuvenate collective social norms that were prevalent in the Sri Lankan society prior to the mid-1970s
TC

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