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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Greasing The Lifting Of “Emergency Rule” To Live The Same

President’s media said that the President walked by himself (in Independence Square on Sunday) with the people and met those who were in the area at leisure in a friendly atmosphere.
Two days later, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, told a meeting of Muslim religious leaders at his ministry, that the government does not need “grease devils” to extend emergency, and emergency will not be lifted because India, US or England want it lifted. “The President knows what’s best for the country and only he will decide on emergency, with the support of the parliament,” he has added.

And on Thursday (25), President Rajapaksa told parliament, “I am satisfied with the fact that there is no need of an emergency law for the administrative activities of the country now. The country can function democratically under ordinary law”.

Thus came the end of a 40 year saga of living under emergency rule in post independent Sri Lanka. Ever since the JVP insurrection in 1971 April, when Madam Bandaranaike as PM, imposed Emergency Regulations, after her late husband SWRD used the same in 1958 to face communal riots against the Tamils, Sri Lanka has been under emergency rule except in very short patches as in 1977, 1995 for three months and a few breathers in between, now and then, hardly ever felt in society. Basically, it was a long period of four decades.

Thus none could be unwise to oppose the lifting of emergency regulations and Ranil W as the parliamentary Opposition leader, welcomed it. There certainly was no other option in it for him. The JVP as cussed as they are, called it a people’s victory, while they were always against lifting of the emergency even after the war (until their MP Herath was arrested under emergency law in Galle, last year in August).

Why the Rajapaksa regime agreed, consented or was otherwise pressured to lift emergency rule with effect from the end of this August, two weeks before the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in September, is another discussion that cannot be avoided and would emerge for sure. While that is so, this 40 year emergency rule now needs a critical look to see what after effects it would leave, being there for so long.

The immediate demand to begin with, that could and now should be made, is the withdrawal of all security for all MPs in parliament and the Provincial Council members. If the President himself could walk freely among the people, as the presidential media says, and as President tells the parliament, there is now no necessity to live under emergency rule, the necessity to provide armed security to MPs and PC members should get negated without any argument. Now if the MPs say they need security, then it has to be to save themselves from their own voters.
 The other more important issue is how this society would perceive life without emergency law. Everyone within a “conscious age” of 40 years, knows no life other than life under emergency law. The collective conscience of this society therefore has been metamorphosed to live with emergency rule, as its daily life. “Emergency” thus was “no” emergency any more. It became “normal” as normal could be and was “the” way of life, in Sri Lanka.

So was it for the police department. By now there cannot be any person who was recruited before April 1971. In fact, all with 35 years of service and less in the police department, were those recruited after 1976. They, therefore, have been recruited, trained, worked and gained experience only under emergency laws and not under normal civil law. This police force thus will not know what policing of the society is, under normal law and it is certainly not their fault either. The worst is, their training and work experience that has created a mindset which knows only “emergency” is heavily politicised too. Thus 40 years under emergency with politics creeping to every state organisation, had taken away the independence out of a service that has to be the most impartial and independent, in policing society.

Lifting of emergency cannot bring about an independent police department that would work outside the “emergency mindset”, overnight. That transformation needs a strong political will in the government and a tireless educational effort, with strict investigations and steps to curb all excesses. This most important aspect in now normalising society, is one thing missing. In fact that is one thing that works in the opposite direction, from all one could read from this government’s track record.

With such state of affairs, lifting of emergency regulations by the government had many preparatory efforts and the “grease” devil played a significant role in that. Though the reaction turned rhetorically anti government, it created social space for enough chaos in the law and order situation, for the Rajapaksa rule to establish a necessity to have the military out on the streets. It gave the Defence Secretary the right to say, where the police is unable to restrain violence, he would deploy the STF. And of course the army too, as was done in the Eastern Province and Puttalam.

This has also allowed the defence authorities to talk in terms of “terrorists” provoking destabilising of North and East. The Northern Commander Major General Hathurusinghe went on record at a media briefing in Jaffna on August 23, saying he is certain the “terrorists” are responsible for the attack on the Navanthurai army camp. So did the Secretary to the defence ministry, who said, “those involved in terrorist activities might have been in the crowd” and stressed that if they got an opportunity to enter the camp, they “would have acquired weapons”, referring to the Kinniya protests against the navy camp. The total picture painted was that bleak, it prompts one to ask the defence bosses, “is the war actually over ?”

But still, it does give this Rajapaksa regime an excuse to deploy the military, even without emergency. In legal and constitutional terms, once the emergency is allowed to lapse, the military and other security forces have to be sent back to barracks. The police would have to remain the only law enforcement agency to take care of law and order, in every part of the country. All arrests and detentions that were made under emergency regulations, would now have to come to naught, unless they are instead re-detained under the PTA. The government would thus keep using the PTA for all and more, done under emergency law till now.

What it means in plain language is that, with a police department that has to learn anew to work under normal civil law and in a society that would not know what life is, without emergency rule, a political regime like this Rajapaksa regime will continue unchanged, using the PTA to good use and if necessary, violating the Constitution as well, which is not new to President Rajapaksa. It is said and it had been raised in many public forums that many hundreds of Tamil youth to countless, are being kept in detention for many years under the PTA, without any charges brought against them.

This again to speak little, in a country whose judiciary is left to be questioned on its integrity and independence, with Sarath N. Silva accused of politicising and influencing it on awkwardly silly, personal interests, during his tenure as Chief Justice.

The saddest part to all this, is that this country still has no clue, whether Opposition politics would provide an alternative. It was only last Thursday, speaking on the lifting of emergency that Wickremesinghe called for the government to work with the parliamentary Opposition led by him, to face external interference. What he indirectly says is that, he is willing to play the “External Affairs” minister’s role, in answering war crimes accusations against this government. A role that the present minister continuously proves, he is off target and the Leader of the Opposition proves, he is no Opposition.Sri Lanka would thus fall short of qualifying for a decent civil life under normal law, with no qualitative shift possible, even after emergency is lifted and the PTA in force. Not unless the people start demanding the right to live a qualitatively normalised life as citizens, under normal civil law, though with a judiciary that is yet to prove its above political fingering and well within its own independence. Definitely a dichotomy with this Rajapaksa regime, that can not afford to loosen its grip on society, with or without emergency.


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