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Monday, April 22, 2024

Of guns and ballots – Violence in Sri Lankan politics

A fatal firefight between rival factions of Sri Lanka’s ruling party in a Colombo suburb, has trained the spotlight on the island’s gun culture in politics.Police said four people were killed in the gun battle in Kolonowa.

Police detained one suspect and seized several fire arms, including two automatic assault rifles.

Now, concerned citizens have petitioned the government to take action, noting that the gun culture is a hangover from Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Kusal Perera, political correspondent and columnist, the Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka

PERERA: Over the years, elected MPs to the parliament, provincial councillors were provided official security, in the face of the sudden insurgency from 1987 to 1990 and also because of the protracted war, which had its own life threats on elected politicians.

As you know, in Sri Lanka, so many were eliminated by suicide bombers. So therefore, there evolved a culture of armed security being taken all over by these elected MPs, the provincial councillors, leading top officials who were very much part of the regime. And that provided an opportunity for most politicians, who got involved in business dealings, wheeler dealings, to carry with them, an unknown number of army deserters and underworld thugs, as their personal security. So this was something that was not checked before. They were just taken for granted by the regime, as well as the society. The society also just gave into that culture.

LAM: And I understand that now, a group of concerned citizens have written a petition, calling for these armed security details to be dismantled?

PERERA: Yes, I’m one of the initiators of that public appeal, because we believe that the context in which armed security was provided for politicians, for elected members of parliament, for provincial councillors and also for top bureaucrats, is no longer there. There is no rationale, no logic anymore to contine with this armed security for elected politicians. During the last thirty years or so, allowing these politicians to go about with armed security has created an unnecessary, unwanted, undemocratic culture. And we have to get back to the free political climate that was there, pre-83, and the best way for this society to get demilitarised and disarmed, is to first remove this armed security provided for the elected members, since now, the factors that made it necessary for the security is no more.

LAM: And now that peace has prevailed and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and no more a threat, why do you think this kind of gun culture still persists in Sri Lanka?

PERERA: Alot of these politicians, more from the ruling government, to use these armed security, their own escorts, to distance themselves from the citizens, from the voter, and also to use these security people during election campaigns. So it became not only an escort for their own life safety, but a tool in manipulating elections and manipulating voter sentiments and to distance themselves from the voters and get their own wheeler-dealing done.

LAM: As part of the petition, you’ve also called for members of parliament with a criminal past, to be thrown out of the House. Are there many of those, in the Sri Lankan parliament?

PERERA: Not very many. There are one or two, but there’s a trend, where this regime, now in power, keeps promoting from the local government election levels, from the provincial council levels, into the parliament. There’s a trend where this type of local hooligans, local thugs are being promoted. So if you don’t stop that right now, in time to come, we would have more hooligans in parliament than respected legislators.
ABC radio


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