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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Three Editorials: Thugs and toys; A slap on the face of parliamentary democracy; The horror of the ‘Hambantota doctrine’

”If further evidence was required of the breakdown of the rule of law and the politicisation of the Police Department, it came live with television footage when five UNP parliamentarians—elected representatives of the sovereign people visited the Rajapaksa homebase of Hambantota for a first-hand official infection of the controversial Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port.”

Thugs and toys– The Island
The Constitution tells us that only the Executive President enjoys legal immunity in this country. But, in reality, all ruling party politicians are above the law. The police act against them only when they become too embarrassing to their political masters and threaten the interests of the government in power. The powers that be defend them to the hilt when they get into hot water by unleashing violence while doing ‘political work’ for the party.
On Thursday, we saw a group of local level UPFA politicians and their thugs in action in Hambantota, surrounding and attacking as they did some UNP MPs following the latter’s visit to the Hambantota Port. That incident could not have come at a worse time for the government, which is troubled by a damning UNHRC resolution in Geneva and international pressure being brought to bear on it to conduct a probe into allegations of human rights violations. The UNP has already threatened to internationalize the incident unless the perpetrators are brought to book. The main Opposition party cannot be blamed for such action, given the culture of impunity which has stood the UPFA politicians and their private armies in good stead. On the other hand, the SLFP, too, has a history of rushing to the UNHRC over attacks of that nature, hasn’t it?
Hambantota Mayor, Eraj Fernando, who was seen with a pistol at the scene on Thursday, has had the audacity to claim that the gun he brandished in full view of the public, the media and the police was only a toy. The problem with the ‘toy pistols’ in the hands of government politicians is that they kill. Fortunately, on that day, there was no need for the government thugs to fire their ‘toy pistols’ as there was no resistance whatsoever; the UNP MPs under attack had the wisdom to flee without risking their lives.
Simply because the gullible electors fall for their wiles and blindly vote for them UPFA politicians seem to think that the masses are real asses or, to borrow a term from one of our columnists, ‘voter buffaloes’. This is the first time we have seen a grown-up ruling party politician with a ‘toy pistol’ running behind a bus carrying a group of Opposition MPs pursued by a group of thugs. Either he is a liar or the people of Hambantota have elected a fool as their Mayor? People deserve to be judged by the representatives they elect.
What really matters is not whether the weapon in the Mayor’s hand was a toy or not but what he did with it. He was obviously part of a mob that carried out Thursday’s unprovoked attack in spite of his claim that he was there to protect the beleaguered MPs. A person who commits a crime, say a bank heist, with the help of a toy gun cannot get away with his offence by claiming that the weapon he used is not real, can he? Hereafter all armed robbers caught by CCTV cameras in action may trot out the same lame excuse in extenuation of their crimes.
Those at the levers of power and at the helm of the police must be descendants of the bovine King Kekille, who, according to legend, always punished the wrong party in a dispute and let the culprits off the hook. Instead of having the stone throwing goons and the Hambantota Mayor and the police personnel who never so much as lifted a finger to help the UNP MPs under attack dealt with severely, they have reportedly ordered that the alleged lapses on the part of the victims’ security personnel be probed. We believe the guards, if any, of the UNP MPs acted wisely and sensibly without offering resistance and removing the victims to safety.
The least the government could do to prove that the rule of law is not as dead is to ensure that the attackers are brought to justice immediately.
A slap on the face of parliamentary democracy – CeylonToday
A group of United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarians, who were on a fact-finding mission to the Hambantota Harbour and the Mattala International Airport, were on Thursday attacked allegedly by ruling party acolytes in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pocket borough itself.
The MPs were purportedly on a fact-finding mission on allegations of bribery, corruption and financial malpractice related to the construction of the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport and Hambantota Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, two major infrastructure projects, both named after the incumbent President.
The UNP MPs were first targeted at the Mattala International Airport by the mobs led by the local politicos of the ruling party.
The Parliamentarians were attacked for a second time when they visited the Hambantota Port, where the Mayor of the Municipal Council, Eraj Fernando, was photographed, wielding a pistol and chasing the Parliamentarians who had been fleeing the scene in their luxury bus, which was also damaged in the hullabaloo.
 Going by the photo evidence of the scene, it is obvious that the local members of the ruling party led by Hambantota Mayor Eraj Fernando had been behind the orchestrated attack on the country’s main political opposition. Predictable enough, Fernando had denied any involvement in the attack, claiming that he had been sent there by Presidential scion Namal Rajapaksa to diffuse the situation. Rajapaksa junior has denied that he instructed Fernando to go there. The government has not officially commented on the allegations levelled against its members. Nonetheless, the government has a responsibility to come clean on this particular matter for the special affinity the de-facto ruling family has with the terrain. When the country’s main opposition is attacked in the pocket borough of the President, it is hard to deflect allegations of culpability being levelled against the President.
Thursday’s incident is proof of the erosion of the remnant of democratic values of the country. That the Parliament representatives of the main opposition were the target of the latest attack indicates that the acolytes of the regime are willing to go an extra mile to crush dissent in order to establish the political hegemony of the ruling party. The UNP as a political party has been timid and manifestly incompetent in political mobilization, which makes it a lesser challenge to the Rajapaksa juggernaut. Nonetheless, the attack on Thursday was indicative that the regime is not prepared to tolerate even the token political activism by the main Opposition, at least within the home turf of the President. The attack is also a slap on the face of parliamentary democracy and the scrutiny by Parliament.
The President and the government have a responsibility to restore those basic democratic credentials that have been eroded, sadly under the incumbent regime. The government should rein in goons, no matter that some of whom are elected members of local municipalities.
The President has both moral and constitutional obligations to make sure that the political opposition is free to engage in democratic political activism. Political rights are not an exclusive prerogative of the ruling party. The very Constitution that the President has sworn to uphold, also ensures the democratic political rights of the rest of the citizenry and other democratic political groups. That is an inalienable constitutional right of the citizens of this country. The government cannot and should not take away that right.
The horror of the ‘Hambantota doctrine’  – Daily Mirror
If further evidence was required of the breakdown of the rule of law and the politicisation of the Police Department, it came live with television footage when five UNP parliamentarians—elected representatives of the sovereign people visited the Rajapaksa homebase of Hambantota for a first-hand official infection of the controversial Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port.
 Opposition leaders and most independent analysts are describing it as the ‘Hambantota doctrine’ more than 40 years after the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike imposed the notorious Attanagalla doctrine when she defended an attack by political thugs on UNP members who visited her homebase. According to independent media reports, the five MPs were first harassed and intimidated when they were coming out of the MRIA. President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the UNP and other opposition parties are unfairly attacking major development projects such as the MRIA and the international port in Hambantota but the UNP MPs who visited the area and Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya told a news conference yesterday they had not, as the President charged, said the MRIA should be turned into a museum because few flights were coming there and that the international port should be turned into a swimming pool. The UNP members said they had raised questions about the corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the multi-billion-rupee projects and went there to get facts and figures to be presented to Parliament.
Media reports and live television pictures showed Hambantota Mayor Eraj Fernando carrying a pistol while a large crowd manhandled and geared the MPs, throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes at them till they were forced to flee. The Mayor claims he was carrying only a toy pistol and his aim was to prevent the crowd from attacking the MPs. But the UNP says the mayor’s claim is a point-blank lie and the people are not donkeys to believe such crude propaganda. His Worship the Mayor claimed he was acting on the direction of the President’s powerful son and Hambantota district parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa. But the young Mr. Rajapaksa has added confusion and contradiction to the mysterious and disgraceful incident by saying he gave no such direction to the ‘Lord Mayor’.  Our sister newspaper the Sunday Times reported yesterday that the President had telephoned the Mayor and reprimanded him for what had happened because, as most independent analysts say, the ‘Hambantota doctrine’ episode has tarnished Sri Lanka’s image internationally at a time when the United Nations Human Rights Council and most western countries in the international community are gunning for Sri Lanka though not with the ‘Lord Mayor’s’ toy pistol.
 If MPs who have a wide range of powers and privileges are treated like common criminals and are chased out while they were on a fact-finding mission, what then is the plight of ordinary people. If they are attacked or some injustice is done to them, there is little purpose in going to a Police station as the Police Department has been politicised after the abolition of the 17th Amendment and the Independent police Commission. With serious damage being caused to another bastion of democracy—the independent judiciary– most people see little purpose in going to courts.
If we wish to see a contrast, we only need to turn to our giant neighbour India where more than 820 million people are eligible to vote in the ongoing general elections to the world’s biggest democracy. Whatever its geopolitical stratergies or double standards towards Sri Lanka, India’s democratic institutions are functioning effectively. For Instance during the current elections the independent Elections Commissioner has sweeping powers even over the security forces and can cancel the polling in any electorate where he finds evidence of the abuse of state privileges by the ruling party– as we see so often in Sri Lanka. India’s Supreme Court and other courts are also vibrantly independent while the people have access to any big deals or contracts by way of the Freedom of Information Act. While insisting that India should be fair towards its small neighbours, Sri Lanka needs to take some lessons from India’s vibrant democracy.


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