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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

When The Elected Government Is Not What Rules The Citizen

Kusal Perera
It  is  a  shock that the incident that took place last Saturday happened under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. We have to enforce the law against the ‘barbarians’ who assassinated former parliamentarian and Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and social justice needs to be put in place as a tribute to him.” –  General Secretary of the SLFP and Minister Maithripala Sirisena, in his funeral oration

Leslie Devendra, the veteran SLFP trade unionist and a close colleague of slain Bharatha Lakshman was quoted in the media as saying, “Unfortunate incidents like these are due to freedom granted to persons involved in carrying out heinous crimes. The Trade union sector needs to stand against these crimes.”

 “Bharatha’s demise is an irreplaceable loss to the trade union movement, Presidential Secretariat and the country as a whole,” the President said in his message which was read out at the late Premachandra’s funeral.

Of all statements, made on Bharatha Lakshman’s killing, its that of President Rajapaksa which seemed queer. Two things came out large and loud, when the President’s message was read out at the funeral ceremony. First, it’s that President Rajapaksa did not only cite a special reason for not attending the funeral ceremony in Kolonnawa (his tributes showered on Bharatha Lakshman thus went as casual and routine) but it was evident from the President’s message that he was avoiding any commitment to an independent inquiry to the “murder” that now is quadruple, and the repeated use of the term “demise” in the message, which for all purposes, makes Bharatha Lakshman’s murder, look a normal “death”.

 But the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, as the whole world now knows, was the brutal result of a broad daylight shooting that directly involved Colombo district MP Duminda Silva, the Supervisory MP for the Defence Ministry. It was therefore necessary that the Head of State, the elected and incumbent President not only condole the death of a former parliamentarian and a functioning Presidential Adviser, but also publicly promise to use all vested powers in him to bring the responsible person(s) to justice.

That presidential vagueness perhaps was reason why Minister Sirisena as General Secretary to the SLFP, said in his funeral oration, that this murder is all about the “political culture” that is allowed to breed with the Rajapaksa regime. This statement in other words, is about the Rajapaksa regime cultivating the power of goons within  State power. Minister Rajitha Senaratne had said it in different words. He was reported as saying, this incident is all about indiscipline that ruins governance. That “political culture” Minister Sirisena spoke about and that “indiscipline” Minister Senaratne highlighted, was what the UPFA General Secretary and Minister Prem Jayanth noted as his inability to condemn many things in public right now. It thus turns out as a serious issue, if Ministers themselves don’t feel secure to speak the truth in public. At least when it’s a political gun fight between two political figures in the same regime, leaving behind quadruple deaths.

Sri Lanka, with one Rajapaksa elected as President and ruled by another Rajapaksa, is being brought under a family regime that has hijacked the elected UPFA government and can not afford to allow such democracy, for many reasons. Democracy in any society is anathema to a regime that knows only plunder and looting of the national economy and wealth. That plunder and looting is being covered up by the Sinhala psyche, whipped up against Tamil Tiger separatism and “terrorism”. That in turn allows for the militarising of the society in the name of a vague and undefined “stability” that none understands and with the latest addition to it, the beautified “urban development”.

 All such looting and plunder with arrogant rule, cannot be carried through with a civil administration in any democratic society. The Rajapaksas knew they therefore had to urgently change the constitutional structure while the Sinhala psyche held sway. A move which explains why the South was taken on a “patriotically” dressed fantasy trip in repealing the 17th Amendment that had to be straightened and strengthened, to give them the 18th Amendment instead. With this single constitutional stroke, the Rajapaksas not only left the Sri Lankan citizen as an alien in its own elected, adulterated governing “democracy”, they also effectively removed the elected form of governance to be left strictly under their dictates. What the Rajapaksas did not expect though, was frustration and resentment breeding fast into a vengeful mood amongst those in the UPFA, who were elected to govern, but was left out of governing.

 An outsider to politics and one placed as an arrogant, inexperienced administrator to run the now acquired fiefdom for the Rajapaksas, eventually turned benefactor of this change. With his authority over the defence establishment that he thinks could be continued with “war credits”, Gotabhaya as Defence Secretary, was well placed in overall authority. Its now open talk of massive land deals, mostly construction and military business that make the rounds in Colombo, virtually leaving Basil on the wayside.

 The whole Colombo “beautification” programme was thus Gotabhaya’s property. It was energetically proposed by Gotabhaya and equally eagerly bought over by the Sinhala urban middle class. It was “beautification” and, therefore, had no “human development” component in it. It was all about mega land sales through violating rules and regulations, high rise constructions without environment impact assessments and relocating the lower social strata of the city and its environs. People in it were strictly foreign investors with little known local collaboration and “tourists” if they come and not the citizens. It was also about leaving the private sector professionals out of assignments for total military implementation.

 All such plundering, kleptocratic regimes, what ever their founding social appeal was, have been challenged by suppressed and deprived people and often by those in mega cities. As in Cairo, Tunisia and Sana’a, even the suburbs thereafter kept rolling into the main city, once the urbanites broke ties with the regime. In Libya, Gadaffi could hold his regime all through the rebellion in Benghazi and Misrata, but fled when Tripoli the capital came under rebel onslaught.

 At the end of the day, political power is an urban, city phenomenon. It was so, even in 1953, when the LSSP spearheaded the “Hartal” that was strictly an urban protest. Its the intensity of the urban revolt that sent the then UNP government of Dudley Senanayake packing and to hold its cabinet meeting in the British warship, “HMS Newfoundland” docked in the Colombo harbour.  If the city of Colombo isn’t safe, the Rajapaksas aren’t. This is where MP Duminda Silva comes in as the closest buddy of this self styled, self appointed “city developer”, the defence secretary.

Though in civilian garb, Gotabhaya, an ex-military officer trained to think in terms of suppression and war, will only be planning programmes with the military and not for the people. His Colombo beautification was just that. Those who could end up being the agitators in the city and those whose relocation could provide prime land for mega deals, thus became targets. City beautification is not “development” and, therefore, is not possible with poor people and beggars around. Clearing them arouses protests and agitations.

In any case, this Rajapaksa regime is no more “people based” and the possibility of more “May 24” worker  protests and agitations cannot be ruled out. In fact this Rajapaksa economy invites more of such worker agitations, in the future. Where the State cannot continue to eliminate opposition to its rule with all the laws and regulations it could create, the Rajapaksas need the likes of Duminda Silvas with the underworld to take care of urban protests. Duminda was the pro government campaigner many a time with his hired men carrying sticks and poles, in Town Hall and around Lipton Circus.

 It wasn’t just for fun that Duminda Silva was given access to the defence establishment and the police department, making him the Supervisory MP of the Defence Ministry. It isn’t just arrogance and muscle power that allowed him to move about with a large convoy of armed men as his security. He was a powerful and an intimidating figure within the few trusted lieutenants of Gotabhaya’s undisclosed city goon squad. That co-habitation was talked of as support to Duminda Silva in topping the Colombo list at the 2010 April hustings. This time, Kolonnawa had seen much of Defence Secretary touring with Duminda’s group for the Kolonnawa MC elections.

With media reporting that Gotabhaya rushed to the Jayawardenepura hospital where Duminda and his injured men were taken to, speculation and controversy is high about Duminda Silva’s critical situation and his wholly insulated stay at the hospital. Four murders committed and to date, Duminda’s official bodyguard and five others, all said to be of very questionable track records, have been arrested with a huge catch of firearms. Yet with statements made by Bharatha Lakshman’s driver that Duminda was personally involved, he is immune to arrest. Will he be sent abroad on the pretext of providing advance treatment to avoid arrest is also talk, making rounds in Colombo middle class circles, which shows there is little trust left in this regime that is in the decline, loosing its popularity.

 There is also questions raised within the SLFP Colombo circles, as to why Basil Rajapaksa was brought in from Gampaha to oversee and co-ordinate Kolonnawa electorate. Rajapaksas don’t learn lessons and they continue to restrict power within the family, was one explanation available for that question. That also now says, their authority is being resented within the higher ranks of the SLFP leadership.

As with most political personalities in Sri Lanka, its the dead who haunt, not the living who lead. Unexpected alright, Bharatha Lakshman would thus haunt this Rajapaksa regime for some time to come and create frictions and factions, never thought of as possible, before. Its no rule, the caravans move, while the dogs bark.



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