Presidential umbrage

President Chandrika Kumaratunga calling upon the Minister of the Interior,Mr, John Amaratunga,to bring out the armed services to assist the police in the local government elections that is to be held today is an instance of supreme irony and a cause for much amusement too.

Of the 13 elections she faced since coming to power in 1994 —12 of which she won — only the first election could be described as fair and square while the others,including the last election which her party lost, were marred by extreme violence where uniformed thugs gave patronage to civilian thugs, and blatant rigging of the polls was a common feature. Both the police and armed forces that were called in were supposed to maintain law and order at these elections, but what prevailed was the rule of the thug well assisted by the supposed guardians of the law and the armed services looking away or being called in to assist the thugs.

The blood - splattered opposition howled and screamed, but President Kumaratunga looked at it all with nonchalance. Only after the most violent and disgraceful elections held in Sri Lanka, since universal franchise was introduced, the Wayamba Provincial Council election, did she admit that it was marred by violence.

Future generations will ask: Why did not the Opposition parties go to courts to seek redress? Indeed, some did attempt to do so. But the police that should have been the prosecutor had already played the role of the thug or patron of the thug, and asking for justice under these circumstances was just plain stupid. The armed services that were called in were as captive to political thugs in the guise of political generals issuing orders.

Now, the lady president has taken umbrage. She says that she had received reports from all over the country that there was general intimidation of PA candidates and their supporters during the current election campaign, Cases of intimidation involved acts of violence such as arrest and locking up of PA supporters on false allegations, bombs had been thrown at residences of PA candidates etc. After what happened after the 2001 General Elections, which recorded the largest number of election - related violence ever, the People’s Alliance and she as President had no faith in the police with regard to maintaining law and order and acting independently and impartially with cases of election - related violence, the President has told the Minister of the Interior.

Police records of post - 2001 elections violence differ from the claims of the President. Police records show that till the end of January this year, there had been only two post - elections killings, 7 shooting incidents and 23 grenade attacks on supporters of the PA. The intensity of this violence, though it is to be deplored, is in marked contrast to the intensity of violence during the election campaign when President Kumaratunga held sway in December last year. The police recorded over 2,500 complaints of violence and 50 killings! And her own political appointee, Lakdasa Kodituwakku, presided over the police as IGP during this period.

President Kumaratunga now claims that she has no confidence in the police maintaining law and order during elections. Indeed, the people of this country had no confidence in the politicised police even before she became president, under the UNP. And certainly during her time, this lack of confidence in the police increased by leaps and bounds. But she obviously had confidence in the police very much as she scored 12 consecutive victories while the opposition kept crying ‘ foul’.

President Kumaratunga brought in Mr. Lakdasa Kodituwakku from retirement above officers senior to him and made him the IGP. Election violence reached such disgraceful levels that a woman teacher canvassing for the UNP during the Wayamba elections was stripped naked on the road by PA thugs! Poor Mr. Kodituwakku could do nothing to stop PA ministers battling it out for the ‘Manape’ in the October, 2000 General Elections, where the General Secretary of the PA, Mr. D. M. Jayaratne, accused Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte and Mr. S.B. Dissanayake of getting their supporters to attack polling booths in an attempt to destroy their preferential votes.

IGP Mr.Kodituwakku is now on sick leave. Instead, President Kumaratunga has appointed not the most senior DIG, Mr. H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, as acting IGP, but an officer junior to him. Mr. Kotakadeniya, an outspoken and daring officer with proven ability, has yet to learn that such qualities do not qualify him to reach the top rung of the ladder in the service at present times.

The armed services had been called into help the police in the past elections, but has that helped in maintaining law and order? Some of the armed service units have been subjected to indirect commands of politicians in uniform to achieve their political purposes. We will refrain from commenting further on this aspect because of on - going investigations likely to lead to judicial proceedings.

Despite the President’s claim of violence directed against the PA during this local government elections campaign as being unprecedented, police records show that till yesterday there had been only one killing, the victim being a UNPer and 471 cases of reported election violence in contrast to the December 5 elections campaign that accounted for 50 killings and 2,500 complaints.

Whether Mr. Amaratunga will accede to her request or whether she will on her own, as commander - in - chief of the armed forces, order the armed services to the streets, is not known. The use of the armed forces as political pawns has been disastrous and if this practice is continued it could lead to very serious consequences as evidenced in some countries.

President Kumaratunga knows how best to curb election violence. In 1994 after she won the elections, she appealed to her supporters and MPs to get on to the streets and stop any such violence breaking out. She was remarkably successful. What she has got to do is to join hands with Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, who had pledged to fight a clean election, and her objectives could be achieved.

Your comments to the Editor