Uphold rule of law for survival of democracy
by R.M.B. Senanayake
Whoever violates the law in a democracy is expected to be dealt with in the same way by the administration of justice. There were such flagrant violations of the law with impunity by the politicians of the previous regime that the Prime Minister promised to restore the rule of law. But has he succeeded? Not if we notice how UNP politicians are storming politicians to release their supporters who have been apprehended by the Police for criminal activities.
Newspapers report that a UNP MP has assaulted policemen when they intervened to stop the harassment of some girls by a drunkard MP. Then we heard about a Gampaha district MP who, with a gang of thugs, stormed the Seeduwa Police Station to release one of his supporters held in connection with an accident. In another incident a group of supporters of the Puttalam district MP made an abortive attempt to release five of prostitutes, presumably his supporters, held by the Wennapuwa Police. Then the OIC of the Kahawatte Police had to shoot and wound a Pradesiya Sabha member who threatened him with death and was alleged to have lobbed a grenade at him. Here too the MP had sought to secure the release of a suspect taken into custody by the Police for an attack on a private bus.
If the Police had not taken action the private bus-owners would probably have gone on strike as we see so often. What does all this mean? Do we have a democracy or a party dictatorship a la the Communists rule in the former Soviet Union?
The Prime Minister at the last elections promised to change the politics and the political culture. He also promised to restore law and order. But has anything changed? Is the government ineffectual or incompetent? All this can lead only to one result - chaos. People are still having a false sense of security merely because they expect the Police to take action against criminals. But what if the criminals are politicians? The other day it was reported that the Police had apprehended a politician from Akuressa over robbing Rs. 800,000 in cash.
Our civil rights organisations and civic organisations have only been concerned with human rights perhaps because there is money from abroad to support such a cause. But the rule of law is equally if not more important and if we strengthen the rule of law we also strengthen the protection of human rights. There can be no genuine democracy unless there is the rule of law. Lets face it. The rule of law is not something inherited from our past. Our ancient kings did not believe in such a principle although they realised the need to follow moral principles in ruling the country. Traditionally our petty rulers have thought those who enforce the law are not bound to follow it themselves. So with the revival of our traditions in1956 the rule of law came to be undermined by politicians. Politicians have assaulted top pubic officials. But public agitation led to such politicians being charged but often they got away because of undue influence exerted through Ministers and other bigwigs. This will have to stop and the civic organisations like the OPA, the Bar Association and the Civil Rights Organisation should demand that speedy action be taken against the politicians who have violated the law. In fact a watchdog civic group should monitor these actions to see that they proceed according to the law. Every state first requires law and order before the people can exercise their rights of franchise.
We saw how the last election proved to be a farce in some districts where there was booth capturing by powerful politicians and one such person is facing charges before the courts. What is important to note is that law and order must come first if there is to be free and fair elections - the corner stone of democracy. Otherwise whatever the form of government the substance will be a democratic tyrant. If the Prime Minister doesnt check politicians by enforcing the law against them he will only encourage the more unscrupulous elements in his party to threaten the law-abiding in order to have their own way.
It will lead to the emergence of warlords as in China during the Nationalist rule in the 1930s. In post-communist Russia the failure to enforce the rule of law allowed a few people to loot state assets and set become barons. We saw the same phenomenon during the previous regime. Why the delay in bringing to book those guilty of fraud in the Rubber Manufacturing Corporation. If the Prime Minister doesnt re-establish the rule of law we might as well forget about democracy. In Italy a former Prime Minister was convicted of murder while in office and sentenced to imprisonment. The French President against whom there were allegations of fraud was summoned to give evidence by the courts though the Supreme Court subsequently ruled otherwise. But French watchdogs are waiting for the President to relinquish office to bring charges against him.
It is essential that civic organisations insist that politicians involved in illegal activities be charged and the rule of law upheld.
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