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Ensure law and order

The increasing acts of violence in the run-up to the October 10 Southern Provincial Council poll, serve as a reminder that maintaining law and order in Sri Lanka is continuing to be a tough proposition for the state. The race for prime place between the main political contenders has been hotting-up in the South over the past few weeks, but this is no reason why the law should be wantonly flouted by the hot heads among those who have hit the campaign trail. We call for a clean election and remind the law enforcers of the need for a stringent application of the laws of the land, for, under no circumstances could the South be allowed to drift into a state of anarchy.

We are not over-reacting by making these comments because the most recent unlawful acts, particularly against opposition candidates, not to speak of the running and ugly intra-ruling coalition battles among candidates sporting the same colour, amount to an unfolding of the proverbial writing on the wall, that democratic practice in this country would suffer further emaciation if current ills are not checked firm-handedly. In this connection, we welcome the recent decision by the Supreme Court, to call on the Attorney General, the Elections Commissioner and the Southern Province IGP to submit to court the measures taken by them to guard against election irregularities. The Supreme Court was acting on a complaint received by a polls monitor alleging certain election malpractices in the South.

The violence-hit electioneering in the South could be considered as epitomizing the multifarious crises affecting the body politic of this country. It is a mirror to our times which both the rulers and the ruled would do well to unflinchingly look into. What they would see there is most unflattering but we hope a spirit of defeatism would not overcome them because the need of the hour is a firm resolve to put things right. The rulers in particular would need to remember that this country has paid very dearly for apathy and inaction in the face of situations that call for reforms which need to be administered with surgical efficacy and single-mindedness.

First, there is this ruling coalition polls candidate whose behaviour has been so bizarre that he was referred by a court to a psychiatrist for examination and report. To be sure, this candidate is not a rarity in local politics and ‘nuts’ of his kind are easily found among the ‘blues’, the ‘greens’ and the ‘reds’. But it should have been realized by our political elite long ago that enough is enough. The reasons for the quality of local democracy to have been on a steady decline over the years are many and it is plain to see that the chillingly cynical ways in which our political party managers have played the power game contribute considerably to the current political decay.

To begin with, might and might only is seen as right. Come what may, the election must be won and what better way to ensure this than through the fielding of candidates who could bludgeon their way to victory. That is, politicians who could fight fire with fire. Small wonder that ‘nutty’ politicians are seen as being eminently suitable for this purpose. Of course, those politicians who could throw money and win votes too, are seen as most suitable. More than occasionally, politicians of this ‘glowing vintage’ have been fielded by both sides of the political divide and it is those who are presiding over the affairs of our political parties who should be held responsible for this tragic state of affairs. They need to see that their choice of candidates reflects on their own characters and mindsets.

Let sanity prevail, therefore, is our plea. Even though somewhat late in the day, candidates, in future, must be thoroughly screened by their respective party leaders for their eligibility and the criterion for suitability should ideally be their ability to work towards the common weal and their zeal for public service. Brains must be valued over brawn and brutishness.

Closely intertwined with the above issues, is some polls candidates’ total disregard for the law enforcement authorities, such as the Police. The Southern controversial politician we have just referred to is on record as even having slighted the IGP. This is a measure, really, of the degree to which the law and our law enforcers have been steadily disempowered, mocked and humiliated by power-wielders over the years. Need we remind all concerned that when the law and its enforcers are thus undermined and rendered ineffective, only barbarism would reign supreme?

However, there is a lesson here for the law enforcers too. It is no secret that some law enforcers easily become cat’s paws of politicians. It is also no secret that some of them could be bought at a price. Accordingly, is it surprising that the law enforcement authorities are held in ridicule by paranoid politicians?

The current hair-splitting over the 17th amendment could be found to be quite superfluous if the rulers of the land were perceptive enough to see that the vital institutions of the state should enjoy complete independence and should not be tampered with. If the Police Department, for instance, was allowed complete functional autonomy, law and order would not be a serious issue in this country today.

Therefore, there is no doubt that the Rule of Law must be allowed to prevail if the country is to emerge from the morass in which it is finding itself. What this country needs in abundance today is statesmanship. The current political leadership of the country, no doubt, did well to help in the task of delivering the country from terror but we have a long way to go before we could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Democratic development and empowerment must now follow if we are to reap the full rewards of our victory over terror. The people, in short, must enjoy all their inalienable rights, if the victory over terror is to be consolidated. The political leadership must now focus on delivering these and ensure that the people are rid of their shackles of all kinds which are getting in the way of national development.

When speaking of democratic development, it must be also remembered that finding a speedy answer to the issues faced by the Northern IDPs, is also part and parcel of the unfinished job of democratization. These people need to live with dignity and ensuring this is a responsibility of our political leaders. Democratization could be measured by the degree to which every woman, man and child in Sri Lanka is enabled to live honourably. May this be so, is our wish.

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