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Neck deep in political sludge

With barely two more weeks to go for the expiry of the stipulated period of electioneering, the UPFA and the UNF-JVP-TNA combine have stepped up hurling allegations of corruption at each other. Some of these unsubstantiated charges are very serious and, if proved, should carry severe punishment.

The UNF and the JVP accuse President Mahinda Rajapaksa's family of having amassed a great deal of illgotten wealth on his watch as the Head of State. The government has pooh-poohed them as mere rumours floated by the UNP-JVP katakatha brigade working overtime in view of the forthcoming presidential polls. Prominent among the allegations posted on the grapevine against the Rajapaksas is the acquisition of land and other properties in different parts of the country.

The UNP crossovers campaigning for President Rajapaksa's re-election claim that the UNP's funds to the tune of billions of rupees have been misappropriated during its present leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's tenure. A powerful cabal has, they allege, bankrupted the UNP by helping themselves to party funds and no accounts have been presented to the membership for years. The UNP leaders have dismissed these allegations as baseless.

The government alleges that the Opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka's son-in-law was involved in some questionable arms deals with the army while Fonseka was the army commander. Some documents purportedly related to the alleged deals were tabled in Parliament last Tuesday amidst protests from the Opposition ranks. Fonseka has denied the charges.

Politics of this country reeks of corruption and that politicians fatten themselves up on public funds is only too well known. But, none of them have ever been brought to justice. For, neither the government in power nor the Opposition goes the whole hog to haul the corrupt politicians before Courts. They only trade charges of bribery and corruption during the hustings and conveniently forget them afterwards. A politician's integrity is, in our book, nothing but lack of opportunity to line up his or her pockets at our expense.

A former President was once accused of having bought a palace on, of all places, the banks of the Nile. That fabulous abode, we were told, had floors made of glass with colourful shoals of fish swimming hither and thither underneath! (Something fishy, eh?) But, nothing has been heard of either the palace or the beautiful fish ever since!

In 2005, the UPFA propagandists alleged that the then UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe had turned a dirty penny by abusing his prime ministerial powers from 2001 to 2004. Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Sirpathy Sooriarachchi then in the Kumaratunga Cabinet, went to the extent of complaining to the Bribery Commission that Wickremesinghe was responsible for a questionable computer deal. What a song and dance they made! But, after his defeat, that much advertised charge was promptly dropped. And Mangala is today with Wickremesinghe praising the latter to the high heavens as a clean politician! In 2005, the UNP accused the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential fray of having misappropriated tsunami funds. Rajapaksa denied the charge vehemently. That issue, too, fizzled out in no time. The JVP, which is campaigning hard against bribery and corruption backed Prime Minister Rajapaksa to the hilt at that time!

The only way the government and the Opposition could prove that they are not making allegations against each other in a bid to dupe the public into voting for the candidates of their choice is to resort to legal action against the ‘corrupt’ politicians concerned. Or, as we argued the other day, they ought to document the charges at issue with action they intend to take clearly stated and present them to the people in time for the election. This will also help the aggrieved parties to counter wild allegations against them.

Badmouthing opponents is, no doubt, the name of the game in Sri Lankan politics. But, this obnoxious practice has certainly exceeded the tolerance limits. Unfortunately, the on-going slanging match has eclipsed the vital national issues that the two main presidential candidates and their think tanks, if any, should be addressing at this stage.

Old habits, they say die hard!

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