Who should protect our democracy?

Election violence is escalating at an alarming rate. Four persons have been killed so far and there have been a countless number of violent confrontations in most parts of the country. It looks as if the police had chosen to look the other way in spite of the IGP's rhetoric. The situation has apparently got out of hand.

The ruling party is the main culprit but the Opposition is not free from blame. Both sides are known to the people for what they really are.

The onus is however on the incumbent government to order the police to crack down on troublemakers and arrest the escalation of violence. The IGP himself has owned up to inaction on the part of some police personnel as regard violent clashes in Polonnaruwa recently. Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake is also frustrated that political parties are violating election laws to their heart’s content in defiance of his orders. He wants to quit after next week's election. He has suffered long enough and richly deserves a break. But, the question is whether the Constitution permits him to retire or resign.

The present situation calls for a desperate remedy. But, if the ghastly culture of political violence is to be done away with once and for all, a lot more needs to be done. The police alone cannot achieve that end. There needs to be a collective effort by politicians of all hues and the voting public. Most of all, as we argued the other day, we must not have double standards on political violence regardless of who the perpetrators are. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that politicians begin to feel for democracy only when they are out of power.

Opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka has appealed to the international community to step in to safeguard Sri Lanka's democracy. This is a supreme irony. When some Indian politicians sought to intervene to protect what they called democratic rights of civilians, while the war was raging in the North about one year ago, Gen. Fonseka resisted that move with might and main. He went so far as to call them a bunch of jokers and found himself in hot water. We backed him to the hilt on that score as those Tamil Nadu politicians' human rights project was only a Trojan horse and the LTTE had to be destroyed to save democracy.

Mahinda Rajapaksa also called for foreign help to protect human rights in the late 1980s. He was in Geneva campaigning against the Premadasa government, which the LTTE defended at that time! Today, President Rajapaksa's government stands accused of human rights violations and other forms of attacks on democracy. And President Rajapaksa today opposes attempts by foreign governments to intervene in the affairs of this country, tooth and nail!

We believe that protecting democracy is a task that we must accomplish ourselves without foreign assistance. We have had enough of foreign governments and INGOs that rushed here to help us with conflict resolution.

In the past, there were four parties responsible for political violence––the SLFP, the UNP, the JVP and the LTTE. Now that the LTTE has been vanquished, we are left with only three of them. The JVP is behaving at present in spite of its violent past. However, the government says that it has been informed of a sinister plan to seize identity cards of the ruling party supporters on the eve of Jan. 26 polls to prevent them from voting. This claim evokes our memories of the JVP's reign of terror in the late 1980s, when it grabbed NICs from people so that the southern terrorists could mingle with civilians sans identity cards and avoid detection. We hope the government's fear is unfounded!

So, as for political violence at present, we should blame the SLFP and the UNP––in that order––and their leaders. Besides, the blame should be apportioned to their supporters for electing violent elements. How could foreigners or new laws or constitutional amendments be of any use in achieving that goal in a country where political leaders promote political violence and election malpractice on the sly and their supporters return undesirables at elections?

Nishantha Mutuhettigama of Galle, it may be recalled, behaved just like a bull in a China shop during the last Southern PC polls; he even threatened the police. We said in these columns that a vote for him would be a vote for thuggery and predicted that he would poll a whopping amount of preferential votes. He got over 71,000 votes! The UNP has within its ranks the likes of MP Range Bandara, who has dozens of court cases against him. Sometimes people act wisely in electing their representatives. They rejected Mervyn Silva in Colombo at the last general election but President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed him a National List MP. President Rajapaksa is shielding him!

We know what is wrong; we know who is wrong and we know what needs to be done. But, we, true to form, do nothing! With dependency having got into our genes, we always turn to other countries to do things for us from fixing leaking sewage lines to protecting democracy. What a shame! The question that we should ask ourselves is: Do we deserve democracy?

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