Going by the arguments put forward by many of the Government members, including some seniors, during the debate on an adjournment motion on the law and order situation in the country last Wednesday in Parliament; it’s easy to see why bipartisan politics is near impossible in the country.The motion moved by Chief Opposition Whip UNP MP John Amaratunga on Wednesday, in the wake of the killing of former MP and Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, sought answers from the Government on what steps it intends taking to arrest the “alarming breakdown in law and order in the country.” The motion also made reference to “gun toting gangs”, many of who enjoy political patronage, running around the country, as well as helplessness of the law enforcement authorities to arrest this trend.
But what they got instead of answers from Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne and other senior ministers such as Susil Premjayantha and John Seneviratne, who spoke during the debate, were lame excuses and a reminder of the dismal track record of the United National Party (UNP) when it was in power.
One common reason most Government speakers referred to as a reason for the continuing incidents of violence in the country is the culture of violence that the country has experienced in the past 30 years, which has led to a proliferation of weapons, which in turn has contributed to the trend. While there is no denying that society has been anesthetized to violence to a great extent due to the country’s violent recent past, the Government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for its failure to make a serious attempt to collect such weapons, and also punish those who commit violent crimes.
That aspect aside, Ministers Susil Premjayantha and John Seneviratna referred to how the UNP politicians patronised underworld members, how Supreme Court judges were hooted at under their regime and a host of other unsavory activities, but that cannot in anyway justify the recent incidents under this Government. After all, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led coalitions have ruled the country for the 17 years, and they have had enough time to get their act in order, if they were serious about putting right the wrongdoings of their predecessors.
Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage made a reference to the killing of journalist Richard de Soysa under the UNP. While the killing of De Soysa murder needs to be condemned in the strongest possible words, so does the killing of journalist Lasantha Wickramataunaga and numerous others which took place during the tenure of this regime, the culprits of which remain unpunished to this day.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who seconded the motion, made a reference to the abolition of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and along with it, the abolition of the Independent Commissions such as the Police Commission, which have led to blatant politicisation of State institutions. “Today, both the Police and the people are taking the law into their own hands,” he said referring to the death of a worker at Katunayake due to police shooting, and a youth in police custody at Dompe, which in turn resulted in the public attacking police stations and setting their vehicles on fire.
Prime Minister Jayaratne said the reason the 17th Amendment had to be abolished was due to the failure of the Opposition to name a member to the Constitutional Council, which left the institution defunct for many years. “The Government and Opposition need to work together if these problems are to be sorted out,” he said.
UNP Kurunegala District MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, who contributes meaningfully to most debates in Parliament, on behalf of the UNP, said he had warned of the tense situation building up in the Kolonnawa area, before the violent incidents on Election Day. “Instead of listening to what I said, I was removed from the House,” he said.
Mr. Jayasekera also said that, since the killing, there is an attempt to cover up the investigation, with several police officers involved in the investigation being transferred, with such fears being expressed by family members of the slain SLFPP member. “We can have disagreements among us, but if it has come to a stage where politicians are killing each other, then things are out of control,” he said.
The debate ended with Deputy Minister Rohitha Abyegunawardena referring to the nexus between UNP politicians and the underworld, which he said began after 1977.
Unfortunately for the country, this nexus continues to this day, and if the Government’s only defence is to fall back on the misdeeds of the UNP, to prove that their predecessors track record is worse than their own, then it is likely that the killing of Premachandra forebodes ill for the future.