( Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Island” of October 9th 2017 Under the Heading ” When democracy gets slapped around”)
No sooner had the yahapalana government given the apex court a thundering slap across the face by circumventing a judicial ruling to ratify the Provincial Council Election (Amendment) Bill than the guardians of the law physically assaulted a journalist in full view of the media. An ASP proved his mettle by slapping the victim during a Joint Opposition (JO)-led protest in Hambantota against, among other things, a government move to hand over the Mattala airport to an Indian company.
The khaki-clad swashbuckling hero strode boldly up to the hapless scribe, being held by police and delivered a slap savagely. His conduct is unbecoming of a law enforcement officer, to say the least. The victim was thereafter bundled into a waiting paddy wagon without treatment for a bleeding ear. Friday’s slap has brought the entire Police Department to shame, but as far as the ASP is concerned it is surely a slam dunk. Having endeared himself to the yahapalana leaders, he can rest assured that he will get a hearty slap on his back and a promotion soon. It may be recalled that a Navy Commander who went out of his way to manhandle a journalist during a protest in Hambantota last year was rewarded with an extension of service by the yahapalana leaders.
(It is being argued in some quarters that the victim of Friday’s police excess is not an accredited journalist. But, we are informed that he and his colleagues working for a new publication have applied for media accreditation, but there has been a delay in processing their applications.)
Police cannot be blamed for controlling mobs engaged in unruly protests, but never can excesses on their part be condoned. No one taken into custody must be harmed in any manner. Police must realise that their job is not to please the politicians in power by helping keep Opposition activists at bay.
Some of the police personnel who compromised their professional integrity and became hired guns in the hands of the politicians of the previous regime are now in hot water. The police officers who act as the shock troops of the incumbent leaders had better bear in mind that they, too, will be brought to justice sooner or later. The onus is on the National Police Commission (NPC) to probe Friday’s incident thoroughly and ensure that the police personnel responsible for glaring excesses face disciplinary action.
In a dramatic turn of events replete with irony, the JO big guns are condemning police attacks on its protest in Hambantota. They are weeping buckets for the victims. They seem to think the masses are real asses. They have on their hands the blood of innocents killed in Rathupaswala, in 2013, for demanding clean water as the ground water in their area was contaminated allegedly by a factory. They asked for water but got bullets! There was also a crackdown on a group of workers protesting against a controversial move to introduce a pension scheme for the private sector in Katunayake in 2011. A youth was killed.
Moreover, some UNP MPs who visited the Hambantota port and the Mattala airport came under an attack by SLFP goons in 2014. The then Hambantota Mayor Eraj Fernando, brandishing a pistol, was seen on TV, pursuing the UNP parliamentarians running for their dear lives. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the temerity to claim Fernando had been carrying a toy gun! Worse, Fernando has switched his allegiance to President Maithripala Sirisena, who pretended to be, to borrow a sobriquet from Arundhati Roy, a ‘tornado of righteousness’ before the 2015 regime change, and got himself appointed the SLFP organiser for Beliatta!
Unfortunately, those who captured power, offering an alternative to the Rajapaksa government which abused power and indulged in corruption, are no better. Today, judicial and legislative processes are subverted. Police and armed forces are used as storm troopers. Protesting workers and students are mercilessly assaulted. Corruption is rampant and transparency is conspicuous by its absence. The culture of impunity prevails; ruling party politicians, involved in mega rackets, have gone scot free. They are seen in the exalted company of the yahapalana leaders in public. The much-touted independent commissions introduced as safeguards against political interference with state institutions have become mere appendages of the government, which has got the sale of family silver down to a fine art.
The right-thinking people have been left with no alternative. Public resentment is palpable and what it will find expression in, ultimately, is anybody’s guess. For, elections, which act as safety valves have been put off indefinitely because the government is suffering from ‘polls phobia’.
With the yahapalana leaders doing their damnedest to retain power and the JO worthies striving to make a comeback, democracy is sailing between Scylla and Charybdis.