When has action been taken against the outrageous behaviour manifested by parliamentarians on the floor of the House at any time? What equitable purpose does the current Parliamentary assembly serve to protect the interests of the people?


By

Kishali Pinto – Jayawardene

The winding down of the iconic ‘aragalaya’ (struggle) site at the Galle Face Green this Friday as the police hauled away the last remaining tents, was met by its onetime occupants, not with sadness or resignation but, interestingly enough, a calm jubilation.

State aggression met by counter-aggression

‘This Government has shown that it has not understood the nature of this struggle,’ one young woman said, ‘we did not do this for months, forgetting our families, braving the risks, standing up against the State, for fun, our anger was against Sri Lanka’s corrupt political culture, that anger has not changed, it is still alive, we will learn from our mistakes and rise again.’

Elsewhere, the emerging narrative, pushed by eager purveyors of the country’s military State, the Deep State, as it were, is that the protest movement does not have a right to call itself ‘peaceful.’ How can crowds that forcibly entered the Presidential Secretariat, the official residence of the President and Temple Trees be called, ‘peaceful,’ they ask?

Yet there is a grim paradox in that question. The protests at Galle Face Green were indeed peaceful until they were brutally attacked by goons of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Ministers, on May 9th 2022.

This brutality was met by counter-brutality, in attacks on attackers by the public at large of which the protestors were the most visible part, the targeting of parliamentarians and (some would argue, the instigated) burning of their houses. That surge of counter-brutality must be categorically rejected.

However, it must never be forgotten that the initial aggravation came from the Sri Lankan State, reverting to its historically tried and tested methods of repressing dissent, through thuggery and racist rhetoric (ie; labelling protestors as Muslim, the State’s ‘new’ enemy’).

Taking the path more traveled

May 9th 2022 was the turning point. Thereafter, the protest movement had two choices; first, to continue on its original theme of non-violence, epitomizing an a-political protest which had brought communities of all ethnicities, races and religions together, candles in hand, to reject a political establishment of self-serving crooks.

Secondly, to metamorphose into a struggle which was, at least in part, politically aligned towards the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)/Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), inevitably containing the potential for violence.

Clearly, it was the second choice that prevailed, the insurrectionist path ‘more traveled’ in our fractured history. Some would say that to expect the contrary would be idealistic beyond measure. How could gross state brutality be countered by pious prayers, they question?

There may be an element of truth in that blunt query. Even so, forcible entry into high State buildings and the unwise call to surround Parliament by the JVP and its cohorts coupled with the asinine demand to reject all 225 parliamentarians, framed the State response.

Essentially, this made it far easier for a new President elected by Parliament but lacking electoral legitimacy, to demonise the protest movement as ‘radical’ and ‘fascist.’ The grand irony is, of course, that the ‘fascist’ nature of the State overrides anything that the young protestors had even done or attempted. This is exemplified by the pre-dawn raids on the Galle Face Green protest site by the army and the police on July 22nd 2022, just hours after a new President assumed office .


An anarchic State begets social anarchy

In fact, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s claim was that, if Parliament had been attacked, then the last bastion would have fallen, it would have been easy to target the judiciary and the courts. The President conjured up spine-chilling scenarios, judiciously aimed at arousing the most awful apprehensions on the part of law abiding citizens.

Certainly, and I repeat this, by entering the interior spaces of high State buildings, Sri Lanka’s young protestors miscalculated in the grander scheme of things.

It may have been far more strategic if that riotous entry had been abstained from, if calmer reason had prevailed. That said, the ‘rulers’ must be cognisant of certain truths as they consolidate their power to protect a privileged status quo which works to the profound injustice of the ‘ruled.’

For many, the only recourse to free oneself of the scourge of unjust rule is extra-constitutional if not anarchic. It is the anarchic State that begets peoples’ anarchy, not the other way around. Our history stands testimony to that fact.

We have had two ‘liberation’ struggles by Tamil youth and the Sinhalese youth against cruel injustices of the Sri Lankan State. So when the President warns ominously against what may have been the consequences if Parliament had fallen, he must also ask the question (not that he will) or the citizens must ask him that question. What equitable purpose does the current Parliamentary assembly serve to protect the interests of the people?

This week, a Minister of the Wickremesinghe Cabinet who also serves as the Cabinet spokesman stated bumptiously that the Penal Code and the ‘normal law’ does not apply to the Parliamentary Chamber.

Giving the leopard the run of the chicken coop

This response was to a query as to why action had not been taken against Pohottuwa parliamentarians who flung chilli powder at the (then) Speaker, hurled books and toppled chairs in November 2018. Those boorish actions were not by chance; they had the deliberate objective to unconstitutionally overthrow the Government. But no punishment of rowdy parliamentarians transpired.

Caught off-guard in 2022, the Ministerial explanation that the ordinary law of the land does not apply inside the House, will make poor Erskine May turn in his grave.

His nonsensical answer was rebutted by the Speaker who declared that no such ‘privilege’applies. But the Minister’s explanation unwittingly reflects reality.

When has action been taken against the outrageous behaviour manifested by parliamentarians on the floor of the House at any time? That leads us to look askance at the strategy of a so-called ‘all party’ consensus to ‘build up the country,’ so energetically called for by the President. innocuous by itself, its risks are immediately evident.

The destruction that ‘strong’ Governments and ‘weak’ Oppositions have done to Sri Lanka is enormous. That trail of havoc can be traced back to the 1970’s. This is why we are bankrupt, our legal system is in tatters and the very basics of a functioning society in peril.

Imagine what colossal damage might ensue in the name of ‘building up Sri Lanka’ if there is no Opposition, weak or otherwise, at all? This would be like giving a fox (or in our case, a hungry leopard) the run of the chicken coop. A mass slaughter can only ensue, of remaining fragile democratic fetters on authoritarianism.

Asking the right questions

So why do those who critically interrogate the ‘peaceful’ labelling of the GotaGoGama protests rarely question the violent reaction of the State? That signal failure demolishes the seeming logic of their argument, reducing condemnation of young protestors to irrational mutterings.

Even the invasion of high State buildings, perhaps a mistake as well intentioned citizens would contend, was by unarmed Sri Lankans. They wandered through its luxurious spaces, marveled at the rarefied environs, cooked in the well stocked kitchens remembering times when their children had no bread to eat.

They sat at glossy tables and chairs in which atrocious decisions were made by rulers, bringing about their destitution as a country, as a people, as a society. Now, those very same young persons are being hunted, arrested. But the law is silent in regard to high state officials who engaged in corrupt acts.

With reason, a magistrate questioned this week as to the basis of arrests of protestors brought before him, ‘what is the evidence that unlawful acts were committed?’ he asked pertinently. In some instances, professionals who provided water to protestors are being threatened with arrest.

What lunacy is this? Why are we silent?


Courtesy:Sunday Times