Hirunika Vicious cycle of sinister system

Published : 9:00 am  December 28, 2015 | No comments so far |  |  (620) reads | 

If Mervyn Silva could do so, or if Duminda did, why cannot you?  They would ask.

irunika Premachandra took a path to Parliament that was well trodden by her predecessors; the public sympathy over the untimely demise of a family member that turned into votes at the next election.

That is how many pioneering female politicians in this part of the world, from Sirima Bandaranaike to Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto to Bangladesh’s feuding Sheik Hasina and Khaleda Zia landed in the high political office.

Their overnight meteoric rise meant that they were sorely unprepared to the challenges of national politics, and when they got accustomed, they proved to be precarious, high handed and poor economic managers. All ran their economies down the drain. That is in contrast to other pioneering female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, (Who began her long political career from scratch) and later transformed the moribund British economy in the 70s to become again the economic powerhouse in Europe.

Ms Premachandra had both lineage and fighting spirits (And of course, the looks). That she kept fighting for the justice for her father, who was gunned down in an election related quarrel several years back in Kolonnawa gave local voters confidence that she was not just another dumb-bimbo.

That she locked horns with one of the leading acolytes of the former regime (And Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s favourite) Duminda Silva, who was among the suspects of the murder, made her a heroine for the Opposition and those who loathed the former regime for its many excesses.

She snubbed an offer from the former regime, and ran for the Parliamentary Elections on the Opposition ticket and won.

Now, all of a sudden, she has become an embarrassment to the new ‘good governance’ government.

A group of supporters of Ms. Pramachandra now stand accused (And had been arrested) over the abduction of a local man, who was later released.

Ms. Premachandra earlier pleaded innocence, but later it transpired that the abductee was, in fact, taken to her office where, she allegedly threatened him over an affair, he was allegedly having with a spouse of one of her supporters.

She now says all she wanted was to prevent a family from breaking up. However, whatever her intentions, abduction is a crime. Given our recent tortuous history of abductions (And extra-judicial killings) it is hard to sympathise with her.

Interestingly, perhaps unbeknownst to her, she has done what another local strongman Mervyn Silva used to do in the past. (He tied a Public Servant to a tree for not turning up for a Shramadana)

However, the latest incident has more to do with the Sri Lankan political culture than with Ms. Premachandra. Our political culture requires politicians to indulge in thuggery for their self-preservation; it calls on politicians to interfere in affairs, which they ought not to, ranging from school admission, Police to government jobs.

The recent incident highlights, how, even a young and idealistic (Assuming so) woman, be manipulated by the conditioning effects of a dog- eat- dog political system, which has seen its ethical boundaries crumbled long ago.

It is their most ardent supporters, on whom the politicians rely on for their election campaigning who demand that their political bosses disregard those legal and ethical parameters, and become a law unto themselves. Politicians, given mutual interdependency with their supporters, are not immune from that pressure. And since the culture of thuggery is already in place, many choose to swim with the tide.

When one politician chooses to break laws, the other cannot refrain from doing so, without risking a shift of loyalty of his or her supporters to the rival, who shows a better ability for political aggrandisement and to share with his supporters at least some benefits of his or her rent seeking endeavors. And, that is exactly most supporters, who hit the campaign trail of politicos expect their political leaders do.

The silent majority in any electorate does not like this state of affairs, however, their importance will only be felt during the election. In order to mobilise them to vote and then to survive in power and plan for the next election, politicians need their supporters, who generally tend to come from the lowest possible denominator of society.

This can be explained in rather plain, and perhaps politically incorrect words: The political empowerment of the independent Sri Lanka since the fifties was in fact the empowerment of the gutter; it hit its disturbing heights after 1977 and the zenith under Mahinda Rajapaksa. That happened at the expense of the enlightened sections of society and necessarily resulted in the disempowerment of the institutions, be it judiciary, police and overall bureaucracy.

Politicians filled that void, so they acted on behalf of the police, sometimes judiciary and other government organs. The political control intensified day by day, resulting in an overall politicisation of society. And the politicians themselves were locked in this status quo, willingly or unwillingly they have to stick to it, if they are to remain competitive in politics.

When Ms. Premachandra’s supporters asked her intervention to sort out a family feud, she could well have known that was the job of the Police and courts. But, saying that would result her losing face.

If Mervyn Silva could do so, or if Duminda did, why cannot you? They would ask. In that sense, she is a hostage in a regressive political culture, which has suffered a long -term deterioration.

Politicians at the higher offices should fix that problem. Instead of doing that, their immediate predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa made it worse. He let the crooks, thugs and murderers get away with a pat on the shoulder.

That no government Minister has come forward to defend Hirunika’s action  (Or to espouse the merits of abduction to preserve family unity)is in a way encouraging. That the Police is unobstructed by their investigations is also a promising sign.

However, the greater problem lies with our political culture, which has to be fixed.

The President earlier promised to enact a code of ethics for the politicians, which even when enacted will have little effect without an enforcement mechanism.

The Proportional Representation system, which pushes politicians at each other’s throat to win preferential votes, is also encouraging political thuggary, compelling them to rely on petty criminals, the underworld and other less salubrious sections of the society.

And, weak institutions invite political interference in police, judiciary and bureaucracy. Lack of public trust or slow progress in investigations undertaken by those institutions could also encourage public to seek intervention from politicos.

Therefore, this is a vicious cycle of sinister system effects. If the government is serious, it has to address all of them, one by one.


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