SUNDAY OBSERVER Sunday Observer - Magazine
Sunday, 03 August 2003  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Yet another incident of a rampage by a parliamentarian's musclemen was reported in the press last week. This latest incident occurred in the Polonnaruwa district and reportedly involved an United National Party parliamentarian and his gang of musclemen who intervened to block Government Excise officers from carrying out their duty in apprehending illegal narcotics growers.

Just as in numerous previous incidents, these musclemen had reportedly intimidated and physically harassed the poor officers whose appeal for police protection seems to have been ignored by the equally terrorised local police.

That this incident involved an UNP politician is significant not in terms of the particular political party but in the fact that it is a governing party politician who has allegedly misbehaved.

Thuggery is not the attribute of any single political party. Most, if not all Sri Lankan political parties, especially the big ones, bear this trait. In fact it is the main, so-called 'national' and, 'mainstream' political parties that are most guilty of thuggery.

But it is always the party in Government that becomes noted for the misbehaviour of its members, especially those wielding various degrees of power accruing to their office. Even Ministers and their henchmen are known to have been involved in thuggery and intimidation and have, on occasion, been accused of murder.

Successive governing parties have earned equally unsavoury reputations for the misbehaviour of their members. Members of Parliament seem second to none among politicians indulging in violence, intimidation and illegal pressure to get things done.

There was another incident earlier last week when the schoolboy son of a Government minister was allegedly involved in attacking and intimidating police officers who tried to prevent him and his friends from breaking the law. In a 'Special Report' in this issue, the Sunday Observer explores the quality of discipline and institutional culture in our growing network of 'international schools' to one of which these schoolboys belonged.

All of this merely reflects the pathetic state of politics in our country where the wielding of power seems to encourage law-breaking and authoritarianism rather than law-making and respect for authority.

In recent years the public outcry against the abuse of power has been great enough to prompt successive Governments to promise to combat this dangerous political disease. But the promised effort against such misbehaviour never seems to be adequate and citizens are in danger of becoming completely cynical about the good faith of our national political representatives.

This Government too stands to follow the previous People's Alliance regime down a path of broken promises, declining credibility and dashed popular hopes. The Sri Lankan people expected much from the last PA regime after the bloody mayhem during previous regimes.

Alas, instead, the PA too became noted for its resort to brute muscle and stands accused of even murder and massacres, although nowhere near the scale of bloodiness of previous regimes.

The current Government came to power with similar popular expectations. The only way that the United National Front can retain some form of credibility is by swiftly and forcefully dealing with these incidents of thuggery by parliamentarians and other politicians.

The recent suspension of party membership of certain UNP local government legislators currently facing charges of corruption and other abuses of power has been earlier noted and welcomed in these columns.

But this must be seen as only a small beginning. The recurrence of similar incidents last week shows just how severe and persistent the problem is. The Government simply cannot afford to ignore this malaise and, action of the most stringent nature is urgently needed if the UNF's reputation and credibility is to be salvaged. And it must be transparent and convincingly rigorous action if the public's cynicism is not to worsen.

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