Hang the consequences: We only want your vote | Sunday Observer

Hang the consequences: We only want your vote

They say that a government is in trouble when its senior leaders make silly statements. If so, we have to ask, is this government in trouble?

This week, John Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism Development, Christian Religious Affairs and Land, made a silly statement. Addressing an election rally of the United National Party (UNP) at Ja-Ela, he reportedly told prospective voters that “no one should be afraid of anyone, because the government and the police belong to the UNP this time”.

“The government and the police are ours this time. No one should be afraid. We will deal with anyone. What we want is only your vote” Amaratunga is reported to have elaborated.

Amaratunga is no spring chicken in politics. Now 77 years old, he has been around for a long, long time: thirty nine years in Parliament, to be precise.

Those with long memories will remember that he has the distinction- if you can call it that- of being Sri Lanka’s first ‘chit MP’, or, to put it another way, the first appointed MP under the 1978 Constitution which gave a political party the authority to appoint a nominee as a parliamentarian upon the death or resignation of one of its MPs.

Police Department

When D. Shelton Jayasinghe who was Minister of Telecommunications in the 1977 government of J. R. Jayewardene and represented the Wattala constituency died in 1978, Amaratunga was the chosen one. From then onwards he has never looked back, holding a series of portfolios in UNP governments.

He has been Deputy Minister of Finance, State Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as holding Cabinet portfolios of Home Affairs and Provincial Councils. He was also entrusted with the Interior Ministry in the short lived UNP Government of 2001 where he had the Police under his purview, so he must know a thing or two about how the Police Department works.

If the statements attributed to Minister Amaratunga are true - and we haven’t heard a denial yet - we must wonder, under which rock was the Minister hiding for the last three or four years?

When the country was under the stranglehold of the Rajapaksas, one of the main complaints was that there was no law and order. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system ground to a virtual halt. The Police Department did nothing without receiving instructions from their political masters. Judges with independent minds were relegated to the lesser ranks and those who were partial were quickly elevated to the higher - and even highest courts.

Just in case it has slipped Amaratunga’s mind - and those of others - a Pradeshiya Sabha chairman nearly got away with murdering a British tourist and raping his girlfriend because the Police were apathetic due to the accused’s political connections. Then, a Chief Justice was sent packing because she deferred a Bill that was the brainchild of one of the Rajapaksa siblings.

This was what the UNP was complaining about at that time. More importantly, this was why a group of people, with their conscience pricking them, left the SLFP and joined forces with the UNP to bring down the Rajapaksa regime.

That was also why the Sri Lankan people, despite being eternally grateful to Mahinda Rajapaksa for ending the war and destroying the LTTE, sent him home instead of granting him the power to rule for the rest of his life and giving him a blank cheque to do what he pleases with the nation.

When the new government was ushered into power, it pledged to do away with political influence undermining the judiciary, the Police and other institutions that affect public life. That is why independent commissions were set up to make appointments to key public sector services. That is also why a Constitutional Council monitors these issues.

Not lily white

This government is not lily white; it does have its problems- and there are many of them- but at least, it has kept most of its promises relating to enacting these reforms. And then comes along John Amaratunga who tries to turn back the clock, telling UNPers they don’t have to worry because ‘the government and the Police belong to the UNP this time’!

Even if we were to make allowances for Amaratunga, all we can say is that we can understand his frustration at being at the butt end of SLFP led governments almost uninterrupted for nearly twenty years. And who can forget that even when he was in charge of the Police as the Minister of Interior, his portfolio was unceremoniously stripped off him by then President, Chandrika Kumaratunga. But aren’t these all reasons why Amaratunga should advocate against political interference rather than encourage it?

What exactly do these remarks mean to the average UNPer? Does it mean that they can run amok and do as they please, intimidating their political opponents? By saying that ‘the government and the Police belong to the UNP’, is Amaratunga suggesting that the Police will - or should- turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of UNPers?

It would be easy to pass off Amaratunga’s remarks as a casual statement made from an election platform, if not for the fact that his supporters might be now emboldened to act on it. Also, it just goes to show that while governments may change some politicians and their attitudes never will.

In an ideal democracy, by now Amaratunga would have issued an apology, tendered his resignation and would have retired from politics pondering his remarks ruefully. But this is Sri Lanka which is far from an ideal democracy, so we are not expecting anything more than for him to take some flak from the media before everyone forgets about it and moves on to the next outrageous remark by another politician. For John Amaratunga- and the UNP, for that matter- there is however a moral in this story.

For every exultant UNPer who cheered merrily at Amaratunga’s remarks at that Ja-Ela rally, there will be ten voters who would disapprove of them- and vote against the party. That is what happened to Mahinda Rajapaksa. That is also what could happen to John Amaratunga or his supporters at the next election.