The joker in the pack of political rivalries | Sunday Observer

The joker in the pack of political rivalries

The Inspector General of Police is the symbol of the rising confrontation between the two main parties of the ruling coalition. President Sirisena did not mince his words when he said the IGP was a ‘joker’ and his behaviour had made a joke of the entire Police Department that embarrassed the Government, and the Police Service needed corrective reform, at this week’s Cabinet meeting.

It came just days after the Prime Minister was full of praise of the IGP’s performance, at a time when there is increasing criticism of his activity, official and otherwise, from sections within the government and is a key aspect of the Joint Opposition’s criticism of the Government. For the Prime Minister to be so full of commendation of the IGP, supported by the Minister of Law and Order, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, and for the President to be so critical of the holder of this important office, shows the increasing and near divisive differences between the two parties of the ruling coalition - the UNP and SLFP, and points to major confrontations in coalition politics and threats to continuing unity in governance.

While parties in a coalition can have major differences, the leaders of such parties tend to show more than a semblance of unity and understanding, which enables a coalition to move forward against the forces of opposition. What is seen today is a contrast to this stuff of coalition politics. The pressure from the approaching Presidential and Parliamentary polls, the experience of a three-year alliance, and the divisive politics within the SLFP, is clearly making leaders of the ruling coalition to show more of the stamp of division, than unity. The IGP, with so many aspects of flawed performance from meditation to dancing, and major blemishes in implementing tasks of police administration, is now the personification of bad policing and divided governance.

In the midst of probes into an alleged conspiracy to assassinate President Sirisena and former Defence Secretary and possible candidate for presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the IGP stands out as the figure of confrontation, among political forces moving to a showdown of power. The Prime Minister’s statement that crime has reduced due to good police action, possibly true from overall statistics, is not the message given by the daily increasing reports of grave crime. UNP Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe did take this position on rising crime at the Cabinet meeting, when the President made his scathing attack on the IGP and Police.

There is an ever widening gulf in the relations between the UNP and SLFP in government, calling into question the very substance of the programme that brought the Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena to the office of President in January 2015. This raises questions about the viability of the campaign for the Common Candidate, and serious questions on the emerging trends of politics.

The President’s attack on the IGP seems the substance of the possibility of new political alignments that seek a blend of the SLFP’s Blue and SLPP’s Purple, with possibilities of sharing the powers of the presidency and the office of Prime Minister.

Mahinda - Pohottuwa Leader

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s agreement to accept the leadership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) with its Pohottuwa symbol, brings a major change to the core of politics in the country. It will bring new strength to the divided forces within the Joint Opposition, and take away much of the calculative tactics of the SLFP forces trying to bring about a new understanding between the SLFP leader – President Sirisena, and the Pohottuwa Team.

Mahinda Rajapaksa gives the SLPP the political content of strong leadership, as well as the association it needs with the years of SLFP leadership in the politics and governance of the country. It creates problems for those trying to bring about a new understanding between the SLFP and JO – especially S. B. Dissanayake, Dilan Perera and Thilanga Sumathipala. Which means, new problems for the efforts of President Sirisena to reach an understanding with the JO. From now on, as the politics of the country moves on to the coming electoral contests and strategies, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be a key player, in the open, and not behind the frail curtain of G.L. Peiris. The efforts to re-organize the SLFP by appointing new electoral organisers, and give new power to the SLFP through the funds of new development programme of the government, will face a challenge of leadership that will have a sway in the urban and rural electorates.

The new leadership of the SLPP will also have to face the reality of a more hardened fight against the corruption of the past. The naming of the judges to the second Special High Court, and the cases coming up in the first Special High Court, should be a pointer to the problems that SLPP and Mahinda Rajapaksa will face in the coming months.

The SLPP, with its major success in the February 2018 Local Government Polls, must be looking with delight to the economic situation facing the country. The continually rising cost of living, and the steadily declining value of the rupee, must give great hope and promise of success to those opposed to this government. That is unquestioned. However, if the legal fight against corruption gets stronger and more effective, and those called before the courts for justice on matters of corruption, could well be a major weakening factor for the SLPP. Mahinda Rajapaksa will be leading so many persons clearly linked with corruption, and a steady fight against these forces by the government in office, will certainly be a major challenge to the SLPP in the coming months.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and the JO/SLPP leaders have been chanting a litany of legal action as acts of revenge against members of the Rajapaksa Regime. That will be a good chorus to chant. But the names of those who will be brought to the courts of justice will be the song of those fighting corruption. The Government, therefore, has a call to live up to its promises in the campaign for the Common Candidate and the General Election in 2015, to give full strength to the fight against corruption, and not make it a joke as the IGP is being described.

Hunger strike at Welikada

The hunger strike launched this week by more than 40 detainees at the Colombo Magazine Prison, following that of the eight detainees at Anuradhapura that began earlier, poses a serious problem to the Government.

These are all Tamil detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), who have been in detention for many years. What they ask for is an early trial. Discussions with the TNA and the Minister of Justice on the matter have not produced the best results.

This hunger strike will have a major negative impact on Sri Lanka, countering most of its promises on reconciliation and peace building. These detainees have been held for several years, some even up to 10 years. A whole decade after the end of the war with the separatist – terrorist LTTE, it is not possible to tell the world and the non-racist civil society in Sri Lanka too, about the justice or necessity to keep these detainees without justice for so long.

The recent Cabinet decision to repeal the PTA, and replace with the proposed Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), could be a means of resolving this issue, while also taking note of the considerable criticism of the proposed legislation.

It is necessary to recall that the repeal of the PTA was one of the campaign pledges of the Common Candidate in January 2015, and President Sirisena also told the UN last year that the PTA would be replaced with legislation in keeping with international best practices.

The problem is that more than three years after 2015, action has not been taken in this regard. There is no question that this will be raised when the UNHRC meets in Geneva again, will raise further questions on this delay, and lead to wider disbelief that there are no detainees being held without trial in Sri Lanka.

The 50 plus fasting detainees at Welikada and Anuradhapura are a reminder to the Sri Lankan State that it has to deal with necessary legality, as well as compassion and kindness towards those held in its custody, on alleged charges of terrorism. This is also an important message of Human Rights to Sri Lanka, whatever any religious or political leaders may say about the non-relevance of Human Rights to a society with a religious history or culture.

There is considerable criticism of the provisions in the CTA, and it is best for the Government to address these too, with the least delay, and seek to resolve this issue and bring the necessary good image to Sri Lanka on the treatment of detainees.