Meaningful democracy

President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a ceremony in Colombo last week, called the recent local government elections in the Batticaloa District as the most important milestone in Sri Lankan democracy, since the country was granted universal franchise nearly 80 years ago. That assertion is left for debate, considering the manner in which other political parties, except for those backed by the government, were systematically left out of the democratic process. With all its shortcomings and the many questions regarding the process, the government yet has a golden opportunity to salvage a victory in the East, if it ensures that its latest political ally doesn’t become its biggest liability, both locally and internationally.

The TMVP, the political party that was established by LTTE renegade leader Vinayagamurthy Muralidaran, better known as Karuna, swept to power, in what is hailed as a victory for democracy. Until the election, the ruling party had distanced itself from Karuna and his band of followers, who are alleged by many for gross human rights violations including the abduction and recruitment of child soldiers. The TMVP along with the LTTE, has been cited by several governments and international organisations as perpetrators of violence against civilians. Whenever such accusations were levelled in the past, the government used to deny that it had anything to do with the breakaway Karuna faction, claiming that the party was an independent movement not receiving any sort of state patronage.

However that line of argument will no longer be a luxury the government can enjoy. Now it has clearly entered into a political alliance with the TMVP which is seen as an integral part of the ruling apparatus, at least in the form of the administration’s agent in the East. In this light it is disheartening to note that reports from the East are indicating that the military wing of the TMVP is continuing with its usual ways of extorting and intimidating the civilian populace, now of a region in which it claims to have political power. The substitution of one terror organisation with another, is definitely not what one can call a resounding victory for democracy. Further the substitution of the LTTE terror with that of the TMVP is far from the liberation the people of the region hoped for.

It is imperative that the government and its security forces ensure that the TMVP does not become a law to its self.
Whatever military debts the security forces may have to the Karuna Faction in their support to defeat the LTTE in the East, should be repaid in a manner that does not tarnish the image of the whole country, and further strengthen the hand of those who are antagonistic to the Sri Lankan state. The Rajapaksa administration often labelled as hard line militarists, now have a fabulous opportunity to show its detractors both at home and abroad, that they can deliver on a promise of democracy and liberation.

If they manage to tame the TMVP and bring in true democracy to the East, that can be projected as model for peace in the North. Yet if they decide to turn a blind eye to the atrocities carried out by the TMVP and allow them to run amok, then it will be only a matter of time before the administration’s latest political ally becomes its greatest political liability.


The end of a dynasty

2008 has been a year of death from day one. Members of the minority community, politicians, ministers, military men, have all passed away in these three short months – months of mourning and loss. The death of Anura Bandaranaike last week however was more than just another death of a man in the news, for with his passing was sealed forever the Bandaranaike political legacy in Sri Lanka.

Ever since the Oxford educated Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike crossed the well of the house, abandoning the UNP to create his own party, the Bandaranaikes have been in the throes of Sri Lanka’s post independence political drama. S.W.R.D.’s crossing marked the birth of the second largest political party in the country that would henceforth and up till today, become the only other party to rule the nation whenever its main rival the UNP was defeated at an election. The SLFP was by and large a creation and brain child of S.W.R.D, and from within the ranks of the blue party rose the world’s first woman Prime Minister and Sri Lanka’s first woman President. Their reigns may not have been rosy, but the merits and demerits of their governance is matter for another editorial.

Anura Bandaranaike died of prolonged illness. While described as a maverick politician towards the latter part of his career, there are still some who remember him differently. In the J.R. years, when the SLFP was reduced to eight seats in the legislature, Anura Bandaranaike is remembered as being the best orator in Parliament, putting up stoic resistance despite the overwhelming numbers his party was at odds with. His brief stint as Speaker is also worthy of mention, for in that hallowed position he discharged his duties honourably and without prejudice. It will be recalled, how it was Bandaranaike that ruled in 2002 that Parliament was supreme as being the law making body, and that Parliament did not have to bow to the dictates of the Judiciary. The landmark ruling holds to this day, signalling that in the end, the people power is manifest over all other arms of the state.

Anura Bandaranaike never was too comfortable in the Rajapaksa Administration. Having made no bones about his opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa being given the SLFP nomination, Bandaranaike was destined to be sidelined when the SLFP candidate carried the election and ascended the Presidency. He bore it all as long as he could, until he was sacked along with Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi in February 2007. After begging to be taken back into the cabinet, Bandaranaike was never again the same. Nursing a bruised ego, and his spirit broken, Bandaranaike continued to live at Visumpaya and serve on the Administration, until at the third reading of the budget he decided to cross over to the Opposition.

A mere three months later, Anura Bandaranaike is being mourned. In many ways, his political life was a tragedy; he was a crown prince always in waiting, losing out first to his sister and then his parliamentary colleague.

Bandaranaike leaves no heir, closing with his death, the Bandaranaike chapter in Sri Lankan political history. But it is a natural phenomenon – dynasties must end, families must cease to wield power. A good lesson for all those in power now, who appear to believe that the sun will never set on their reign.