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
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
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
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.