|Opportunity for government to
showcase its strength
The government, in its
infinite political wisdom has dissolved the provincial councils
of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. Nominations
have been called and the polls for these councils are expected
Sri Lanka prides itself in being a vibrant and dynamic
democracy. The country has undergone much suffering in its six
decades of independence. Yet, democracy has survived despite an
attempted coup in the sixties, two southern insurrections in
early seventies and late eighties and the ongoing war in the
North and East.
In this context, and amidst a picture of doom and gloom painted
by the collective opposition which complains of rising prices,
alleged human rights violations and the lack of freedom of
expression, elections of any kind should have been welcomed by
the forces opposing the government.
But, in a curious paradox, this has not been so. When the
dissolution of the two councils were announced, there were howls
of protest from the opposition ranks, claiming that the decision
by the two governors-who would have acted on presidential advice
no doubt-was arbitrary and unconstitutional.
That issue is now being canvassed in court and it is not the
issue we wish to reflect upon. But, when an opposition which is
claiming that the government is at the nadir of its popularity,
is presented with the opportunity of an election and is then
hesitant to face the hustings, that is a significant reflection
on the state of the collective opposition of this country.
Is the opposition sensing defeat, even before a vote has been
cast? Does it fear that another defeat would seriously erode
their chances at future elections? Or is it due to a fear that
it would be unable to meet the governmentís strong arm tactics,
just as it couldnít in the Eastern province elections?
Obviously, elections in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa
provinces follow the governmentís success in the Eastern
province. The ruling party no doubt wants an encore of its
performance in the East, to convince the country that it is well
and truly in the saddle.
What the country would not like to see though, is a repetition
of the polls in the East. That matter too is now being canvassed
in court by the opposition through an election petition. The
ruling party may have won the elections anyway, but the manner
in which the polls were conducted left much to be desired.
The North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces have been
traditional strongholds for the ruling party. Therefore, if the
government is confident of its record so far, it should dare to
conduct free and fair elections in the two provinces and allow
for a level playing field.
During the Eastern provincial council elections and its
unsavoury aftermath, much was said about the sudden police
transfers, the removal of the Special Task Force camps, the
allowances made for one armed group, the lack of an independent
Elections Commission and the Elections Commissionerís impotence
in dealing with alleged election malpractices.
All this does not reflect well on the government or the
President. It smacks of a regime that is running scared in the
face of an opposition fighting for a just cause. And if that is
indeed not the case, then the upcoming polls in the North
Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces provide the government with a
window of opportunity to showcase its strength.
And that should be done not by the Mervyn Silvas or the other
macho men of this government. It can only be done by ensuring
fair elections for all and winning an even challenge. If the
ruling party has the courage to allow for such a contest, that
alone will be enough to give strength to the governmentís
credibility. More responsible transport network needed
More responsible transport network needed
Public transport has been the cynosure of all eyes in recent
weeks, after several bombs exploded in buses and trains killing
dozens of civilians. And, caught in the glare of this spotlight,
several lapses especially in private buses have come in to
Given the security situation in the country, the operators of
private buses-the drivers and conductors-need to be men with a
sense of responsibility and a knack for vigilance. They need to
know that their job is not merely to transport passengers from
point A to point B; they need to ensure their security as well.
Most members of the general public would agree that a
significant proportion of staff operating private buses do not
satisfy these criteria. They merely collect the coins and
maneuver the steering wheel and do not think beyond the next
halt. And this callous and careless attitude has now cost many a
life, both through reckless driving and through terrorist bombs.
Maybe the time has now come to tackle the issue in a meaningful
manner. Bus crews could be trained and such training could be
mandatory for issuing a route permit. Staff operating private
buses could be required to adhere to safety standards and this
could be monitored with random checks. Even cluster bus
companies may be a means of ensuring standards in the transport
Transporting the public in buses has now become risky business
because it has cost so many lives. And that is why it should be
a responsible business as well. What is required now is not only
an efficient private bus network but also a network that is
responsible and accountable for the services it provides.
Over to you, Mr. Minister of Transport.