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De-militarising Lankan Society Must Begin With Removal of Security For Minor Politicians

by Kusal Perera

“Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem to be more afraid of life than death” – James F. Bymes

It was not so in the past. Nor was it two and a half decades ago. My story was in early 1980's. I was once in the morning train that comes on the coast line from Galle. Its a very popular train, the “Ruhunu Kumari” which carries commuters from the South to the metropolitan Colombo every day. There was one old and lanky gentleman in a typical white cotton “national dress” in the compartment that I got into and had to travel standing.

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He was having a very casual “gossip” type talk with the commuters who were mainly employees in different public and private sector offices. When the train reached Kollupitiya, he got off the train with a neatly rolled black umbrella used as a walking stick and ambled out of the station. Out side the station there was a lonely black car with just an ordinary driver, that carried this gentleman away. He was Dr. W. Dahanayake, Minister of Co-operatives at the time. He perhaps was not aware then, what “security” was for politicians. Nor was there any public talk of “national” security.

The whole issue of “national security” in Sri Lanka emerged as tied to the armed conflict of the North. Every aspect of public life too got “barricaded” with it. With that came the personal security of the present day “politician” who by then had evolved differently to that of Dahanayake type politicians of the past. What really irks and irritates people is not the necessity of highlighting “national security” that can be discussed. But the high level of security that has come to accompany all shades of politicians. The first major armed security allocated for politicians became an accepted necessity, not with armed Tamil groups in the North, but with the armed insurgency in the “South” by the JVP.

With the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in July 1987, the JVP led an armed insurgency against devolution and provincial councils in the most savage way Sri Lanka had ever witnessed till then. The then UNP government of J.R. Jayawardne was thus compelled to provide security to all who politically accepted Provincial Councils (PC), both in and outside parliament. This meant that all those who contested PC's too had to be provided with armed security. Thereafter the targeting the lives of parliament members by the LTTE made armed security a fact of life in Sri Lanka.

That in brief is how SL came to be a country under a “24 x 7 armed guard” and heavy security. With the LTTE targeting high profile personalities like President Premadasa, Minister Kadirgamar, Athulathmudali, Dissanayake and the like, stricter and heavier armed security for politicians came to be socially accepted and as inevitable in unusually generalised terms.

Over the last 02 decades no politician, whether parliament or PC, moved about without armed guard and that became the most convenient show of power, for politicians. There were those who ran about with convoys of armed men with total disrespect to the public they were supposed to represent. There was no criteria or basis the public knew about, in how such armed security was allocated to politicians. Worst was that no one knew whether they were even official State security or not. That too was never questioned. The blanket acceptance of “Tiger threats” to politicians provided such beefing up of armed security for those who wanted to show their political muscle in public display.

While the question of how best security could have been organised for high profile public personalities, remain a question outside public debate, the security that was thrown into political life in the country in such abundance and for so long, has had a devastating effect on the law and order situation of the country and its democratic existence. In a country which lives with politicisation of all its State appendages including the police department, the apparent legality added to security allocated for politicians have especially in the provinces given them unquestionable ability to override policing of the society. Thus a social breed that is not accountable to law as other citizens do, or have to, has emerged with a “beyond legal” immunity that is not easily, or ever challenged.

Thus the habit of politicians moving freely with armed security that in a way suppressed the civil life of the people, has also distanced the “elected representative” from the voter who elect them. Armed security has provided the elected men and women with an acquired arbitrary discretion and an undue advantage of refusing to listen to their own constituents. This has helped develop an attitude of arrogance and of irresponsibility in politics. Despite all those negative and intimidating impact on the voter, this is being defined as “political power” and thus as high attraction even in elections.

The recent provincial council elections held and the one that is now in the running in the South, are ample proof of all that indecent brute armed power. Para military groups allowed to run for elections under political party registrations have added more offensive stink to the already gangrenous wound. Its a rolling mountain that gathers more force with the ruling elite's patronage.

Wijenayake who is still an accuse in an election related murder in Gampaha and promoted a Minister, Labour Minister Silva who goes about with presidential patronage even after his notoriously riotous attacks on media personnel and publicly claiming he could send the Kelaniya PS Chairman to where SL Editor Wickramatunge was sent, two candidates in Galle district at the provincial council elections now being held, making complaints with the police against a third candidate for threats on their lives, the CaFFE claiming law enforcement agencies are not taking adequate action and JVP election offices coming under attacks by armed thugs are all extensions of this “sick” armed security mentality that prevails among politicians.

This is a steady growth of the brute thuggery that was witnessed especially after the infamous Wayamba PC elections and at most elections over the past decades This is an extension of armed brutality that controls and intimidates the civil society, beyond elections. It has allowed not only politicians, but their irresponsible, undisciplined siblings to create chaos even at public places. This therefore calls for an end to militarisation of this society.

What ever promises the politicians make, the Sri Lankan society can never achieve any semblance of democracy, unless the society seriously takes up the issue of politicians running around with armed escorts. As for the more sensitive official positions like the President, Defense establishment heads and may be the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, one could accept continued security. Yet, what ever excuse the other politicians had previously, they don't have the right to have them now. At least the ordinary minsters, MP's and especially the PC members can not say they are threatened by Tiger suicide cadres any more.

Its time therefore to call for these ordinary politicians to be totally stripped of all security they parade with. The PM should be called upon in parliament every month, to provide a list of designations and names of those who are officially eligible for security and to declare on whose recommendations the security is provided for those considered eligible.

The whole security issue that was kept out of the public domain and at a huge public cost during the war, has no reason now to be kept so elusive and confidential. The public who bears the billions spent on security, should have at least the basic information as to who is provided security now and why.

It would in effect remove the issue of para military groups operating, as they are no more threatened by an already eliminated LTTE. The people, especially in the South should now start defining the conclusion of the war as declared by the Rajapaksa regime as one that brings a demilitarised society by default. Its just logical too that the security provided for politicians in the face of LTTE threats have to go off with the government declaring the war over. Not just the war, but the LTTE as well.

It would effectively demilitarise the society to a great extent. At least to the extent that the people would know provincial politicians who move with armed security thereafter, are those who do so illegally. Politicians who could well be called “rogue politicians”. Law enforcement agencies that are not held responsible for such public display of armed security now, could be held responsible for such misuse, thereafter.

While this may not be very palatable for most Opposition party politicians who are also vying to be as powerful or more powerful at their earliest opportunity, it is wise for the public to take up the call for demilitarisation of society, beginning with removal of security of ordinary politicians. Some things are necessary to be named, though at times the society is not ready to do so. But this society should not allow, too many Silvas, Wijanayakes, Muthuhettyges and their likes to go round with arms any more. Monday 21st the International Peace Day could well be the day for this call.

14 Comments

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I may be wrong, but in Srilanka murdering politicians (terrorism!) started with the murder of SWRD by a monk in late 50's.
:-)

Posted by: aratai | September 20, 2009 05:24 PM

Along with the reduction of security for low level politicians, the PTA should be repealed or revised to safeguard the rights of ordinary people. Emergency must be allowed to lapse and authorities should operate within the ambit of normal laws and regulations. Much has to be done including the trimming of Presidential Executive Powers. But this is good for a start.

Posted by: SriLankan | September 20, 2009 08:45 PM

With due respect to Kusal, let me disagree with him at the very outset.

It is very unfair and illogic to compare the Dhahanayake era with today. My question to Kusal is that, is it only LTTE and JVP killed politicians? Is this what Kusal argue? Yes, he refers to the Para groups. But again he says they were threatened by the LTTE then. And since LTTE is no more now disarm them. Yes, it sounds logic. But beyond LTTE, JVP and Para Groups, there is another powerful side. It is the government units operating in the country. We are aware that there are six units operating under the command of Defense secretary. Three in Colombo and three in north and east.These groups directly under the command of the government's defense establishment. They who killed Raviraj, Maheshwaran, Lasantha etc, if one needs names. There are many more killings and media assualts carried away by these groups. How do we handle this issue? Dahanayake may not know. He is no more. But we have to know and look for strategies to face. There are oppostion political activists today who are under threat from government killer units. Leader of Opposition needs formal security because of the protocol. But in reality Ranil Wickramasinghe has no threats. Not even the TNA MPs today. But Opposition party leaders like Mano Ganesan, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauf Hakkem need to be protected. They for sure in the name of god need to be protected. Can they hire private security agencies? Can UN or EU provide security to them? Can the Speaker of the House Lokubandara provide security to them? Can they develop their own (illegal) armed groups for their protection? Can good samartians like Kusal and others take turns and provide security to them? The answers to all above is a big 'NO'. They have to to be protected by the state police. It may look ridicules that the state police protecting them when they critizise the government. But do they have any choice? The police belongs to the state and not to the government. But how many of us may understand this real truth, the difference between The state and The government? The government killer units have no links with the general police force that provide protection to the vulnerable opposition politicians. At least when there is an attempt the police will fight back for their own survival. When Raviraj and Maheswaran were killed their respective security guards fired back. Some of the guards were either killed or injured. So at least the police security is making the job tough for the killer units. Let us not generalise the security issue. Let us think if any way out more practically. The vulnerable opposition politicians (Not Ranil W) take some chance and survive. Let us at least not put them into more trouble since we cannot help to improve their security.

I wish interligent Kusal looks into these angles too.

RAMYA

Posted by: RAMYA Sri Lanka | September 20, 2009 10:25 PM

Of course all politicians whether from major or minor parties should be able to walk or travel around without personal body guards or army escorts, like what Mr Dahanayake did.In fact I have been to his house a couple of times and the only other person in the house was his servant.

Despite these heavy security protection over the last 03 decades, a significant number of political personalities from a president down were brutally killed along with their security escorts.Even the Defence chiefs were blasted with suicide bombers.

To demand the immediate disbandment of the security arrangements of the politicians simply because the Terrorists were defeated is either sheer lunacy or part of a calculated agenda to expose them to harm.Only a fool will think that the defeat of the LTTE forces have created a peaceful society with all GOD fearing souls.

There are thousands of Terrorists who have gone under ground either in refugee camps or mingling in the society.Even if most of them are incarcerated or rehabilitated there is no guarantee that the country will be free of Terrorist acts. All they need is a few cells in main cities and they will cause horrendous damage.I am sure these elements fully backed by their handlers overseas will hit back at the Government politicians in particular, with vengeance.These elements must be rubbing their hands and praying for an opportunity to arise.

I am sure the Government won't be intimidated by these deceitful comments whether they are from local or foreign journos.

I thought there are politicians in Srlanka with other ethnic names who also have armed security units provided by the Government.

Posted by: Buddhadasa | September 21, 2009 05:51 AM

Let us all celebrate Peace Day by our new found peace in Sri Lanka. The TAMIL TERRORISTS are all DEAD and GONE... what better reason to celebrate Peace in Sri Lanka. It is truly the dawn of a new Era for Sri Lanka.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | September 21, 2009 02:21 PM

I still remember my friend Lakshman Jayakody – MP for long and Minister in CBK’s 1994 Govt though he was relegated to the Cultural Affairs Ministry – for narrow personal reasons. He hardly needed any security and would laugh at the idea.

He came to Keels for Groceries shopping - driven by his wife. The country that produced men like Mr. Dahanayake of Galle you refer to – who would not touch even a cent of the State unduly – was killed (the country, that is) some years ago. Memories of such men are now remembered in reverential terms. The thieves, the killers, the drug-traffickers, Bootleggers, rice and fish racketeers, tender benders have taken over.

The decent system of Govt we enjoyed was killed in 2004 almost totally. And then there was that haughty woman from the slums of Maradana who developed visions of grandeur. After many years after the man had died she refused to part with 30 odd Govt vehicles and even refused to let 2 Govt bungalows in Colombo 7.

I am reminded of the quote referring to these hapless creatures “those who yesterday seemed destined to oblivion acquire visions of greatness and immortality” I think the woman is now condemned to her rightful place behind the scenes - although she has not given up her delusionary dreams of being accepted even by average society.

How about the millions spent even now with costly security retinue accompanying those
Podi-puthas to the Casinos and drug-infested night clubs – something shamelessly carried on by the rowdy sons of two senior Ministers – one a JVPer and the other a Communist Party reject. In fairness to CBK, inspite of all her own rackets, one must say she brought her children decently.

Those children of the manor never spent nights or misbehaved in night-clubs. That comes from good social class. They had nothing to show off. They came from the right background steeped in generations of nobility. Chandruka was right in proudly claiming to have brought her two children well.

May that be a lesson to others - even those "who came to politics in broken bicyles in Bata slippes; now emerging from Cbo 7 mansions in Mercedes 450s" - as Anura B would say. It is only the President and the PM who should be given some security. Certainly not others.

Many people even suggest this bogey of LTTE is being kept alive simply to enjoy these perks. One has to start somewhere to stop this rot that has eaten into the body politic of our pauperish country. Imagine mass killers of Policemen now being protected by many a posse of men from the Police, army and the forces.

Even traffic is stopped for several minutes to allow these “terrorists" to pass. That can only happen in Sri Lanka – a land of strange contradictions. It is only the President and the PM who should be given some limited security – and certainly not others.

As a Judge in New Delhi laid down “if you feel you are no longer safe from the people and need the costly security you demand, go hide inside your house and resign from Parliament. Because the people appear to have rejected you - in your own tacit admission”

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | September 21, 2009 07:45 PM

"I may be wrong, but in Srilanka murdering politicians (terrorism!) started with the murder of SWRD by a monk in late 50's.
:-)
Posted by: aratai | September 20, 2009 05:24 PM"

I beg to disagree. Modern day terroism started at least before the murder of SWRD, in 1956 Anti Tamil riots. When some FEDERAL PARTY MPs walked into the parliament with wounds with oozing blood out, the premier commented "the honourable wound of war". He was not sorry, an articulate speaker of English. He chose the words correctly that the war was declared on Tamils. The real terrorism started very early with Dutegemunu. He was not from Anuradhapura but he killed a king of Anuradhapura, because he was a Tamil, even though the king Ellalan was a kind and good king to the account of everyone.
Easwaran

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2009 09:58 PM

I believe I should respond to the two with the names "Ramya" and "Buddhadasa" who have commented to my above article on demilitarising the SL society.
Both are talking of a past they still think is the same in every way and are projecting that past to the future as valid.

Wheher we agree or not, this govt of President Rajapaksa has changed the scenario to one where there is no organised LTTE threat any more, going by all the statements and guarantees offered by the political and military leadership of this regime. Ex-LTTE cadres in IDP camps or in hiding with no leadership and no structured organisation, are no more threats as they were in the past, when they were fighting for their political cause. Today even Pillayan and Karuna Amman should be able to go without armed security, if not for their past that may have parents and affected people in the East wanting to take personal revenge and then their own infighting.

The issue of lingering "LTTE threats" is a very lame excuse and Buddhadasa's argument has nothing special in it. It is now being used by the ruling elite to continue with the same arrogant and ruthless power they are used to and wouldn't want to give up at any cost.

In any case, the PC members and most ministers and ordinary MPs did not ever have any threat from the LTTE even during their most savage period. Even during that period, the LTTE was only after high profile ministers and defense heads and not after these "summa" local politicians.

Those who were under threat was known to the intelligence agencies and they have often warned those threatened and their security have been increased accordingly even in the past.

As for Ramya's concern about Mangala S and Rauf Hakeem and the like, I have clearly said such persona could be provided with security on condition that the PM makes a monthly statement in parliament so that the public would know who would be going around with armed security now in this changed situation. Those who are not listed in parliament therefore are "rogue" politicians if they move about with security and should be legally dealt with.

It is always easy to de-militarise a society when the society decides to disarm the known factors who are no more necessary. Others who are claimed by Ramya as armed outfits of the State, then become isolated protrusions and that issue then has to be taken within the larger campaign of democratising the State.

It therefore holds no water to say that, as there are 06 such undeclared armed outfits run by the State or the defense bosses, the rest of the huge armed security that run about with politicos should not be removed and the process of demilitarising of the society should stop.

It would be like saying "why clothe the people. the king is nude too". My answer would be, But he does not come out as often, so let's first clothe the people who are always on the streets. The king would have to be clothed too, and that would be easy once the people are clothed.

Kusal Perera

Posted by: Kusal Perera | September 22, 2009 01:23 AM

ISS

Thanks for your quote "As a Judge in New Delhi laid down “if you feel you are no longer safe from the people and need the costly security you demand, go hide inside your house and resign from Parliament. Because the people appear to have rejected you - in your own tacit admission”

A gem that immediately went into my collection

Posted by: Ruwan | September 22, 2009 02:45 AM

Kusal Perera who has been ROOTING for the TIGERS since Day one now comes here to bark that there is no Threat from the LTTE anymore???? Once again I ask you Kusal:

What color is the Sky in your world?

All LTTE Must be Snuffed out, and while the LTTE INTERNATIONAL NETWORK and their DELUDED DIASPORA BASE remain alive and well then these LTTE without Central Leadership in Sri Lanka need only to hook up a connection with those outside. This is unacceptable and no sane leader of ours would allow that to happen. Sri Lanka needs to be kept Militarized and our Security Apparatus on High Alert till we completely CRUSH and DISMANTLE the EELAM DREAM. That means we have to enter a new phase of combat and seek to Take out the International Elements of the LTTE. Whether it be with the cooperation of other governments in EXTRADITION of LTTE Leaders like RUDRAKUMARAN or whether we go it alone and send Black-Ops agents to Target these TERRORISTS who think they are safe behind foreign borders. Either way Sri Lanka will not drop is guard when it comes to TAMIL TERRORISTS. We made that mistake once before and that is the last time it will happen.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | September 22, 2009 09:39 AM

Ramya,

Another option is to totally remove all arms and ammunition from private hands with the exception of the police/armed forces - as Singapore and Malaysia cleaned up their act.

But here the problem is most of the gangsters, killers, drug-traffickers, abductionists are either at the higher levels of Govt running riot with impunity under the very nose of the cantankerous IGP or are close associates of leading Govt high-ups.

How else can you explain how that vermin going as a Deputy Minister and a Doctorate to boot is not behind bars (I had much respct to my friend Dr. Anton Jayasuriya until he annointed the pervert with the Doctorate)

If we succeed, 90% of the Tamil diaspora will come for regular visits to the country bringing with them that mighty yankee dolla (Remember The Andrews Sisters old song "Rum & coco-cola".

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | September 22, 2009 10:38 AM

Devinda Fernando, you are right there may be TAMIL TERRORISTS still hiding behind the bush or in Bush land, But time has come to put a fullstop. Let us go back to 1990's and see how SINHALA TERRORISTS was silenced by HE Pramadasa's time, how SINHALA TERRORISTS were disappiered afterwards.

If you understand how Terrorism works then you will never put a statement like this. FYI once Head of the group is removed the cell will die, this is basic rule for fight againts terrorism. Prof SINHALA TERRORISM AND Saudi TERRORISM, Once the head is out then the rest will rest forever

Posted by: Harrison Ford | September 24, 2009 06:36 AM

Mr. Ford.

Your analysis of the situation is Completely Wrong. While the Death of Prabhakaran is in deed a SEVERE BLOW to the TAMIL SEPARATIST Movement it is in no way DEAD and BURIED. While money continues to flow to the COFFERS of the LTTE's INTERNATIONAL NETWORK there will be enough organization and Opportunity to keep the movement alive and Active. The Last thing Sri Lanka needs is another Northern Ireland Situation or a Israel/Palestine Situation where continued Resistance in the form of sporadic attacks continue for the next two to three decades. We cannot drop our guard and allow the Occiasional Bomb to go off in the Capital or on a Bus or Railway... Till the Diaspora Elements are Completely DISMANTLED, meaning that we continue to HUNT these TERRORISTS tot he ends of the Earth until any Tamil with DELUSIONAL FANTASIES of Attacking Sri Lanka is afraid for his/her life then and then only can we start shutting down our Military Apparatus.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | September 25, 2009 10:56 AM

To Ford & All others,
who may think of engaging with a psychopath(now often called a sociopath).
Who ever this Devinda is, he is living with a deranged fear and he could only think of killing any one he thinks is a "potential" Tiger and that could include all of the Tamils in SL and elsewhere. Check his language and tone. He sounds he has the right to decide and none should disagree with him. Any one who disagrees is again a "terrorist" for him. Typical of an incurable rabid racist, who does not know what a modern civilised society is and how such societies should work within democratic norms and structures.
Its best such sociopaths are left to fend for themselves.
Thanks
Amarnath S.

Posted by: Amarnath | September 26, 2009 07:45 AM

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