The Sunday Leader

Wanted:A Democratic Opposition

Sri Lanka was on the brink of political instability last week following the incident that took place at a Jaffna security check-point at dead of night where two Tamil university students met with their deaths.

The disaster potential to the country was immense when considering the three decade long conflict of the security forces with the terrorist organisation. The incident on October 20 resulted in a volatile situation that could have set the country aflame but fortunately mature and sober counsel prevailed on both sides of Elephant Pass and the situation was brought under control.
The government acted correctly in ordering impartial investigations while suspending suspected police officers from duty and producing them in courts to be remanded.

Yet the situation is fraught with danger and all concerned should contribute positively to maintain peace and continue with the reconciliation process.
In these circumstances it is best to leave the situation to the government to deal with leaders in Jaffna rather than let an Opposition, some of whose members have given positive indications since the new government was formed of creating a racist backlash in Sinhala areas and bringing about island wide chaos with the objective change in political leadership.

The government is placed in an extremely awkward position as all governments will be in similar circumstances. Being fair to the security forces inevitably results in allegations of an attempted cover up. On the other hand, a crackdown invites allegations of being partial towards the Tamil community. Under the circumstances, President Sirisena acted correctly in dispatching a team of CID officials from Colombo, which on whose investigations the police officers concerned have been suspended from duties and brought before courts.

It is heartening to note that university students of all universities under the banner of the Inter University Students’ Federation expressed solidarity with their Jaffna colleagues by staging a demonstration in their support. This is one of those rare moments when student organisations contributed towards calm and sanity of the nation.

A regrettably frequent occurrence since the Sirisena- Wickremesinghe government took office has been the plethora of demonstrations being staged against it for every conceivable cause. The government, true to its pledges, has permitted these demonstrations that are not only disturbing the peace, but creating chaos on the streets of Colombo.

The media, particularly TV, gives wide coverage to it on prime time news. This practice of ‘Demos’ have now filtered deep into provinces and villagers come out to streets shouting justifiable demands in uncouth lingo. They are unable to resist the temptation of being seen on national TV.

These are undoubtedly democratic practices, it can be argued but are giving rise to a ‘Demo Culture’ in Sri Lanka which the country has been fortunately free of. Exposure of damaged or neglect of infrastructure is commendable but should they always be accompanied by demonstrations even in far-away places where TV crews happen to be there at the right time? The late Shimon Peres, Israeli statesman noted: Television makes dictatorship impossible but democracy unbearable.

Governments are elected by the people for governance in accordance with a given mandate. While the media, university students and the like in a democracy have their right of protest, can they prevent a government from implementing its pledges/ policies?
Should every move made by the government, which some organisations are not in agreement with, result in a massive demonstration on the streets?
A sense of balance and justice by opposition forces is called for. When democratic leaders turn out to be dictators such public protests gather momentum to become revolutions that throw out would be dictators. But does the current Sri Lankan situation warrant that?

If these planned demonstrations are a part of a strategy to bring down a government that is implementing a mandate given by the people, it can then be considered a political coup d’état.
In a democracy not only the government but the opposition too should observe the rules of democracy. The fact that they have been rejected by the people and another party elected has to be conceded and while making their objections in accordance with the law are permissible, should elected governments be obstructed in accordance with their policies.

All this is elementary Civics that was taught in schools some time ago but apparently has been given up when we consider the behaviour of the raucous Opposition. But so called ‘education’ itself would not suffice.

 It all depends on the quality of ‘education’ because we witness today some lawyers and doctors that have been to the country’s best institutes of legal and medical education, behaving like bazaar thugs with their sarongs hoisted.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should be unhindered in carrying out its politics till its term of office ends. Those now in the Opposition and are attempting to be the country’s next rulers should realise that they will be paid by with the same political if their dreams come true.

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