By Jehan Perera
The government would also be wary of taking precipitate action that they cannot sustain in a court of law. The police raid on one of the former president’s home backfired against the government when nothing incriminating was discovered. The former president and his supporters were able to accuse the government of being vindictive and engaging in a witch hunt. However, the allegation that the former president tried to stop the votes from being counted when he knew that he was being defeated, and that he sought the support of the military and police to hold on to power, has been gaining in strength. The filing of a case in the Supreme Court in relation to the former president regarding this charge could see the start of legal proceedings that restrict his ability to engage in politics at this critical time.
However, the generally slow action against alleged perpetrators has given rise to apprehension that deals are being struck between those in the new and former government. The truth is likely to be more mundane. It is common experience that cases of fraud taken to court in ordinary circumstances will take months to start and years to conclude. This would be more so in cases where files have been destroyed, evidence tampered with and the wrongdoers are prominent in public life. In addition in situations such as the present one, in which the former government members are accused of spiriting out their ill gotten gains to foreign climes, the expertise to probe such crimes is also lacking in the country.
In the former war zones of the North and East, where the people voted overwhelmingly to get rid of the Rajapaksa presidency, there is also a sense of disillusionment. Their most urgent problems of missing and detained persons, confiscated land, return of displaced persons and military rule have not been resolved. However, the government has to proceed on this course of action with care. The memory of the three decade long war is still keen, not only in the North and East, but throughout the country. The government has also inherited a very large military that was beginning to play a more active role in supplementing civilian governance. Their concerns and interests will also need to be taken into account.
In this context, there continue to be attempts to mobilise ethnic nationalism for political purposes. This is taking place on both sides of the ethnic divide. The resolution of the Northern Provincial Council which accused successive Sri Lankan governments of committing genocide against the Tamils and called upon the UN to investigate is one example. Now the genocide resolution has been overshadowed by the massive show of strength by a new alliance of political parties that have come out in support of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The speeches made were full of that extreme form of Sinhalese nationalism that likes to see the ethnic and religious minorities as being a lesser people and a threat to the country.
One of the themes at the opposition rally was that the former president won more of the Sinhalese vote than did the winner of the presidential election. Despite the large numbers who attended the rally, this was a mobilised and motivated group, many of whom were bused in to Colombo from outside. Most of those who attended in this manner would be those who want their political party to win at the next general election. This is fair enough. However, the voter has a different interest. Their interest is to elect a government that will improve their lives, which necessarily involves reducing corruption and ensuring the rule of law. On these counts, the former president and his associates have not fared well.
The new government’s main strength at the present time is that it is new and promises a better future than the previous government. At the same time the government would seek to implement its 100 day action plan and win the support of the people by engaging in constructive actions.
There is much that it has already done. It has reduced prices of several essential commodities and assuaged the strongest grievance of the masses of people regarding the rising cost of living. It is in the final stages of drafting new legislation with regard to issues of good governance, including the setting up of independent state institutions. The fear of the arbitrary power of the government is much diminished, which is seen in the degree of freedom of speech and media the country now enjoys.
With regard to the North and East, the government has also done things that were not mentioned in its 100 day plan such as appointing civilian governors for the northern and eastern provinces. Although the military presence continues, they play a less visible and direct role in the governance of the people. In addition, the government has started returning land to the civilian population in those two provinces that were taken over by the previous government. It has also removed travel restrictions on foreign citizens and media, and thereby opened up the entire country to more transparent governance. The government may be moving slowly, but it is on the right course.
The manifestation of extreme nationalism on both sides of the divide so soon after the presidential election shows what the most important problem that faces the country is. However, it is also relevant to note that the presidential election saw moderate opinion prevail, as it was the majority of moderate voters who ensured the defeat of the former president who did his utmost to mobilise the Sinhalese nationalism of the electorate.
It is plausible to believe that this moderate majority is larger today than it was before the presidential election due to the constant stream of media disclosures of corruption and abuse of power on the part of the previous government. The interest of the majority of the voters will be good governance and a better economic future, not kangaroo courts that mete out quick punitive justice.