“There is a large number of war heroes in prison on utterly false charges. I like to tell at this moment, on 17th morning, I will acquit and release them all from prison. Will acquit and release them,” SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised at his maiden election rally held on October 9 in Anuradhapura.
“I have appointed Sarath Fonseka to ensure that these incidents (Easter Sunday type attacks) will not repeat. I will destroy all terrorists before something like this takes place. I will not bring them before the law. We will destroy them. That’s the only answer to terrorism,” UNF presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa promised on October 22, addressing an election rally in Katana.
“Use your vote right at the election,” said Mahinda Rajapaksa to supporters of Sivanesadurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan on October 27 after visiting him in the Batticaloa prison where he is held as an accused in connection with the murder of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham. MP Namal Rajapaksa too visited Pilleyan in prison on September 29. Pilleyan, a child soldier turned a leading LTTE fighting cadre, who was Chief Minister of Eastern Province on Karuna Amman’s political outfit TMVP supported by President Rajapaksa, has pledged his support to SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Both presidential candidates Sajith and Gotabaya promise a democratic, peaceful country with equality and unrestricted freedom for people of all religious faiths and ethnic identities. They also promise to strengthen ‘national security.’ That hinges on strengthening intelligence, surveillance and obviously beefing up the military. One must not lose the fact that everything about’war heroes,’ the military and’national security’ is based on Sinhala Buddhist hardline ideology.
“I guarantee that the foremost position given to Buddhism through the Constitution will be ensured day in and day out and put into active use instead of confining it to the Constitution. It has also been decided to stick to the Buddhist principles when formulating economic corridors of this country,” said UNF presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa addressing the National Sangha Council on October 11 at the Maharagama National Youth Council.
“The foundation for a righteous society is Buddhism,” said Gotabaya Rajapaksa, unveiling his election manifesto on October 25 at Nelum Pokuna, and claimed he grew within a Buddhist cultural background that fashioned his sentiments and vision. This ‘righteous society’ on Buddhism remains without definition and explanation.
What have releasing ‘war heroes’ with criminal charges, ‘killing’ non-existent terrorists and fostering and promoting Buddhism got to do with a modern democratic State? What have they got to do with growing rural and urban poverty? Sri Lanka is in a massive socio-economic and cultural crisis that is gripping it to suffocation.
One thing is more than apparent: Both have little interest in ‘rule of law’ and ‘justice to all’ in a future Sri Lanka. Allegation that war heroes have been out in prison is a bloated lie. There are no war heroes in remand prisons with false or real charges against them. No security personnel had been charged for crimes committed while the war was being fought. Not even on the controversial ‘white flag’ issue that should be investigated. But there are those who have been arrested, interrogated and charged with crimes committed outside the theatre of war and committed after the war declared over in May 2009. They are charged for crimes that underworld criminals are usually charged for; kidnapping, murder, extortion and so forth. These ‘suspects’ on investigation and some charged with crimes have used their uniforms and status in security forces to commit those crimes and Gotabaya calls them ‘war heroes.’ If allowed to be freed, they may end up in Gotabaya’s governing apparatus, too dangerous a situation to even think of.
Also, no President can decide who among suspects should be acquitted. Whether a suspect could be acquitted or not is a legal process magistrates and judges will have to decide without any interference. Not that Gotabaya is unaware of or ignorant about that responsibility of the judiciary as one who has many court cases filed against him on corruption, but taking the law into his hands is what he calls ‘rule of law.’
Then the question, who decides who a ‘terrorist’ is. Someone taken in for ‘terrorist activities or involvement’ as a suspect in a law-abiding, democratic society, will have to be proven in a court of law as a ‘terrorist.’ But Sajith Premadasa says he will not resort to any law. That leaves ‘terrorists’ to be decided by a ‘Kangaroo Court’ and Sarath Fonseka as his Minister of Defence, Law and Order would eradicate ‘terrorism.’ Terrorists will be “destroyed” he promises, fighting shy to say they will be “killed” in cold blood. In this stinking statement, the implied message is, Fonseka is the man to “eliminate” terrorists the way Sajith promises, to say it mildly.
But what ‘terrorism’ is Sajith talking of? In Katana, he was referring to Easter Sunday “Islamic terrorism” and implied this country was still plagued with Islamic terrorism. Zahran’s NTJ is only an ISIS-inspired local group with no direct evidence of any link to ISIS. Speaking to SL Rupavahini over five months ago in early May, then Army Commander Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake said the threat of more Islamic militant attacks had been contained and security services dismantled most of the network linked to the Easter Sunday bomb attacks. He said the Sri Lankan situation was controllable and contained with the arrest of a number of hardcore people. He requested the general public to let armed forces handle the security situation and to get back to daily routine. Quite obviously, there is no such threat of another Islamic terror attack, as frighteningly-painted by Sajith Premadasa. And for him, capital punishment that President Sirisena one time was announcing loud, is part of democracy.
"It is absolute loony to go on with elections that promise everything stupid from war heroes to terrorists and fostering Buddhism that’s vulgarised on the streets"
Promoting Buddhism as the basis of “righteous” society by Gotabaya and guaranteeing the foremost position to Buddhism beyond the Constitution by Sajith are nothing new. It’s an old populist slogan that has been touted ever since the First Republican Constitution of 1972. The present 1978 Constitution that guarantees “Buddhism the foremost place” and also guarantees accordingly “it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Article 10 and 14(1)(e)” has not been of any worth for Buddhism.
This special State protection and fostering of Buddhism for 47-long years have only politicised the Buddha Sasana. It has, in no way, led to propagating Buddha’s preaching based on ‘Karuna, Mettha, Mudhita’ (compassion, benevolence, unselfish joy) and in establishing a civilised, righteous society. Instead we see a surging ugly trend among Buddhist monks behaving as illiterate hooligans, preaching the very opposite of Buddha’s preaching. We see and hear these monks preaching racial hatred, calling for violence and intimidation of minorities. We see Buddhist monks in violent mobs taking to streets, humiliating and intimidating law-enforcement personnel.
What ‘Buddhism’ are these two candidates promising to propagate and foster? Are they talking of protecting and fostering the Buddhism of violent monks who riot on streets, or are they promising to protect and foster the peaceful and compassionate philosophy of Lord Buddha? To protect and foster the latter would need the ICCPR Act to be strictly and sternly enforced against those monks who preach racial hatred and come violently on the streets. But that, the two would not do.
These promises on war heroes, terrorists and fostering Buddhism are not issues people need answers for. These are issues presidential candidates use with hype to avoid actual and serious socio-economic issues that plague the country. Then comes election manifestos with no serious reform programmes, but with promises and free offers that can never be implemented in an ailing economy. Even the promises in election manifestos are not explained and discussed on election platforms. In this country, no vote is anyway decided on election manifestos. Thus all the rhetoric on war heroes, patronage for Buddhism, killing of terrorists to avoid discussions on major issues like education, healthcare, public transport and rural and urban poverty.
But for seventy plus two years after independence, all political parties and presidential candidates have been marketing ‘development’ without any serious programme. Every election, seven parliamentary elections that elected governments before the executive presidency was created, was about development with State controls. Thereafter, with seven presidential elections and seven parliamentary elections, development is about Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in a free market without State controls. This presidential election on November 16 is also about development with promises on threefold increases on GDP and Per Capita Income, free fertiliser for all and sanitary pads without programmes for implementation. They are proven empty even before they are made from election platforms that have corrupt and rowdy politicians seated with pride and comfort waiting to be sworn in
It is absolute loony therefore to go on with elections that promise everything stupid from war heroes to terrorists and fostering Buddhism that’s vulgarised on the streets. To go on with promises on development that leaves poverty reeking in rural society with around a hundred thousand young women going to Mid East as housemaids every year and promoted by every government.
This needs to be stopped with a permanent cure. People should demand an end to these elections on ‘promissory notes’ and demand answers for major issues that drag their lives into apathy and conflicts.