- MR’s security contingent consisted of some 229 security personnel, and was axed to 187
- Security for politicians has major, destructive impacts on society
- Security has today become a cultural factor with a social cost
In early 1990 while in parliament, opposition MP Mahinda Rajapaksa who was then campaigning on human rights violations in the South during President Premadasa’s rule, was called by State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and told personally, he would be provided with two army personnel for security reasons. Mahinda first declined saying he had two police constables to provide him security. But Minister Wijeratne insisted he should have two army personnel for his security as the threat was high. Mahinda Rajapaksa thus became the first MP to have army personnel for security.
Twenty seven years later, on February 5, 2017, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake announced in parliament that former President Rajapaksa’s security contingent consisted of some 229 security personnel including the STF, and that it was axed to 187 with 42 of them recalled. The minister said security was provided to VIPs based on ‘threat assessment’ conducted by the police bi-annually. Two days later, the media reported another reduction in security for Rajapaksa by recalling 50 personnel. That was cancelled within 24 hours and restored with no reasons given, media reported.
What is all this security for? Threats to political bigwigs became a nightmare following the 1987 July Indo-Lanka Accord with the JVP going on a killing spree. With JVP boycotting the elections, Provincial Council and parliamentary candidates and their party supporters were brutally killed during 1988-1990. The then Elections Commissioner Chandrananda de Silva’s report on parliamentary elections of February 1989 states 13 candidates were murdered while 150 others killed 48 hours prior to the commencement of the polls. It was this JVP insurgency that first necessitated security for politicians in the South.
Earlier in 1985, the LTTE had killed some 252 Sinhala civilians and three Buddhist monks in areas commonly called ‘border villages.’ In 1986, the number was 137. This does not mean the LTTE spared the Tamils and Muslims during those years. On the other hand, in Colombo was another report of an assassination attempt on the then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali by an armed Tamil group. Nevertheless, there were no serious threats perceived on politicians.
Later in July 1989, while the LTTE was officially negotiating with the Premadasa Government and with a ceasefire in place, they killed TULF leader MP Amirthalingam and former Jaffna Parliamentarian Yogeswaran in Colombo, paving the way for the outbreak of war in June the subsequent year. Four months on, the JVP was wiped off with the leaders, with the ‘threat factor’ shifting from the JVP to the LTTE.
On May 19, President Rajapaksa proclaimed thus, “Having defeated the most ruthless terrorists who made the world helpless, we rise today as invincible citizens; as a nation with a great and imposing personality.” He said his government had eradicated terrorism, the biggest impediment faced by the private sector in taking part in the Northern Spring. Two years later in May 2011, Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said addressing a three-day defence seminar in Colombo that the country was rescued from terrorism once and for all.
That was the assurance given to the people of the country. There isn’t much exaggeration in those statements. It is true the LTTE was completely wiped off the ground. Surviving cadres either surrendered or were picked up from among thousands of refugees.
That was eight years ago. During the last three years, many reports divulged the regrouping of the LTTE. In the second half of March 2014, the police headquarters published descriptions and photographs of three absconding LTTEers identified as Gopi, Appan and Thevian. Termed ‘high profile,’ a staggering one million rupees was offered for information leading to their arrest. It was also established that they were ‘informants’ of the military. Today, it seems a dead case anyway.
Five months later on August 14, 2014, ‘The Hindu’ reported about six Sri Lankan Tamil youths being arrested after they were smuggled into Australia as a possible scheme to reorganise the LTTE. The report said, “The purpose of the youth flocking to the faraway Australia may not be merely for the sake of jobs.” Yet three years on, there seems to be nothing more than seeking refuge and livelihood, in that story.
In March 2015, a couple of months after the presidential polls voted a “Yahapalana” government to power, its Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ajith Perera told the media that the LTTE’s front organisations operated businesses overseas to generate funds in a bid to revive the outfit. But how he arrived at that conclusion was not told.
There is no threat or danger in any regrouping unless of course there is hard evidence to prove they are into armed activities. The JVP also regrouped in 1993 after their whole leadership was eliminated in a similar fashion in November 1990. The JVP regrouping was not subject to the rearrest of ex-JVP cadres or their weapons searched for. They are now no different to others in mainstream politics.
Unlike the ordinary, the most recent report on LTTE regrouping has painted a totally different image. With MP Sumanthiran facing death threats, his security was beefed up. The whole episode, despite some media providing every minute detail of the plotting, sounded fragile. The arrest of four suspects on January 14 this year by the TID was on information that a claymore was to be exploded when Sumanthiran was to visit Marudankerni. It seems the intelligence had finally established the plot while MP Sumanthiran was on his way to Marudankerni. He was warned through the Presidential Secretariat. Did not the intelligence authority receive adequate information to caution MP Sumanthiran before he started the journey? And why did the message come through the Presidential Secretariat instead of Sumanthiran’s security personnel? How efficient and secure is it?
The ‘regrouping’ tale does not resurface in media any more. Investigating authorities do not have to share information with the media though many times before, selected journalists did have access to almost all details to break news and write features, while investigations were continuing. Yet, what is important is how serious ‘threat assessments’ are. If there were any seriousness in assessing threats, there could not have been any recalling of security personnel to cancel that decision and restore the same within 24 hours.
There can be a necessity of providing a certain degree of security, not in numbers but intense and efficient, for former presidents and incumbent Head of State, and maybe for a few others in sensitive security, the judiciary and decision-making bodies. What needs inspection is the necessity to provide security to all cabinet ministers, MPs and PC members.
‘Security’ has today become a cultural factor with a social cost. Not solely politicians but their immediate families too, feel insecure and insignificant if they are not provided with adequate security. Also, people see their politician of choice as important and powerful when accompanied by security men. Often, the security personnel decide the politician’s diary, and answer his mobile phone. They decide whether the ‘caller’ should speak to the politician or not. Politics has come to stay with armed security personnel embedded and accepted.
Security for politicians has major, destructive impacts on society. Democracy is the worst affected in an elected representative system of governance. Undefined power usurped by police and security personnel by working under emergency laws for decades and in an atmosphere of a brutal war, has been transferred to the political arena with security provided for politicians. The relaxed atmosphere the voter should have for free exchange of views and ideas with the MP are no more. The voter is no more comfortable in voicing his or her objection to any local issue. There is always the possibility of the voter being ‘thrown out’ by security personnel for disagreements with his own elected representative. This has helped the MPs to distant himself or herself from the whole electorate as an arrogant political clout. Post elections, he or she cannot be held responsible to the electorate. The very essence of representative democracy is lost when elected representatives decide for their own comfort when and how they meet people who elected them.
With such guaranteed restrictions on public relations, MPs have cultivated ‘catchers’ around them for their personal agendas. It is they who now have comfortable access to the MP. Over the past decades, this security has also given an aggressive electioneering tool for most MPs. Thuggery is resorted to in elections with security personnel supporting election campaigners. All of it together has led to local and provincial level corruption of many sorts too, from contracts, government permits to appointments, promotions and transfers.
In short, the undefined ‘threat’ to politicians has allowed for unnoticed and unconsciously accepted ‘militarisation’ of local politics. It has reduced functional representative democracy to a mere procedural democracy that serves no purpose to the people. It is with all these reasons and factors there is now a growing cynical trend that distances people from the very process of holding elections.
In a democratic society, providing security in this manner to all and sundry has no rationale. Isolated and suspected possibilities of the LTTE regrouping should not be used for such heavy security for all. There is thus a serious need to identify who actually needs security and to what extent. That does not seem to be happening as of now. What continues is the old assumption that all politicians are eligible for security at the expense of democracy and taxpayers’ contributions. It is this ridiculous practice that has to be stopped forthwith.