If further evidence was required of the breakdown of the rule of law and the politicisation of the Police Department, it came live with television footage when five UNP parliamentarians—elected representatives of the sovereign people visited the Rajapaksa homebase of Hambantota for a first-hand official infection of the controversial Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port.
Opposition leaders and most independent analysts are describing it as the 'Hambantota doctrine' more than 40 years after the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike imposed the notorious Attanagalla doctrine when she defended an attack by political thugs on UNP members who visited her homebase. According to independent media reports, the five MPs were first harassed and intimidated when they were coming out of the MRIA. President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the UNP and other opposition parties are unfairly attacking major development projects such as the MRIA and the international port in Hambantota but the UNP MPs who visited the area and Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya told a news conference yesterday they had not, as the President charged, said the MRIA should be turned into a museum because few flights were coming there and that the international port should be turned into a swimming pool. The UNP members said they had raised questions about the corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the multi-billion-rupee projects and went there to get facts and figures to be presented to Parliament.
Media reports and live television pictures showed Hambantota Mayor Eraj Fernando carrying a pistol while a large crowd manhandled and geared the MPs, throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes at them till they were forced to flee. The Mayor claims he was carrying only a toy pistol and his aim was to prevent the crowd from attacking the MPs. But the UNP says the mayor’s claim is a point-blank lie and the people are not donkeys to believe such crude propaganda. His Worship the Mayor claimed he was acting on the direction of the President’s powerful son and Hambantota district parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa. But the young Mr. Rajapaksa has added confusion and contradiction to the mysterious and disgraceful incident by saying he gave no such direction to the 'Lord Mayor'. Our sister newspaper the Sunday Times reported yesterday that the President had telephoned the Mayor and reprimanded him for what had happened because, as most independent analysts say, the 'Hambantota doctrine' episode has tarnished Sri Lanka’s image internationally at a time when the United Nations Human Rights Council and most western countries in the international community are gunning for Sri Lanka though not with the 'Lord Mayor’s' toy pistol.
If MPs who have a wide range of powers and privileges are treated like common criminals and are chased out while they were on a fact-finding mission, what then is the plight of ordinary people. If they are attacked or some injustice is done to them, there is little purpose in going to a Police station as the Police Department has been politicised after the abolition of the 17th Amendment and the Independent police Commission. With serious damage being caused to another bastion of democracy—the independent judiciary-- most people see little purpose in going to courts.
If we wish to see a contrast, we only need to turn to our giant neighbour India where more than 820 million people are eligible to vote in the ongoing general elections to the world’s biggest democracy. Whatever its geopolitical stratergies or double standards towards Sri Lanka, India’s democratic institutions are functioning effectively. For Instance during the current elections the independent Elections Commissioner has sweeping powers even over the security forces and can cancel the polling in any electorate where he finds evidence of the abuse of state privileges by the ruling party-- as we see so often in Sri Lanka. India’s Supreme Court and other courts are also vibrantly independent while the people have access to any big deals or contracts by way of the Freedom of Information Act. While insisting that India should be fair towards its small neighbours, Sri Lanka needs to take some lessons from India’s vibrant democracy.