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Importance of hearing voices of dissent

2018-09-06 00:00:05
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The Government’s planned Tsunami Warning Rehearsal scheduled in the morning yesterday (September 5) was perhaps a little gimmick to take the attention away from the ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ protest campaign which was expected to enter Colombo any moment, at the time of writing.   

One thing that this Government does, which the previous regime didn’t, is fear the opposition. This fear is largely due to a few factors; chief among which is the citizens not willing to accept the Government’s claim that there is development in the country.   

Two other important factors are that defeated former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is now fast gaining aceptancy as a future leader of the country and the increasing cost of living that is choking those who spend their hard-earned monies on purchasing essentials.   

This fear is perhaps what made the Government do all what was possible in sabotaging the opposition sponsored protest rally, a few days before it was set to take to the streets. The Government possibly influenced the decision taken by the Colombo Municipal Council to turn down requests by the opposition to hire Hyde Park and three other grounds owned by the municipality for this protest. Like parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara stating that he can read the mind of President Sirisena, the joint opposition too has read the mind of the Government and perhaps likes what it sees. The joint opposition now sees a trembling Government, which seems to be viewing its fears through a magnifying glass. The latter shows an object in an increased dimension with the vision it offers being somewhat different from how it looks in reality.   

The Sri Lanka Police through these requests show clearly that they don’t wish to thwart a peaceful attempt by the country’s citizens to show their displeasure over the unsatisfactory rule by the Government

Fear can’t be measured, but one can obtain an indication of how the law makers of this nation feel by knowing that a 5000 strong police force was to be stationed to control this protest march. There was a Cabinet decision taken to make the police use necessary force in the event public order is disturbed by those involved in the protest rally.   

Those who value democracy in this country have always stressed that the police should be an independent authority, sans the interference of politicians and other forces. It was reported that the courts had rejected requests by officials of three police stations which sought retraining orders in the event there were needs to restrict protesters from marching towards certain areas. Instead the courts ordered the police to take action according to the powers vested in them and the Criminal Procedure Code when dealing with those who breach the law.   

Right to protest

Being able to voice a grievance in the form of a protest is a democratic right and the police must ensure that they do not deny the people this right. One classic example of the law enforcement authorities ensuring this right of the people was recorded in Thailand in 2013. The police were seen taking down barricades and allowing anti-government protesters to enter the compounds of Government buildings. In an ideal democracy the police wouldn’t get involved if a frustrated citizenry wishes to get rid of a corrupt regime. The Sri Lanka Police through these requests show clearly that they don’t wish to thwart a peaceful attempt by the country’s citizens to show their displeasure over the unsatisfactory rule by the Government.   

This regime has a corrupt tag pinned on it mainly due to the Central Bank Bond issue where the chief accused, Arjuna Mahendran, is yet to be arrested. The Government never really recovered from this blow and saw its wings being clipped further on two occasions; when it had to remove its Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and the morale denting defeat it suffered at the Local Government polls.   

The Government, if smart, should by now know that the masses of this country are best described by the word ‘impatient’. This is what happened when the UNP backed United National Front came to power in 2001 following General Elections. Many opined that that the Government was defeated because it didn’t have a micro plan in place while time was taken till the regime’s macro plan produced dividends. The same seems to be true this time around too.   

The Government boosts of making headway economically after increasing taxes (VAT). Wickremesinghe’s theory is that this move has enabled the Government to ease the country’s debt commitment. This regime also boasts of three more highways in the country being built with the help of other nations and are nearing completion. But these development drives by the Government are yet to give the people a significant return which they too can enjoy. The Government can also boast of receiving the chairmanship of BMSTEC which enables Sri Lanka to host the next session of this cooperation, between several Asian countries. But all what’s glorified by this government is work-in-progress or promising plans restricted to a paper.   

On this context the Government must take seriously this ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ campaign where its protesters are voicing their grievances against the sale of Government assets to foreigners, the tax burden on citizens, the increase in cost of living and political victimisation.   

Need of a strong opposition

Any Government needs a strong opposition to make them work harder and limit the errors they make. This is one reason why protest campaigns must be allowed to take place. Protest campaigns against a regime are successful when the grieved party exercises patience. This nation has experienced enough violence and doesn’t need even a single episode of violence in the near future. Let the ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ campaign go peacefully and build a platform from where the voices of the opposition can be heard much clearly in the future.   


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