Driving on the streets of Colombo a day before Sri Lanka celebrated its 70th Independence Day, I noticed wayside vendors attempting to sell national flags to passers-by. These sellers used a noval method to entice customers. The flags were mounted on cars, using some sort of base to keep the flags upright. But what was more prominent than this method of displaying flags was that not many of the passers-by were really interested in buying them.
I continued my drive on these busy Colombo streets and despite the presence of a large number of vehicles there was no traffic snarl. People unlike in the past don’t seem to have a need to break the laws laid down for drivers. There seems to be a lot more freedom to drive on these roads and it hasn’t come at the expense of breaking driving laws.
There are two mindsets in Sri Lanka. One is that people wish the law enforcement officers to be more lenient and relax existing laws. There is also an equally large section of the society who wish for the practice of stricter laws through which they cherish the living conditions that are made available.
It looks like we are heading in the direction of creating a lawful nation. According to writer Ayesha Zuhair in her article headlined ‘We need to move from confrontation to comprise’ and published in the Daily Mirror recently, Sri Lanka was given a 3.5 rating for the year 2017 by the Freedom House’s country for Freedom in the World. The writer goes on to state that a nation that would have a rating of one (1) would be termed most free while a nation with a rating of seven would be termed ‘least free’. These are interesting statistics for a country which just finished voting for their favourite political representatives at the Local Government Elections which were held on February 10.
What’s of concern is that Sri Lankans have a choice between voting for a regime that promotes the enforcement of law and order or returning to the old way of governing a country where a powerful family placed itself above the law. The decision to chose here, I feel, shouldn’t be an option. There should be no compromise on the law regardless of whatever period we’re experiencing. Coming back to the selling of those national flags, does the lukewarm interest shown by the public to buy them suggest that people oppose the strict enforcement of the law? If the answer is yes we need to seriously think about the future of the next generation of students who are about to enter local universities or await the commencement of the academic years for higher studies at private academic institutes.
"LG Polls have attracted many educated youth to contest wards. This is a nation which is yet to give its people the best return after returning to peace from a period where a culture of guns and bombs reigned"
Though this Government has given people the freedom to do business, speak out and live freely people have a negative perception about the manner in which some decisions are taken and reversed by Government authorities later on. As much as the Government gives its people the freedom of choice there doesn’t seem to be one voice when it comes to issues of importance. The last occasion when a serious decision taken by the Government was overruled by the president was when the authorities decided to lift the ban on liquor sales to females. Just a few days ago the Minister Counsellor (Defence) at the Sri Lanka Embassy in London saw him being suspended from work because he made a ‘slit throat gesture’ at some Tamil people who were engaged in a street protest outside the High Commission in London. Later we heard that the order given by the Foreign Affairs Ministry had been revoked by a directive issued by President Maithripala Sirisena.
The person in question Brigadier Priyankara Fernando has all the right to show his displeasure over the protest because it amounts to freedom of expression. But what was unbecoming of him was the ‘cut throat gesture’ he made. For the record the World Cup winning All Blacks rugby team had to do away with this ‘cut throat gesture’ that was part of their ‘Haka’- the war dance before the game- because the governing body for rugby in the world (World Rugby) termed this part of the Haka as an act that brought the game to disrepute and didn’t respect the opponents.
The above mentioned incident involving the Brigadier took place on February 4. What people with neutral minds observe is the initial aggressive stance taken by the Government which was later followed by softer stance taken by the head of state.
What Sri Lanka needs now isn’t a UNP or SLFP way of ruling the country, but a system of governance where the rule of the law applies equally to all citizens of the country. We still have concerns when the law is not aggressively enforced on certain individuals, especially the monks wearing saffron robes. We have seen in the past how a prominent monk got away with little or no punishment for his actions that stirred racial disharmony.
The Local Government Polls this time attracted many educated youth to contest wards. This is a nation which is yet to give its people the best return after returning to peace from a period where a culture of guns and bombs reigned. We need political leadership from individuals who fear the law even if they don’t fear politically manipulated gun-trotting goons who have the potential to terrorize villages and towns.
The president in his Independence Day speech had emphasized on the fact that ‘the fight against corruption is the self-defence of the country’s march towards prosperity’. But all law abiding citizens in the island wish to see the day that wrong doers have no escape when they breach the law. We need to see the ushering in of an era when courts speed up the hearing of cases and the Government doesn’t show the need to punish culprits when elections are just around the corner!