Do candidates need armed security to ask for people’s votes?
I have read and heard of W. Dahanayake travelling to Colombo from Galle in the morning â€œRuhunu Kumari” train with all those other ordinary passengers, getting off at the Kollupitiya station to go to his ministry in Union Place, when he was Co-operative Minister in the J.R. Jayawardne government. That was in early 1980′s.
There were other MPs and Ministers too in the past, who used to travel by train to Colombo, to attend parliamentary sessions. Some even booked sleeping berths, for they travelled through night from Jaffna or Badulla, to be in parliament for the morning sessions. None of them then would have ever thought of themselves being elected representatives of the people, going about with armed security escorting them. Elected representatives then were escorted by their political supporters, their voters in the village.
The whole concept of an elected representative, despite its legal or constitutional definition, was quite different to that of today. Then a MP was a very publicly accessible icon of political â€œfacilitation” and not one of political power. They were there to facilitate what their voters wanted and decided, as a constituency. Any breach of trust, or change of perceptions, would leave them out of parliament for a different elected representative at elections. But – this is important – she or he could not leave that constituency, because it was her or his constituency on public obligations and therefore, she or he was expected to be there for consideration at the next election. They were thus as ordinary as any ordinary citizen in their political life, going about in society as free citizens.
All of it changed, not because of the LTTE first, but because of the JVP. In 1987 July, when the Indo â€“ Lanka Accord was signed, the JVP let loose their opposition to the Accord, by killing those who supported Provincial Councils and came forward to contest PC’s. They vandalised public property, threatened and killed ordinary people in ordinary places and the government was compelled to tighten security in very many ways. Security was made extensive and security intelligence a sophisticated appendage of national security.
This killing spree by the JVP, thus changed the landscape of Sri Lankan politics since then, with PC Members, political leaders and Members of Parliament (MP) which included Ministers, given armed security. It wasn’t thus easy for people to visit their elected representative, for they were also â€œsuspect” for the armed security on guard and had to be searched, before allowing entry. Yet, given the brute terror in society, such enhanced security in the country and for politicians became an accepted factor.
Initially, the JRJ government provided 02 armed policemen for all MP’s. The first MP to get special military security then was Mahinda Rajapaksa, although in the parliamentary opposition. Then State Minister of Defence, Late Ranjan Wijeratne the gentleman he was, firmly believed, his uncompromising opposition critic Mahinda Rajapaksa was under threat, though campaigning for human rights in the South. Yet the political culture that Mahinda Rajapaksa was groomed in was so people oriented, he did not want to go about with those uniformed armed security. The two soldiers provided for his security were therefore asked to be in civvies.
All that was in the past, over 20 years ago. The JVP leadership was brutally annihilated in late 1991 under the Premadasa regime and the JVP â€“ DJV (Deshapremi Jantha Viyaparaya â€“ the other name used by the JVP) insurgency, wiped out. The few who survived this massacre came out gradually and slowly without arms, to give life to the JVP that we talk of today. Yet the armed security provided for elected representatives, MP’s and PC Members continued turning into and accepted as part of normal life.
There were 02 other reasons that by then had become important for the MP’s to continue with armed security. Especially for government MP’s to begin with. One, the LTTE became a potent force looking for a kill from around mid 1991, after the break down of dialogue with the Premadasa regime. Then again, not all MPs were targeted by the LTTE. Yet all MP’s were provided with armed security and there was no public grudge.Â Two, the MP’s became more comfortable with security around them as it kept un-served people meeting them, and reminding them of election promises made. They also felt they were powerful personalities, going about with armed security.
All of it helped create a new political culture around individual power. It led to unchallenged corruption too with no questions asked, as to how these politicians become rich half way through their parliamentary life. This armed security and political power have thus become inseparable partners in our political culture. So much so, it is always candidates with such power, with backup vehicles and guards running round, who often get the most preferential votes.
The situation has once again changed for the better. At least, if this society wants to. These poor political guys now have no reason to run with security. The JVP is now in mainstream politics for almost 15 years for now and the LTTE including its leadership, was officially declared as eliminated almost 09 months ago, by the President himself.
Now, who would make the lives of these politicians, insecure and threatened ? If there is any that threatens their lives, that has to be obviously personal and not political as before. What they therefore need is not security as such, but an official complaint with the police if they are aware of any threats and perhaps a public statement being politicians, to expose the threat and from where it comes. Once again, they’ve become, or should become as ordinary as me and ordinary others.
Today, except for the President, PC Members and the Local Government Councillors, there are no other category of elected representatives of the people, holding office. Of them, except the President, none requires armed security any more. No PC Member has reason to claim for armed security today and none should be allowed to have any. That certainly includes private security as well.
Today the parliament stands dissolved and technically there are no elected Members of Parliament. Yet there is a category called Cabinet Ministers, who form the caretaker government between dissolution of parliament and the next sitting of the new parliament. The ten crore quiz is to count the number of Cabinet Ministers who may say they need continued security, being the caretaker cabinet. According to the official government website, there are 51 Cabinet Ministers. That number includes the President and also the Late Chandrasekeran as a Minister. Former MP Mahinda Wijesekara’s status as a Minister too needs clarification though still in the list for now.
Taking that number as the total for easy reference, there are only 50 Cabinet Ministers along with whom the Leader of the Opposition could be provided armed security, if one wish to justify provision of security in the absence of political threats to life after the elimination of the LTTE. This leaves almost 175 previous MP’s as ordinary citizens once again, unqualified and probably illegal too, to run about with armed security. They have become ordinary citizens with no extra reason than me, to ask for armed security any more.
The law does not in any way require â€œcandidates” at elections to have armed security. Allowing candidates to run about with armed security, purely because they were former MP’s, leads to unnecessary and preventable breaches of law and order. Also that makes candidates with armed security more powerful than other ordinary candidates in their own district party lists, in canvassing preference votes. They thereafter lead to power politics that make free and fair elections very questionable, but, questioned only after the election is over.
All of it simply raises the question, why aren’t the Election Monitors even noting this very important factor that definitely has an impact on how free and fair an election is, in their reports that run into dozens of neatly formatted pages ? Why aren’t Election Monitors who only provide statistics on election law violations, at least take this issue up with the Election Commissioner and the judiciary ? This is one among the few other factors that directly impact on the conduct of elections, but whose impact would never be quantified to prove the final results were effected due to the unnecessary security provided to candidates, who were former Members of Parliament. A fierce disparity in every way, even within their own party lists.