Twelve years have elapsed since the conclusion of the war, which had led to countless explosions on civilian targets in many parts of the country. Today, on the watch of the very leaders who boast of having ended the war, people are living in fear of explosions, albeit of a different kind, again; these blasts caused by cooking gas leakages have frightened the people beyond measure and are causing a great deal of trouble for the government on the political front.

Nothing seems to go right for the government. What it is experiencing at present could be considered a textbook example of irony. The SLPP is in power mostly because of a series of blasts which rocked the country on Easter Sunday in 2019. True, it had scored a mammoth electoral victory in 2018, beating both the SLFP and the UNP at the last local government polls, and would have won the elections that followed even if the Eastern Sunday terror attacks had not occurred, but the near-synchronized bombings carried out by the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) in 2019 unarguably gave its election campaign a turbo boost by serving as a gruesome reminder of terror attacks and making the public fear for their safety; national security, which is the long suit of the SLPP leaders, was catapulted to the forefront of policy-making. So, the yahapalana government’s failure to prevent the Easter Sunday blasts became its undoing.

Political shockwaves of Easter Sunday blasts

The SLPP leaders may never have expected those who were seeking justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday tragedy to turn so hostile towards them one day. Leaders of the Catholic Church and the family members of the victims are today hauling the government leaders over the coals for their failure to have justice served, or at least implement the recommendations by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) which probed the Easter Sunday attacks. Their consternation is understandable. They have agreed to consider the full implementation of the PCoI recommendations as an option, for want of a better alternative. But the government finds itself in a difficult situation, which it did not bargain for, two years ago; it is under pressure to have criminal proceedings instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who is now on its side and has 14 members in the SLPP parliamentary group; he is a force to be reckoned with. It also stands accused of shielding some intelligence officers who allegedly cultivated NTJ leader Zahran Hashim years before the Easter Sunday blasts.

As for the frustratingly tardy progress in the police investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks and in the process of prosecuting those named in the PCoI report, the government has said it does not want to interfere with the legal and judicial processes. Those who are demanding justice for the bomb victims seem to go by the legal maxim, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ while the government leaders would have the public believe that ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. But the SLPP leadership has demonstrated, albeit unwittingly, that in its efforts to tame its political rivals, it is even ready to use the PCoI report to impose civic disabilities on those held accountable for the Easter Sunday tragedy. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, at the opening of the new Kelani bridge, last week, that the government could even move a Bill in Parliament to deprive those who were in the yahapalana government including the former President and the former Prime Minister of their [civic] rights, over their failure to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings. He also said something to the effect that the Opposition should not ask for trouble. The Catholic church and the kith and kin of the Easter Sunday bomb victims have asked for much less by way of justice; they do not want the culprits stripped of their civic rights through extrajudicial means; instead, they want the government to ensure that the persons held accountable by the PCoI are prosecuted without further delay. One can argue that for a government that considers bringing in new laws to punish those named in the PCoI report, having criminal proceedings instituted against them under the existing laws cannot be a difficult task.

Political fallout of gas explosions

The government is in an unenviable position. It is under pressure to have all those whose negligence led to the Easter Sunday blasts brought to justice expeditiously, and prevent any more gas explosions. As if the problems caused by bomb and gas explosions were not enough, the government is now faced with the prospect of another explosive spread of Covid-19 in case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus finding its way here. Another round of lockdowns is the last thing the government wants at this juncture.

President Rajapaksa has appointed an eight-member committee to probe the spate of gas explosions, and a report that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has issued on the composition of cooking gas has been handed over to the Moratuwa University. The Opposition has demanded to know why the report was not tabled in the parliament before being sent to the university concerned.  The government has said the test reports and probe findings in respect of the gas explosions will be released to the public in due course and action taken to ensure their safety. But it is doubtful whether the people will take such assurances seriously because governments in this country usually take them for a ride. The officials of the state-owned gas company have said there has been no change in the butane-propane ratio, but the petroleum trade union, which claim to be privy to the test results in question, say the gas composition has been changed and this has increased the pressure inside the cylinders, causing their valves to leak, exposing consumers to danger.

The boot is now on the other foot. The Opposition has got hold of something to bludgeon the government with. It is using the gas explosions to gain political mileage the way the SLPP flogged the issue of Easter Sunday blasts to propel itself on the electoral front in 2019.

Delayed reaction

Disturbed by the Opposition’s propaganda onslaught, the government is busy devising ways and means of countering it. Some government leaders seem to think their propagandists have failed to inform the public of what they consider the achievements of the current administration. They have organized a series of lectures for the media secretaries of ministries. Most of these press officers lack media-related experience; their only qualification for handling the media is their fealty to the politicians in power, and therefore, they cannot be expected to do what is expected of them. However, they alone cannot be blamed for the setbacks the government has suffered on the propaganda front; the SLPP leaders themselves have failed to get their act together, much less live up to people’s expectations. Their response to the gas explosions serves as an example. On being informed of the first few explosions, they should have got cracking and done something urgently to ensure the safety of the public. Most of all, they should have been seen to be doing so. Instead, they went into the denial mode, and sought to downplay the problem, and when pressure mounted, it ordered probes, but delayed the release of the test results, and appointed a committee.

In politics, perceptions matter as much as reality, and the government is seen to be attempting a cover-up instead of finding out the causes of gas explosions and doing its utmost to ensure public safety. It should have presented to Parliament, in the form of an interim report, the test results issued by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which tested the gas samples, before handing them over to the Moratuwa University.

There seems to be no end to the government mishandling vital issues and therefore its opponents are never short of grist to their mill. It has no one but itself to blame for the mess it has got into. This usually happens to governments that obtain huge majorities and become too cocky to listen to wise counsel and mend their ways. Even those who do not see eye to eye with former President Maithripala Sirisena on many issues will agree with him that the governments that secure two-thirds majorities in this country are jinxed.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here