By Kassapa 

There has been a great deal of public reaction to the debacle of a political discussion on a television channel where Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentarians Tissa Kuttiarachchi and D. Weerasinghe were making a display of the buffoonery, idiocy and impunity which has become the hallmark of the SLPP, leading to the party’s current slump in popularity.

Both MPs have deservedly been roasted on social media for their churlish behaviour, unbecoming of kindergarten children, let alone parliamentarians. Nevertheless, there is nothing surprising here: SLPP and the arrogance of power go hand in hand, it is only to be expected.

However, there is another, more important aspect that deserves closer examination. It was in response to comments by Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) representative Nalin Hewage that the duo erupted in anger. Hewage’s remarks, conduct and the underlying sentiment merit closer analysis, for therein lies an important lesson for the JJB- and indeed, for the Sri Lankan voter.

When the JJB’s forerunner, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was accused of murder by the SLPP MPs with particular reference to the fact that Weerasinghe’s father was among those victims, Hewage responded with a wry smile and the comment that “there were indeed some deaths of murderers and rapists during that time, I am not aware whether Weerasinghe’s father was among them”.

Firstly, the unsaid but obviously implied sentiment was that Weerasinghe’s father could be a murderer or a rapist. That is a grossly unsubstantiated allegation of the lowest calibre, not worthy of a person who is considered a frontline spokesman for the JJB. Weerasinghe could excused for taking umbrage at this personal insult directed towards his late father, though his subsequent behaviour cannot be condoned.

Secondly and more importantly, Hewage’s comments suggest that the extrajudicial killing of “murderers and rapists” is an acceptable phenomenon. Is this the stance of the JJB? Hewage is no minion in the JJB. He has been at the forefront of many issues for the party including when he disclosed that Namal Rajapaksa had an unpaid electricity bill for millions of rupees that became a major controversy. So, the JJB does regard him as a top-tier mouthpiece for the party.

The JJB is riding the crest of a political wave at present. That is the result of much hard work from dedicated party members. They are campaigning mostly on a platform of ridding the country of corruption and abuse of power and restoring law and order. They do proclaim a program for economic recovery but the details of that are sketchy. It is mostly the former issues that have attracted the masses to them.  

While the performance of the JJB so far is commendable, the party must take into consideration the over-riding sentiment of most ‘floating’ voters: they are hoping to vote for the JJB, not because they are really enamoured with the party but because they are so disgusted with the alternatives: the SLPP, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decrepit United National Party (UNP), the self-destructing Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and even the wayward and inconsistent Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

All of the latter parties- or the individuals who lead them- have had a hand in government in the past and have various nefarious allegations against their name. Most of them are tainted with corruption charges though they have somehow wriggled through the loopholes of a justice system that is frequently manipulated to the ruling party’s advantage. This is why most voters have now decided that ‘enough is enough’ and that it is time to give the JVP’s reincarnation, the JJB, a go.

The JJB, or more precisely the JVP, also possess political baggage that they must carry. That is their role in the insurrections in 1971 and 1989 which resulted in the deaths of thousands of youth and, in 1989 in particular many civilians who were perceived as being partial to the government of the day because they were simply doing their job. Most people who want to vote for the JJB are held back by the question: will they go back to their violent ways?

The JJB has attempted to address this issue to some extent but has stopped short of issuing an unqualified apology. Their argument is that they were pushed into going underground and taking up arms, first by Sirima Bandaranaike in 1971 and then by J.R. Jayewardene in the ‘80s. Of late, JJB and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has acknowledged that whatever the reasons, what happened in 1971 and 1989 was wrong and should not have happened.

Into this situation wades in Nalin Hewage, suggesting that if “murderers and rapists” were killed, that shouldn’t cause too much consternation. Hewage appears to forget that someone can be declared a murderer or rapist only by a court of law and if that was done, that court would have determined its punishment for the individual as well.

A major premise of the JJB campaign is that they will restore the rule of law and order. How does that resonate with Hewage’s comments? How is it any different to Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles telling the Police that “weapons are given to be used for the right reason”. Alles’s statement, which amounts to sanctioning extra-judicial killings, was roundly condemned and the Sri Lanka Bar Association has called for his removal.

If and when the JJB takes umbrage at Alles for his words, how will it react to Hewage’s comments? On a more practical level for the party, these comments will rekindle horrific memories for the families of victims of the JVP in 1971 and 1989 and will cost them a lot of votes.

The JJB maybe riding a wave of popular support at present. Still, the presidential election is at least four and half months away and that is a very long time in politics. It takes very little for the Sri Lankan voter to change his or her mind. All the hard work that the party has done in the past couple of years can come undone by a careless and callous comment.

That is why the JJB must stop behaving as if it has already won the election- and it shouldn’t behave in the manner Hewage suggests even if it does win the election!       


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