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Underworld in the fore of Sri Lanka`s next General Elections?

By Luxman Arvind

(March 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Of the many “firsts” little Sri Lanka lays claim to in the world (the 1st woman Prime Minister, the only country where Father, Mother and Daughter were voted in as thecountry’s leaders – to name just two) this must be only country where dregs of society - – killers, extortionists, abduction experts, drug-traffickers, gun runners, jail birds – are chosen by leading political parties as District Organisers, candidates and leaders in the forthcoming Parliamentary General Elections due April 08.

The notorious and rhino-skinned Minister Mervyn Silva is encouraged to run riot – to the horror of not merely the opposition but government party men as well. The foul-mouthed reject in earlier Parliament contests carries on regardless threatening the opposition, civilians, the Police. All this widely believed to be with the complicity of President Rajapakse and his brothers. Notorious gangsters with violent past records form his goon squad and storm-troopers. They are given `Contracts`` to breakup legitimate opposition meetings. The latest being the meeting in the vicinity of the Supreme Courts at Hultsdorp where the wife of incarcertated Presidential Candidate Gen. Sarathj Fonseka, her lawyers and hundreds of peaceful supporters as they were walking to file an objection in Courts. They were set upon by thugs associated with Mervyn Silva, stoned, attacked with steel rods while the Police remained mere by-standers. The whole thing was filmed and broadcast but does not bother neither Silva nor the government. It is also well known in that farce that took place as an Election to the Colombo Municipal Council a few years ago when that Godfather of the Colombo Underworld during the Premadasa heydays a.k.a. Maru Sira attempted yet another political comeback. The Rajapakse government was hell-bent in preventing this and gave Mervyn Silva Carte Blanche to help. Silva did just that. He used a notorious gangster of Modera named Prince Column to kidnap Rajendran – brother in law of Imthiaz – and they were kept captive at the Taj Samudra Hotel. They were released later when Uvais Mohamed Imthiaz - an illiterate 3-wheel driver was annointed Mayor of Colombo – a honoured post held earlier by distinguished men like Dr.N.M. Perera, V.A.Sugathadasa - and, more recently Karu Jayasuriya. Mervyn Silva is now the Chief Organiser of the Kelaniya electorate - and, by extention, to the entire Gampaha District - the 2nd most populous in the country.

As if such a grave situation can only be balanced by one with an equally dubious past in the existing political culture , the UNP has appointed, as their own Gampaha District Organiser, another mobster and gangland boss Bevan Perera. This ex-convict has a long Police record of violence, gun-carrying, drug-trafficking, assaulting a Customs Officer who was on his way as a smuggler – being the lesser offences. The admission is pretty clear. In today’s tussle for political power “have gangsters close to you if you want to get anywhere in our political front” appears to be the message. Yet another gangland hero who was responsible for a machine gun attack in the premises of the Colombo High Court and another kidnapper-rapist with an Arnold Schwazanegger physique are both in the fray. There could be dozens more country-wide of those with such dangerous backgrounds in the forthcoming Elections. Some of the leading gangsters in the Colombo District are multi-millionaires now owning valuable residential and commercial property – some of which belonging to Tamils forced out during the July 1983 pogrom. It is a curious factor in Sri Lanka that one of the most famous gangsters and ex-convicts suspected to be involved in the country`s most notorious political assassination of a former Prime Minister - now runs a modern hospital and other successful businesses. He is also known as the Timber King as he dominates the Timber business vital to the important Building industry.

The presence of rejects in society is not unusual even in other lands - the USA, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea – for instance. But they keep below the radar and remain in the background. Our society here is so lop-sided; the law and order machinery so grotesque, these desperadoes are viewed by many as cult heroes. How most of them - from the larger Buddhist Society - escaped the wisdom of the preachings of the Buddha one hears almost regularly in various civil functions - is baffling. The Buddhist hierarchy should have identified the cause of this decline of society and helped take steps to prevent this cancerous growth. Sadly, they were themselves victims of threats, intimidation and thuggery recently in Kandy where unbuddhist thugs in yellow robs threatened them with violent death if they went ahead with The Great Gathering of the Sangha.Pious Buddhists in the country were shocked at this desecration of their holy place of worship that seems to be getting worse. It is upto civil society to express outrage at this rapid decline of our once valued lofty cultural values. It must be said in favour of the JVP - during the 1988/89 period - they publicly punished several notorious criminals and gangsters who terrorised people in their areas. This won for the JVP much public acclaim from many quarters of the people.

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