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Should we invite Canada to be the Opposition?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( October 23, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to boycott the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to be held in Sri Lanka next month, has caused some tremors affecting the Commonwealth's very foundation. The ouster of the 43rd Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayaka, in the blaze of a controversial impeachment motion passed hurriedly in Parliament, has been touted as the main reason behind Canada's drastic action. Canada's boycott and the reasons adduced to it, pose a disturbing question aimed at the collective conscience of the entire Commonwealth of Nations.

Be that as it may, now we hear the opposition United National Party (UNP) is also going to boycott CHOGM. But it is not for any violation of human rights or anti-democratic actions by the government or any such thing; on the contrary, it is because of the failure of the government to take action against the anti-Ranil protesters who were assaulted by Ranil's henchmen in Matara.

Sometime ago, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, visited Sri Lanka on a fact finding mission; to personally assess whether conditions were right to hold the CHOGM in this country. During his exploratory engagement with various personalities he also met with UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assured Sharma that the UNP had no objection to CHOGM being held in this country. It should be emphatically stated that neither the Party's policy making body, the Working Committee nor the Parliamentary Group was consulted by Ranil when conveying the Party's position to Sharma. It was purely his personal view.

Now, he is playing a different tune claiming the Opposition will boycott CHOGM. There again, it is an arbitrary decision taken by him alone without the authority of the Party apparatus. He has stated in all seriousness that his decision to boycott CHOGM is a consequence of the government's effort to arrest Mangala Samaraweera and his Secretary, Sudath Chandrasekara for the Matara attack on the anti-Ranil protest march.

Breach of peace

The Indian media has rightly highlighted the fact that the law enforcement authorities are looking for the arrest of the two persons, not in connection with any anti-government action committed by them, but because of breach of peace as a result of an internal clash between two factions of the same party, the UNP. The Indian media report thus hints at the possibility that the UNP's decision to boycott CHOGM has nothing to do with the condemnation of any undemocratic act of the regime but because authorities were seeking to arrest Ranil's supporters who attacked an anti-Ranil demonstration in Matara.

The Opposition Party of this country has sunk into such lowly depths of hopelessness that it cannot carry out its duties as a responsible Party in a functioning democracy. Neither the summary ousting of the 43rd Chief Justice from the apex position in the country's judiciary by an impeachment motion rushed through Parliament, nor the Rathupaswala shooting on unarmed civilians demanding clean drinking water, or suppression of the Opposition protest in Fort held in connection with the shooting and killing of three civilians was enough reason for Ranil's UNP to agitate against the undemocratic actions of the government.

But the arrest of those who attacked the anti-Ranil demonstrators in Matara is strong enough a reason to protest against the government and boycott CHOGM. When Mangala was being sought by police, to be arrested in connection with the attack, Ranil issued a statement saying that the government is trying to make Mangala a political victim. In truth Mangala was an accused in the Matara attack on the anti-Ranil campaign. Knowing the underlying cause for Mangala's arrest, Western embassies who would normally fire away protest missives, maintained stoic silence on this occasion.

A political prisoner is a person who is imprisoned by the political authorities for organizing mass protests against a government in power. Vijaya Kumaranatunga, who was arrested and imprisoned after the 1982 Presidential Election on a trumped up 'Naxalite' charge, was a political prisoner. Sarath Fonseka who was imprisoned after the 2010 Presidential Election was also a political prisoner.

Equal treatment

In the beginning Ranil's cohorts who attacked the anti-Ranil demonstration were spared legal action. Instead, the father of the protest march organizer, Maithri Gunaratna and their supporters were arrested. In the Monday following the Matara incident, the 'Dinamina' had found Maithri, Shiral Lakthilaka and other anti-Ranil rally organizers guilty and had passed judgement against them. It was sometime after that the actual culprits, including Mangala and his cohorts, were arrested.

In the 2012 attack on the UNP headquarters Sirikotha , after the election held there to elect the Party Leader only Maithri, Shiral and their supporters were arrested in spite of their protests that Ranil's henchmen from inside Sirikotha who attacked them should also be arrested. It never happened.

This time in the Matara incident the government gave equal treatment to both pro and anti-Ranil factions. It enraged Ranil. When his supporters are not allowed to beat up his opponents, his ire hits top gear. But undemocratic acts of the government do not worry him.

When the Opposition protest in Fort over the Rathupaswala incident was prohibited by a Court Order, Ranil made a big hue and cry, deeming it a repression of democratic opposition by the government. When the same treatment was meted out to the anti-Ranil protest march, it was highly appreciated and he gloated over it. Presumably Ranil's idea is any protest to dispel him from the Party leadership is tantamount to an undemocratic action and the government should intervene to suppress such action against him. If not, he will hit back by boycotting CHOGM.

In the context of the above, obviously Canada is the rightful claimant to this country's Parliamentary Opposition and its Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition. Canada and its Prime Minister are more concerned about this country's democracy, human rights and freedom of the judiciary than Sri Lanka's own Opposition Party.
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