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Sri Lanka: Exploiting Military for Political Gains

True, the ultimate victory came by during the tenure of certain leaders, but it could verily be said that this was also the culmination of a long process under several heads of state and governments in which the LTTE terror machine was gradually weakened.

All dispassionate observers of the passing political scene no doubt would endorse the strictures issued by Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya to all candidates in the Presidential race forbidding them from using the war victory or the heroic deeds of the security forces in their election campaigns. This follows a full page advert published in a newspaper on behalf of presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa where it quotes the present Army Commander extolling the deeds of the former, whereas the statement attributed to the commander was made way back in the past.

Addressing a media conference at the Elections Secretariat on Wednesday, Deshapriya said; “It is unacceptable to use a statement or picture of a serving or retired military personnel for promoting a candidate or a political party.” He said there was an agreement at the candidates’ meetings not to use reports related to the armed conflict in the country, valiant acts in the battlefield or pictures of military personnel or public servants for the promotion of any candidate or political party. Public servants (‘military officers’) pictures must not be used in election propaganda, he emphasized.

The Elections Commission Chairman, no doubt, is following the example of the Indian Elections chief who in the recent Indian General Election banned the use of any reference to that country's military personnel or their battlefield heroics during the campaign. This follows an alleged attempt by the ruling Bharatha Janatha Party Prime Ministerial candidate to identify himself with the military operation in Kashmir in which an Indian military plane flew over the border into Pakistan in the hunt for terrorists responsible for the slaying of 40 Indian troops. The Election chief clamped down on any reference to the operation that would obviously go in favour of the ruling party.

Here too, since the victory in the Eelam war, a single political party has been monopolizing the military success and harvested a huge volume of votes at the elections that followed, playing on majority ethnic sentiments. One recalls how improvised military bunkers took the place of political party offices is some of the rural areas in sync with the hysteria generated by the war victory. Although it is well over a decade since the conclusion of the war, its afterglow, no doubt, still lingers within a sizeable vote bank and attempts certainly will be made to tap into these sentiments. Hence, the riot act read out by EC chairman to all political parties and candidates to ensure a level playing field.

Besides, like the EC Commissioner opined, the war victory cannot be the exclusive preserve of a single political party or leader but rightly belongs to the entire nation. Our armed forces were composed of those belonging to all political parties and hence all parties are entitled to stake a claim in the victory. Also, every citizen in this country contributed his/her mite to the war effort through the additional taxes levied to fight the war. The procurement of military jets, sophisticated weaponry, other resources, and the cost of training and feeding the forces had to be paid for by the citizen and not out the pockets of those today taking credit for the victory.

True, the ultimate victory came by during the tenure of certain leaders, but it could verily be said that this was also the culmination of a long process under several heads of state and governments in which the LTTE terror machine was gradually weakened. The major split in the LTTE, it has to be admitted, led to the considerable weakening of the outfit and this came about long before the advent to the scene of those who are today taking sole credit for the war victory. All leaders, since the commencement of the war did their utmost to defeat the LTTE and made their own contribution to the massive war chest over the years that ultimately defeated the enemy.

Since the declaration by the EC chairman that no single political party or leader can claim the exclusive credit of winning the war, a school of thought has emerged that this cannot be so since there were large sections in this country who opposed the war and tried to stymie the war effort. On that basis it could also be argued that there were many groups and organisations who even opposed the Second World War and led demonstrations against the Allied war effort - prominent among them the leftist movement in this country. In the end all rejoiced in the peace that dawned as did all citizens of this country irrespective of race, religion or political party affiliations at the hard won peace following the end to the three decades long war. It was certainly a victory for the entire nation not a single political party or a leader.

( Editorial: Daily News, Colombo)

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