Absit omen!
Posted on August 24th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

No sooner had the state of emergency lapsed, the other day, four months after the Easter Terror attacks than President Maithripala Sirisena issued a Gazette Extraordinary, deploying the armed forces to maintain public order countrywide. He seems to know more than one way to shoe a horse! His move has raised many an eyebrow though his action is said to be well within the constitutionally prescribed confines of his power.

The government never misses an opportunity to say, nay insist, that the threat of terrorism has been effectively neutralised and all National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) terrorists have been either killed or taken into custody. After all, that was the reason it cited for lifting Emergency. But in spite of the government leaders’ rhetoric, trained terror suspects, some of whom are as young as 16 years, continue to be arrested. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, one of the ardent defenders of the government, has publicly stated that it will be several years before the terrorist threat is overcome, once and for all. As the former war-winning army commander who was instrumental in liberating the country from the clutches of the LTTE, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to national security, unlike politicians who are full of themselves and consider themselves omniscient.

Tamil Nadu has been on high alert following an intel warning of terrorist infiltration. The Indian Intelligence has found that some Islamic terrorists have found their way into that state via Sri Lanka. If so, terror cells here must still be active, and this fact runs counter to the government’s much-advertised claim that the situation is normal and there is no need to extend the state of emergency. President Sirisena’s decision to deploy the armed forces to maintain public order also calls the veracity of the government’s claim into question.

President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hardly see eye to eye on anything, following the collapse of their political marriage, but they are agreed on the government’s position that terrorism is a thing of the past. If so, the presence of the armed forces in public is highly unwarranted. Why should the military be required to carry out constabulary duties if threats to national security or public safety are absent? The task of maintaining public order is best left to the police, in peacetime.

The armed forces deserve praise for the manner in which they cracked down on the NTJ terror network and prevented more bombings while the government was all at sea, so much so that even their bitterest critics welcomed their presence in the North and the East. Reassuring as the military presence may be in times of terrorist threats, it can reflect negatively on the country if it persists. There lies the rub. As a former Indian army commander once said, the excessive and continuous involvement of the army for internal security is good for neither the army nor the nation.

An Opposition politician, commenting on the Gazette Extraordinary at issue, said he smelt a rat. He must be quite used to rat smell, which the former regime, of which he was a prominent member, reeked of. However, the fact remains that the governments in the developing world love to have the armed forces out of the barracks, on some pretext or the other, during election times, when they anticipate political trouble in the form of mass protests, work stoppages, etc.

President Sirisena has asked the Supreme Court whether the much-delayed Provincial Council elections can be held anytime soon under the former electoral system. His critics demand to know why the President, who did his damnedest to put off the PC polls and went so far as to help change the PC Elections (Amendment) Bill at the committee stage without judicial sanction to achieve that end, has suddenly realised that the PCs should have elected representatives. He has drawn heavy flak from the main Opposition party, which complains of a sinister move to postpone the presidential election, though the Election Commission says both elections can be held in quick succession before the end of this year. The apex court determination is expected soon.

If the PC polls are to be held prior to the presidential contest all main parties will go flat out to win them as their stakes therein will be extremely high in that from the outcome of those elections it will be seen which way the wind is blowing. We can only hope that the next few months leading to some crucial elections will remain peaceful, and no need will arise for extraordinary security measures.

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