EDITORIAL

Karu’s call for justice

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Friday 12th January, 2024

Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice and former Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, has called for reopening the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder probe. Lasantha was the editor of The Sunday Leader, when he was assassinated on 08 January 2009. Jayasuriya has flayed successive governments for doing precious little to bring the killers of Lasantha to justice. One cannot but agree with him and endorse his call for justice; no crime must go unpunished.

The UNP had about five years during the Yahapalana government to have Lasantha’s murder investigated throughly and the perpetrators thereof brought to justice. In fact, that was one of the election promises of the Yahapalana camp. Why didn’t the UNP fulfil its pledge? President Maithripala Sirisena also would shed copious tears for Lasantha, but he stopped short of going all out to have Lasantha’s assassination probed.

Jayasuriya was a prominent member of the Yahapalana administration, which came to power by promising to probe the crimes the Rajapaksa government had committed. He protected the Yahapalana government by courageously standing up to President Sirisena, who fell out with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and tried to wrest control of Parliament with the help of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He should have leveraged his influential position in that administration to prevail on the UNP to ensure justice for Lasantha’s family.

One may recall that, in 2009, the UNP accused the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa of having ordered Lasantha’s assassination. It turned Lasantha’s funeral into a political event of sorts; its MPs were heard shouting, “Satakaya gathakaya” (the man wearing sataka is the killer). In 2022, the UNP unashamedly closed ranks with the very ‘satakaya’.

UNP leader Wickremesinghe is the President and Minister of Defence, today, and he can have Lasantha’s murder reopened and the killers brought to justice. The UNP and the SLPP are at loggerheads, as can be seen from the hostile utterances of the seniors of the two parties. He is no longer under the Rajapaksas’ thumb; he can dissolve Parliament anytime. The members of the SLPP parliamentary group do not want that to happen, and some of them have already thrown in their lot with Wickremesinghe. So, he is in a position to order that the Lasantha murder probe be reopened.

Let Jayasuriya be urged to crank up pressure on President Wickremesinghe to honour the UNP’s pledge to have the killers of Lasantha punished.

Antithesis of democracy

The UNP Management Committee is drawing heavy flak for having undertaken to decide the dates of elections. That task should be left entirely to the Election Commission (EC), civil society groups have pointed out, accusing the UNP of trying to usurp the powers of the EC. Their concerns should be appreciated. The UNP has a history of meddling with the electoral calendar and even causing elections to disappear, as it were; it did away with a general election in 1982 by holding a heavily-rigged referendum in lieu of it.

Old habits are said to die hard. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the UNP leader, prevented the EC from holding the local government elections last year. In 2017, the UNP-led Yahapalana government caused the Provincial Council elections to be postponed indefinitely by amending the Provincial Council Elections Act.

It is antithetical to democracy for the UNP to decide when elections are held. At the 2020 general election, the UNP could not have any of its candidates returned and was left with only a single National List slot. It could poll only 249,435 votes (2.15%). The elevation of Wickremesinghe, who failed to get elected to Parliament, to the highest post in the land was fortuitous. He was elected President by the politically rejected, in Parliament. So, the UNP is without any popular mandate to make decisions about elections.

The SLPP, which bankrupted the economy, has also rendered the country politically bankrupt by bringing a party that was rejected by the people at the last general election to a position of power, and allowing the latter to make vital decisions about elections.

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