What we need now is politics of national unity – Anura Dissanayake
[Parliament speech by Anura Dissanayake on 23.11.2023]
“The security of our country depends only if it is a nationally united country with different cultures, speaking two main languages and unity among the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay communities. The country’s national security depends only on unity among all these people and groups. We have faced a devastating thirty-year war. That war was not created by gossip either. The war was created as a result of our politicians sowing communalism from time to time to seize and maintain power. Our country needed a new approach after the war ended in May 2009. Even though 14 years have passed, they have still failed to create national unity. They still use cheap communalism on their political platform. What is needed today in the North and the South is a politics against communalism. Otherwise, even now, heads of those who propose to ban parties in the North should be examined. What we need now is the politics of national unity instead of communalism. As a political movement, we are working to organize the people for that.
At this point, I would like to draw attention to a few points. Society has a special respect for our country’s three armed forces. The political leaders created various units in the army and polluted the army. Who is behind the killing of Lasantha, the attack on Poddala Jayantha, the abduction of Keith Noir, the attack on journalist Namal, the attack on Upali Tennakoon, the disappearance of Eknaligoda, etc.? We all know how far those investigations went and stopped. The entire army was discredited, and the small groups set up from the armed forces were used as units of state repression. It is not something that any military officer who stands for justice in this country approves of. I emphasize this again because this process is happening again. On the 12th, a demonstration was attacked in front of the church on Theresa Road in Narahenpita. Another protest was held on the 19th to protest against it. Groups were roaming around to intimidate the protest. Narahenpita Police arrested those groups. Who are those people who attacked the protests, threatened the protests, and were arrested by the Narahenpita Police? In Parliament, money is allocated for the armed forces, not to attack the people. Not to attack the peaceful protests of the people. Therefore, I request the minister in charge of the police to conduct a transparent investigation regarding the attack on Narahenpita. Who called the Narahenpita police and pressured the police to release those arrested? Attempts to attack and suppress the people by forming small groups of armed forces on various political needs should be stopped. Our country has a history of killings, assaults, and massacres where small military groups were deployed. Therefore, a specific explanation should be presented to this Parliament.
As a political movement, we have formed a collective of retirees of the armed forces. Whether they were in the armed forces or high officials of the government, they have the right to do politics of their choice after retirement. It is a fundamental right of this country and democracy. But if those retired officers of the armed forces are given the right to do politics only for political movements aligned with the government, it is not justified at all. The current Defense Secretary established the organization called ‘Eliya’ and worked directly for the 2019 presidential election. It is his right. We did not question it. Just as they have that right, retired military officers and soldiers also have a right to join any political movement. How can the Secretary of Defense suppress that right? He should have a peek at his past. As a result of his involvement in a political movement, he has been given the post of Secretary of the Ministry of Defense. Stars do not measure one’s dignity. His honour is not measured by the medals he wears while on duty. Respect is measured by whether the duty given to him is appropriately performed.
The head of our tri-army collective is the former Eastern Commander, Major General Aruna Jayasekara. On the 23rd of the 8th month of 2023, when he and his wife returned from Dubai, they were stopped at the airport and subjected to a particular check to see if they were bringing drugs. This was done to embarrass them. The reason is active politics with the National People’s Power. Is the right to do politics only for Kamal Gunaratne and the politics he represents?
Before this, I questioned in this parliament about a prohibition order that had been given to a number of officers, including Air Vice Marshal Thuiyakontha. A case has been filed in the Supreme Court regarding denying the opportunity given to other retired military officers to enter the camps. In that case, the current Air Force Commander has given a verbal promise. We will see the decision at the end of the case. Only certain political movements have the right to do politics in this country.
Let me tell you some political pressures on the retired military officers of the ‘Aditana’ (Resolve) collective. They are verbally restricted from entering the camps. Restrictions have been imposed on annual friendly meetings of pensioners. There are restrictions on participation in unit regimental anniversaries. Medical facilities provided to Air Force retirees have been restricted. What a rude act.
Is it justified to restrict the right to work with a political party of their choice after they retire, only to those who join the National People’s Power? I ask these questions about Kamal Gunaratna’s conscience. He who established the Eliya Movement to build this government should stop the conspiratorial programme he is carrying out about other people’s politics. I emphasize that the ugly, disgraceful activity of the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense should be understood properly.
Next, I want to say something about the police as well. Today, the police are deployed to stop the protests. Mahindananda came from Kandy and marched to Colombo. We have also held protest demonstrations. But now, the police are deployed to attack and stop demonstrations. A culture of not being allowed to come to the street is being created. If there is an obstacle to public safety or a disruptive act, we agree to contain it. But don’t people have the right to protest for fair demands?
On July 23, the cultural procession from Hyde Park to Viharamahadevi Park was also attacked. Don’t they have the right to talk about their rights? What power does the Inspector General of Police have to attack a cultural procession of national unity? One police station’s operative area ends near the Town Hall. The police officer in charge of the other area was previously in Matara. He was ordered by Sagala Ratnayake. Not the Inspector General of Police. What is the power given to Sagala Ratnayake by this Parliament to make decisions and give orders to attack the demonstrations in our country? Police officers in lower ranks are deployed to attack like this. Even though those police officers are under a lot of pressure, they don’t even have vehicles to go on duty. Fuel is not provided. Don’t be prepared to suppress the right of the people to raise their voices democratically. We emphasize that no one should interfere with the right of any retired officer who works with us.”