What exactly is the opposition’s position regarding corruption and abuse of power in the country?
The question must be asked in light of the hullabaloo it staged over the arrest of JathikaNidahasPeramuna (JNP) leader and stalwart of the so-called ‘Joint Opposition’, WimalWeerawansa.
Weerawansa was arrested by Police, produced before courts and remanded on charges of misusing state property. This is because he is alleged to have distributed over forty government vehicles to family, friends and party officials. The details of the vehicles have been made public.
Weerawansa’s defence has been that it was the officials of his ministry who authorised the distribution of the vehicles, when he was the Minister of Housing and Construction in the Mahinda Rajapaksa cabinet. Of course, officials wouldn’t dare to do so unless they had instructions from their minister but this is now a matter before courts which will decide who is guilty and who is not.
What is more intriguing is the Joint Opposition (JO)’s stance on Weerawansa’s arrest.
Weerawansa is a political animal who thrives on ridiculing and embarrassing his opponents from election platforms. He is entertaining no doubt and the masses flock to hear him speak for this reason, but that does not necessarily make him a good politician.
When Weerawansa himself is embarrassed and ridiculed because his dealings when he was a minister have been made public, it must hurt.
So, Weerawansa, his JNP and the JO have begun to sing a different tune. They are calling his arrest a political witch hunt.
It is true that one of the major campaign pledges of this government was to rid the country of corruption and abuse of power. That was a key issue on which it won both the presidential election in January 2015 and the general election that followed in August that year.
It is also true that the government has been unable, due to a variety of reasons, to prosecute and punish those responsible for corruption and abuse of power.
It has been argued that this is because the law enforcement authorities are following due processes which take time instead of kangaroo courts jailing political opponents at the drop of a hat.
Nevertheless, citing this delay, the JO had taken the moral high ground. They were mocking the government saying that, despite all its election pledges, it had been unable to prosecute those responsible for corruption and abuse of power and put them behind bars.
In fact, it was claiming that those accusations were just an election gimmick and nothing more and challenging the government to prove their charges of corruption.
Well, with Wimal Weerawansa, the government is doing exactly what the opposition wanted it to do: charge and prosecute those allegedly responsible for corruption. So, instead of complaining of a political witch hunt, it should now allow the law to take its course.
Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and Wimal Weerawansa is no exception. He can have his day in court. If he is indeed innocent, he has nothing to worry. After all, even the opposition does not claim that Sri Lankan courts are rigged to such an extent that any political opponent of the government will be summarily jailed.
The JO cannot have the cake and eat it at the same time. On the one hand, it lambasts the government for not acting against corruption. On the other hand, when someone does get charged, it claims that is political victimisation.
The JO would do well to realise that it was thrown out of office by the people despite winning the war and despite initiating many development programmes because a culture of impunity swept over the then government, everyone who was someone became a law unto themselves and corruption and abuse of power became the rule, not the exception.
That was the main reason why the previous regime lost at the elections. Sadly, if the deafening cacophony over Wimal Weerawansa’s arrest is anything to go by, the JO has not got the message the masses were trying to give them!