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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
Military Ascendancy over Civil Government
Hot Spring, 29 July 1998
1. The policy of using military power to suppress internal dissent within a state is fraught with grave dangers for the state. In a situation where such a policy embroils the military in a long-drawn-out, unwinnable, unendable guerilla war it is probably inevitable that the ascendancy of the military over civil government will occur. The transition of the military from servant to master has happened often.
2. The signals of such an evolution in Sri Lanka are plain to any percipient observer. The imposition of a blanket censorship on all independent military news in June '98 was explained by the Deputy Defence Minister as being in response to a demand by the forces in the theatre of operations. There was not the slightest hint that the civil government might have a policy different to that of the military on such an important matter within the civil domain.
3. More ominous still is the military's refusal to provide security for elections outside the war zone. Almost certainly there were genuine operational reasons for this. The result, however, is that the elections in question - those to already dissolved provincial councils - cannot be held. The provincial council structure has been an integral part of the island's constitutional framework for the last 10 years. It is now set to disappear for an indefinite duration until the military can spare the manpower for a large-scale security operation outside the war zone.
4. The need for large-scale security deployment to ensure security for voters and for campaigning political parties is the culmination of a sequence of developments whichthemselves stem from the use of military force in the civil domain. The armed challenge to the employment of the military to suppress the political programme of Tamil nationalism has compelled the state to deploy military forces to safeguard its vital infrastructure - the ports of Colombo, Galle and Trincomalee, the oil refinery, installations for the generation and distribution of electricity, telecommunication and broadcasting centres, transport facilities, water supplies, Parliament itself, ministries of government and a host of other institutional facilities.
The personal security of senior political figures from the President on down, has become a dominant priority after a series of political assassinations. By a progressive evolution the present situation has been reached where each of the 225 members of parliament is provided 8 armed guards and each of the 300 provincial councillors 4 armed guards, all paid and armed by the state. Cabinet Ministers, Junior Ministers, Chief Ministers and ministers of Provincial Councils all gethigher numbers of armed guards according to their importance. In addition to all this some Tamil political parties which provide military support for the army have also been armed by the state.
A large military presence within the civil arena results inevitably in the leakage of arms and ammunition into the hands of the criminal elements in a progressively disaffected public. It is known that many members of all political parties either possess or have access to heavy weaponry in addition to side arms. The 1997 Pradeshiya Sabha elections witnessed over 2200 recorded incidents of open, broad-daylight, undisguised violence, including the murder of an M.P.. Very few of these cases have resulted in legal action. Unreported and unrecorded cases of election violence on that occasion could well be an high proportion of the number recorded. Since then the progressive deterioration of the law and order situation has continued. Several thousand army deserters are at large, unapprehended due to political protection. Many of them have deserted along with their weapons and all have experience in their use. In such a tinder-box context the armed supporters of bitterly opposed political parties could lend to a country-wide election many of the characteristics of a civil war during which the majority of the law-abiding population which is "caught in the cross-fire" may choose to save their lives rather than cast their votes. Thus without a massive military deployment countrywide elections have become impossible in Sri Lanka.
5. More important elections than elections to provincial councils are now in the offing - a Parliamentary General Election in the year 2000 and a Presidential election later the same year. Each of them will be far more hotly contested than Provincial Council elections and so would require an even greater security deployment by the military. If the military situation has deteriorated by then from what it is now, the military could be unable to spare the needed personnel , once again on quite genuine operational grounds. In that event these vital elections too will not be held resulting in the basic foundation of the civil constitutional structure being dependent on military expediency. Even if civil government continues thereafter, its moral validity and relevance within the body politic would be greatly attenuated, so greatly, indeed, that its disappearance would be barely noticed.
6. At present there is no lively apprehension of these dangers due to a widespread confidence in early and sweeping military success. The president, who is the commander-in-chief of the military forces, has declared thewar is gradually coming to a close and could well be finished by the end of this year. This display of confidence follows hard on the heels of a severe military reversal in early June in the Wanni which is the main theatre of engagement now. It was immediately after this reversal that the blanket censorship on independent military news was imposed. Since that reverse, the state's forces have not resumed large-scale operations in this theatre.
7. The President, the entire military establishment and the whole of Sinhala society without a single exception are absolutely convinced that a military victory, which ends the LTTE as a military force, is possible. The manifest fact that the LTTE has gone from strength to strength during the 15 years of the conflict, despite suffering severe military setbacks all along the way, is ignored as irrelevant. It is not understood that in nationalist guerilla wars ofsecession, fought on the guerillas' home ground, the guerillas grow stronger, not weaker, with the passage of time. This is unquestionably the Sri Lankan experience as well, yet it is totally incomprehensible to the Sinhala side. The Sinhala mind is hermetically sealed against the intrusion of reality.
8. The Tamil secessionist movement on the island is the consequence of growing Tamil nationalism. The attempt to destroy Tamil nationalism by military force, far from achieving that end, will instead destroy civil government within Sinhala society, encumber it with a military dictatorship and lead eventually and inevitably to Indian military intervention. The rising military ascendancy over the civil power is the beginning of this ineluctable sequence of events.