By Ameen Izzadeen
Sri Lanka’s upcoming presidential election is likely to be decided on one key issue – security. The candidate who the voters will perceive to be the most suitable to ensure their security and that of the country will win the election and become the president, the head of state, the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Security is a condition that assures an individual, a community, a state, a region and the humanity at large freedom from fear and need. No security discourse can ignore the primordial form of security – the security of human beings. It is as important as the security of the state.
The key word security needs to be understood in the right perspective both by the candidates and the voters. Security should not be understood as a one-dimensional concept. Security is multi-dimensional and its components are inter-connected. For instance, an international treaty banning nuclear weapons goes all the way to ensure the security of every human being on this planet.
In Sri Lanka, since the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks, the focus has been on the physical safety of the citizen. Since the calamity, a blame game has been going on, with the then Police Chief and the then Defence Secretary being accused of failing to act on the intelligence reports they had, while others insist that the President as Defence and Law and Order Minister should take the responsibility. Yet others unfairly blame the prime minister, who does not even have a thin majority in parliament to call the government his.
If national security is understood only in terms of providing protection to the citizens from physical attacks, it is like providing helmets to motorcycle riders, while ignoring the poor road conditions and the poor implementation of traffic laws.
National security is multi-dimensional and holistic. Apart from physical safety of the citizens, national security has its social, economic and political dimensions. Security cannot be confined to a single time-bound definition. It keeps changing. For instance, today there is an ecological aspect to security. Soon, we will be defining security also in terms of dangers from outer space. Who thought of cyber security, say, some 50 years ago?
Our understanding of security is incomplete if we ignore security threats from environmental issues, natural disasters, the population explosion, food crises, outbreaks of diseases, economic recessions, poverty, crime and, of course, democracy deficiency.
In the upcoming presidential election, the voters need to elect the candidate who can give a comprehensive security solution to all these security problems.
In the name of security, can we let our country be turned into a police state? No. Some may say, if the choice is between security and freedom, the people go for security. But, the ultimate objective of security is freedom. To the extent that we the citizens are shorn of our freedoms, to that extent we are insecure.
In the name of security, can we let democracy erode, dump the hallowed concept of the separation of powers in the dustbin and judicial independence vanish? Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We may need to take this warning to heart.
We are still in a state of shock after the April 21 terror attacks. Psychologists warn that we should not take decisions when we are angry, sad or in a state of shock. According to the psychology website, exploringyourmind.com, negative emotions decrease our ability to reason. This happens because the brain is more focused on the emotional state of sadness or anger that is being felt instead of concentrating on making decisions or finding creative solutions.
We need to be calm and view security in a holistic manner. The need is not only to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks, but also from government crimes, including state terror, and dictatorship.
Taking the right government policy with regard to development and good governance is also an essential segment of security.
Whatever security measures the next president takes should not mean a lopsided implementation of laws, favouring one community against another. The rule of law is part and parcel of security, as we are not only talking about protecting the country’s territorial integrity from an external threat or internal rebellion, but also about people’s security and freedom to live as equal citizens of this nation. Whither security, if the next president also lets incidents like Aluthgama, Digana, Kurunegala and Minuwangoda to happen again?
We need a president who believes that eliminating corruption is also part of security because it is in a corruption-free environment that citizens’ socio-economic security is enhanced.
Security also means upholding democratic values. We will not be secure in the absence of law and order. We will not be secure if the government we elect amends the laws – the 19th Amendment, for instance — to concentrate power in the executive presidency. We will not be secure, if the judiciary becomes servile to the executive.
It is an erosion of security if the government undermines the checks-and-balances mechanisms against abuse of power. Freedom of speech — especially the freedom to criticize the government when it is seen to be autocratic or dictatorial – is also certainly a part of our security.
Security does not mean investing heavily in the military establishment. In the allocation of the country’s meagre revenue, there should be a balanced approach. Overspending on defence in the name of security, may affect vital sectors such as health, education and job creation.
Security does not also mean arming oneself to the teeth to face an external military threat. In Sri Lanka, although there is an urgent need to eliminate all forms of terrorism, it has to be done with close international cooperation. The security threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty can also come in non-conventional ways such as debt traps and bilateral and multilateral security pacts.
Therefore, we need to elect the right candidate who is capable of understanding the importance of adopting a balanced and prudent foreign policy that will not drag the country into a situation where, unable to pay our foreign debts, the government will hand over strategic ports and military bases to world powers.
We the voters have a duty by this country to elect a leader who will not only eradicate terrorism but also uphold the rule of law, eliminate communal riots, bring about national unity, ensure our freedoms, strengthen democracy, respect the independence of the judiciary and have and a vision for development without getting caught in debt traps and dubious security pacts.