The estranged case of Hirunika Premachandra | Daily News

The estranged case of Hirunika Premachandra

As the government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heads towards its first anniversary next week, it seems to attract one controversy after another, making the task of governing difficult for the powers that be.

Hot on the heels of the hullabaloo over the budget which went through a series of unprecedented amendments that was embarrassing for the government and for Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in particular, last week saw an incident involving high profile United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra.

The issue at stake was the abduction of a youth from a shop in the city where he was employed, allegedly carried out by Premachandra's bodyguards. It is alleged that the youth was forcibly taken away in a black Defender jeep registered under Premachandra's name.

Different narrative

When the story first broke, Premachandra was to deny any knowledge of the incident, claiming that she was at a function at the Colombo Municipal Council where President Sirisena was also in attendance. The youth who was subsequently released from his enforced detention however was to lodge a complaint with the Police giving a different narrative.

The youth claimed that after his abduction, he was taken to Premachandra where he claims she threatened him stating that he could be 'lifted' again if necessary. Premachandra denies this allegation but, faced with a barrage of criticism, was compelled to call a media briefing to provide her version of events.

Premachandra maintained that she was only trying to intervene in a personal dispute to prevent the breakup of a family. She denied threatening the youth, saying instead that she only advised him against having an extra-marital relationship. She also claimed that the issue was being blown out of proportion by media organisations owned by the family of former parliamentarian Duminda Silva, who is an accused in the murder of her father Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, who was gunned down in Kolonnawa while campaigning at Local Government elections in October 2011.

However, the media frenzy over parliamentarian Premachandra's involvement in the incident continues. It made the headlines of national newspapers for a few days and earned unwanted attention for the government which was castigated by its critics who asked whether the young MP's conduct was keeping with the tenets of good governance.

Social media went into overdrive. Premachandra's detractors of whom there are many took glee in lampooning her. Others were calling for her arrest and querying why she was not being detained for aiding and abetting an abduction.

Parliamentarian and a lawyer

There are several issues that come into focus in this particular episode, regardless of what really transpired during the incident. From what Premachandra herself has acknowledged, there appears to be no dispute that the youth was brought before her. That is where her conduct, both as a parliamentarian and also as a lawyer, becomes questionable.

Premachandra, 28 years of age and recently qualified as a lawyer, parachuted into the political limelight following Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra's murder four years ago. Blessed with good looks and having previously been a model, she naturally attracted public attention.

What endeared her most however was the forthright stance she adopted about her father's murder. She embarked on a crusade to seek justice for her father and avenge his death, despite one of the accused being Duminda Silva who was known to be close to then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Premachandra took it upon herself to exert pressure on the government to expedite the trial of the accused in her father's murder, appearing regularly in court and lambasting the then government for its errors of commission and omission. It struck a chord with an electorate that was finding it difficult to deal with the autocratic style of governance of the government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

That this was despite the fact that Premachandra's family had a longstanding relationship with the Rajapaksas led to her political stock rising even more as it cast her in the role of a young, idealistic and principled campaigner who was pleading for justice for her slain father.

Having already carved a niche as a strong critic of the Rajapaksas, it came as no surprise when Premachandra aligned herself with President Sirisena when he defected from the United Peoples' Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and declared himself to be Rajapaksa's challenger at the Presidential election in November last year.

Preference votes

Premachandra contested from the Colombo district from the UNFGG. It was a tough task as the district was extremely competitive and she was competing with established political heavyweights from a party which she had only just joined. Nevertheless she was successful, polling over 70,000 preference votes and emerging tenth in a list of eleven elected UNFGG parliamentarians. It was widely believed that she attracted a significant segment of the female vote and that this contributed to the exclusion of high profile United National Party (UNP) stalwart Rosy Senanayake.

From the above circumstances it clear that Premachandra owes her election to Parliament due to her campaign calling for the restoration of law and order. The events that occurred in the recent incident, no matter what her explanation, reflect poorly on her conduct during this episode. At worst, it could constitute a punishable offence. At best, it was a serious lapse of judgment by the young MP.

Also, Premachandra's subsequent conduct has been less than salutary. She initially denied any knowledge of the abduction. Thereafter, confronted with the revelation that the victim had been brought to her, she then said she only advised him. Thus her defence appeared to be worse than the offence itself and casts doubts her sincerity and integrity.

The other matter that is emerging out of all this is the action of law enforcement authorities. They have been quick to apprehend Premachandra's bodyguards who were allegedly involved in the abduction and produce them in court but no action has been taken against Premachandra. The latest development was the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) of the Police seeking the opinion of the Attorney General regarding Premachandra's role in the incident.

Allegations from opponents

Faced with heavy criticism over the budget and allegations from opponents that it was dilly-dallying on investigating corruption allegations against the previous regime, this is a drama the government could have done without. It is also noteworthy that none of her colleagues from the government have defended her actions. In fact, the UNP has almost disowned her stating that she was elected from the UNFGG and as such, it was up to the UNFGG to take disciplinary action against her, if necessary.

The best the government could do in these circumstances is to ensure that the judicial process is followed to the letter, devoid of any political interference. It can still redeem its image if it can demonstrate that justice will yet be done without fear or favour, regardless of the status, position or political loyalties of the person involved. In this incident, this is yet to be seen.

Parliamentarian Premachandra herself would do well to allow that to happen. She is young and a first time MP. The electorate will respond better to her if she acknowledged the errors of her ways and allowed the law to take its course. Politicians, after all, are only human and humans often err. Right now though, the Hirunika Premachandra saga is all set to attract more attention, come 2016.


 

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