Faced with some restiveness by supporters of qusted prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the ruling United National Party has been defending her disenfranchisement as a move to safeguard democracy against abuses of power.
The party chairman, N.G.P. Panditharatne, told reporters that the expulsion of Bandaranaike from Parliament and the stripping of her civil rights for seven years on Oct. 16 reflected concern about holding politicians responsible for their use of power.
Panditharatne, considered a kingmaker in Sri Lankan politics and a close confidant of President Junius Jayewardene, holds no elected position. But, he is chairman of the Mahaweli Development Authority, a $2 billion project that covers one-third of Sri Lanka's land area.
The former prime minister was charged with 10 counts of abusing power during her seven years in office, six of them under emergency rule, until she was voted out in 19779 A special presidential commission of inquiry found her guilty on four charges, mainly that she had circumvented the land reform law to benefit her family.
Her nephew, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, then the justice minister in her Cabinet, was also charged and disenfranchised for seven years.
Panditharatne said: "We in the Third World have found a way to deal with the common problem of leaders who come on the backs of the public and then kick them off. The only result would be revolution." He said the disenfranchisement o Bandaranaike was "the final safeguard of democracy."
A five-day emergency was declared when Parliament decided on her expulsion. Panditharatne justified this by charging that Bandaranaike was incitng the people to march to Parliament and even to pull down the president's house.
He added that the ruling party's supporters were getting restive and that the government, anticipating violence, had to act to prevent them from taking the law into their own hands.
He said the controversal decision had caused misconceptions that the ruling party was vindictive. Denying that this was true, he said Bandaranaike initially had not objected to the inquiry set up by Parliament as long as a judge of the Supreme Court was appointed to it.
"We appointed not one but two Supreme Court judges and one from the high court," Panditharatne added. "But she did not even want to appear" before the inquiry panel.
The ruling party published a thin booklet detailing the inquiry into her activities and its explanation of the decision. It said she had abused liberties by ordering the detention of 85 persons without trial and gagging the press. The party charged that her rule was headed toward dictatorship.
"If we did not act, then the people who voted us in would think we cover the higher-ups and punish only the small fries. We have no alternative."
To Bandaranaike's charge that she was made a martyr, Panditharatne said, "I don't see how we could act differently."