23 June, 2021

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A Radically New Political Critique Needed In The New Year

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena –

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

At the close of a year that has proved to be disastrously negative for Sri Lankan democracy, Sri Lankans should look to the Indian people to see the manner in which democracy is defended by bold action on the ground.

Lessons from across the Palk Strait

This Saturday, India’s unassuming anti-corruption activist Arwind Kejriwal assumed office as Delhi’s seventh – and youngest – Chief Minister after resoundingly defeating his predecessor, seasoned front-liner of the Congress Party Sheila Dixit in assembly polls earlier this month.

This was just one year after he formed his own party, fittingly called the Aan Aadmi or the common person’s party. Greeted by ecstatic supporters as he gave his induction speech, Kejriwal warned that the fight was only beginning and asked the public not to bribe officials. ‘Come to us and we will get the job done’ he said. Colorfully terming the Indian political arena as a ‘cesspool of political horror,’ among his very first acts was the banning of VIP convoys for politicians.

These are sentiments which find resonance on this side of the Palk Strait. Certainly, Indian and Sri Lankan politics are characterized by similar horrors of huge corruption, bad governance and non-accountability of the State. But the comparison ends there, of course.

The vitality of India’s anti-corruption movement, encompassing activists, lawyers, academics, judges and ordinary citizens cannot be matched in any way in Sri Lanka. And while it may be easy to blame an authoritarian Presidency, post-war militarization, a pathetically defunct opposition or manifold other factors, the truth of the matter is that the blame lies very much on ourselves, none other.

What is the role of the judiciary?

Indeed, this logic applies in many other spheres as well. The Indian Supreme Court has been a powerful ally of the anti-corruption movement in that country and has been so bold as to put ministers in jail for manifest bribe-taking.

In comparison, what has been the role of our legal system? This year has seen not only the witch-hunt impeachment of a Chief Justice but also scandalous controversy over the sacking of the principal of the law college allegedly over charges that he favoured his son during the holding of examinations. As is an open secret in Hulfsdorp, similar allegations had been leveled in respect of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son at a time when this former principal was in office. So we recall that old complaint, namely when the head is corrupt, what can the body do?

Indeed, Sri Lanka’s top to bottom spiral of bribery and corruption is now so stupendous that grim forebodings of financial crisis are articulated by former officials of Sri Lanka’s state financial institutions. Corruption scandals include the ethanol racket, massive road and expressways commissions and the building of uselessly extravagant airports and zoos. Meanwhile the price of sprats and dhal is increased even as the government devises more ways to extract money from the hapless citizenry. When is this nonsense going to stop? Yet these are the very same politicians who are elected to power, time and time again.

In contrast to disgruntled Indian voters teaching their political rulers some sharp and telling lessons, we have not even been able to enact a Right to Information (RTI) law. To date, the government has not been able to offer a reasonable justification as to why an RTI law will be so harmful for Sri Lanka. To add insult to injury, Sri Lanka’s bribery and corruption commission proceeds with zest against the former Chief Justice even as its office bearers stoutly deny allegations of corruption on their own part and further, turn coyly away from dealing with corrupt politicians.

But to return to the role of the courts in combating bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka, we may remind ourselves that the degeneration of the judicial role in this regard was not sudden. A decade ago, (or as it seems now, an eon ago), I remained continually troubled by the question as to how Sri Lanka’s legal systems could have been so effortlessly stripped of their integrity without so much as a whimper from the majority of law academics and practitioners. But these are not questions that one needs to ask any more as the answers are all too patently evident, emanating from reasons of self-interest, cynicism and absence of real commitment.

Reasons for the potency of India’s anti-corruption movement

Except for a brief period when the doctrine of public trust in relation to tackling corruption was deftly developed by Sri Lanka’s judges of the caliber of the late Mark Fernando and ARB Amerasinghe, judicial responses have either been pro-executive or needlessly adventurist. A useful observation was made for instance by a visiting team of jurists from the International Bar Association in measuring the functioning of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court under retired Chief Justice Sarath Silva, when they remarked that the Court’s reasoning in many judgments delivered, was not based on ‘any proper rationalization of the law in this area but appears to be a tool to provide the Chief Justice with the opportunity to pronounce on populist issues’, (see ‘Justice in Retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka” May 2009, at p. 35).

This column has said it countless times and will say it again; responsibility for the manner in which the Supreme Court became a tool to be manipulated by power hungry politicians needs to be borne by those who remained silent a decade ago when principled resistance by the legal community may have made a difference. Lawyers parading on the streets in protest some months ago came as far too little, too late.

In contrast, the Indian Supreme Court has retained its public image, refusing to be involved in the political thicket as it were and disassociating itself from one or two individually corrupt judges, in whose exposure moreover the Indian legal community and the Indian media played a vital role. These were all hugely potent factors as to why the anti-corruption movement in India grew to such heights that, in 2013, it was able to unseat Delhi’s Chief Minister within an unbelievably short period.

Broad-based resistance movements

In any event and unlike Sri Lanka, Indian resistance has traditionally come from broad-based peoples’ movements that take governments head-on. The RTI movement is one striking example. India’s push towards an RTI law was not by special interests groups such as the media but by ordinary villagers who demanded the right to probe the use of local government budgetary allocations. Persistent public demand resulted in provincial laws and then a national law which was effectively used to expose government corruption. This was not easy with many drawbacks along the way as politicians fought back. Even now, RTI campaigners continue to be killed in the course of their struggles.

In that backdrop, a national anti-corruption movement was perhaps inevitable. Led by Anna Hazare, this movement confounded Delhi’s patronizing political elites who promised concessions only in theory. So when Kejriwal broke away from Hazare’s movement to enter politics, he effectively tapped into the strong yearnings of Indians who wanted a change, not the same old tired political rhetoric. And there was further reason to celebrate as the Indian parliament this week, passed the anti-corruption bill which puts an anti-corruption ombudsman into place and prescribes time limits for the completion of corruption investigations.

The ombudsman has the authority to probe complaints of corruption against the prime minister, current and former members of Parliament, civil servants and employees of corporations and commissions funded by the government. India’s primary investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation is mandated to act on all cases referred to it by the ombudsman. Though law has been criticized as not being strong enough by anti-corruption crusaders, there is little doubt that this signifies a seminal moment in the struggle. Taken together with Kejriwal’s victory, the coming year promises to be one of rejuvenation as well as challenge for the Indian public.

Irreparable damage done to our moral spirit

On the other hand, Sri Lankans are confronted with far more depressing realities. The very idea of democracy, which was alive even at the worst of the North and East conflict, seems most at risk now. A Constitution engineered to ensure the continuing political fortunes of one family, the profound deterioration of basic democratic freedoms and the degeneration of a multi party system has framed unprecedentedly corrupt practices by a select few. Sri Lanka’s democratic systems of governance have been pushed to the very brink. The damage done to the collective moral spirit has been irreparable.

As we usher in a new and dangerously unpredictable new year, it is time that the critique of Sri Lanka’s political and legal systems take on new and radically honest forms. Assuredly, that responsibility remains in us, not in the government or the opposition both of which have spectacularly failed this country.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    “|”Lessons from across the Palk Strait”|”
    ______________

    Oh yes talk of lessons from India when it suits the hoodwinking Lankans.
    What trailer trash from Bengal/Bihar.

    ……(\_/)
    ……( ‘_’) ︻╦╤─ This is Gota’s pet bunny, BBS.
    …./””””””””””””\======░ ▒▓▓█D . Join Gota’s army & copy & paste.
    /”””””””””””””””””””\ Let the revolution begin! Lol
    \@@@@_@/

    • 0
      1

      Sri Lanka is stepping like anything on the Social and economical ladder, far high above India and therefore she does not need to learn anything from India where a woman is raped in every minute and over 2 out of every 3 persons living in poverty at spending less than 2$ a day.

      • 0
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        That is because she is ruled by an Iranian/Parse dynasty called Gada(phew)

        NaMo is the Way!!

      • 0
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        At least Indians are happy with what they have and don’t need to sell their mothers and daughters to the aggressive Arabs as slaves. you don’t need to talk of self respect as you have none bestiality mahawamse gonna.

        Like the international spam producers Nigeria’s you have learnt bullshitting from the British to lie to self but you cannot con the world that has seen history unfold.

        • 0
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          are you high or stupid or both ? There are many indians who work in the middle east as well

          • 0
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            you must stop licking so much cum there are Bangladeshi slaves like you therefore boru aryan sinhaya has taken over the task from them to make the aggressive arabs see human sense.
            Your problem is gamayata magic went out as worker to the west got rejected and back with an attitude that defeats you.

  • 4
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    .
    “….The very idea of democracy, which was alive even at the worst of the North and East conflict, seems most at risk now…..”…….
    >
    >
    Very well said.
    >
    >
    :-)

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

    • 0
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      “|”are you high or stupid or both ?”|”

      Who is?? Who is??

      BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUL SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT

      Abe the amude.

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lanka is coming out of 30 year war and the UPFA government have a very effective white van system, thug armies to counter any opposition.

    In India they don’t have white van system as Sri Lanka. The Indian oppositions also have thug armies to counter government thugs.

    Our thugs armies even capable of stopping trains drag certain news reporters out of the train and make people think that is normal. The thugs can storm opposition head quarters and later make opposition to apologize the thugs for resisting thugs.

    This year news reporter Nanda Ismail had to leave the country. Why?

    Common.. what radically new Political Critiques ?

  • 2
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    Excellent article. Unfortunately needs Sinhalese translation.Otherwise there is no use in writing this beautiful piece.

  • 2
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    I am not surprised to note that the writer is full of praise for the vitality of the anti corruption movement, encompassing activists, lawyers, judges, academics…across the Palk Strait and identifying the reasons including the absence of white vans and an independent judiciary passing judgement not based on populist issues. It is very painfully evident that the Sinhalese intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists are still unable to or are unwilling to acknowledge and give the due recognition to the verdict of the ordinary Tamil people of the North & East who have voted a resolute “No” to violence and corruption even at gun points and amidst widespread intimidation. There will be no radically New Political Critique untill deep soul searching takes place in the south starting from D.J, Jehan Perera, and the likes.

    • 0
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      This kind of shortsighted reaction, daya thevi is foolish. Please understand.

      Southern critics have written much about accountability and the travails of the Tamils. Pinto Jayawardene and others have written tens of articles on this and also on the relevance of the northern pc victory. You can look these up in CT itself. Yet you react saying that due recognition has not been given to the verdict of the pc election in the north. Tamils must also identify with the larger problems that Lanka faces as well as ask for their specific problems to be handled. That is how you get people on your side.

      You take the tna victory to mean that the tamil voters went against corruption. This is not a good reading. The tna vote was a strong anti-rajapaksa vote. Even if donkeys had stood as tna candidates, the Tamils would have voted for them. Issue of corruption did not even enter into the picture.

      Not only soul searching in the South but soul searching in the North must start. Perhaps a good point for the North is to reject all that bloodthirsty Prabha did as much as the southern writers criticize the bloodthirsty Mara. Both came to finish off Lanka.

      • 0
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        Konde dik vela de??

        South is the cause of even 83 so start first moron from greedy Oxbridge SWRD (you were recently beaten by Cambridge India and Canada)

        then comes the symptoms from the south JVP terrorism first then Tamil Terrorism second.

        Putting the cart before the horse is very English and outdated.

  • 2
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    The tamils keep fighting. The sinhalese prostrate themselves before their mighty king.

  • 1
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    India along with Indonesia are the two MOST corrupt countries in the world . asking to use India as an example is plain idiocy . but then again that is the current standard for this woman .

    • 0
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      she has learnt it down under where the majority modayas roam with the thieves which is your dream! poor fool.!

    • 2
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      your family standard is `pache boru` like bestiality mahawamse of mahanama yetti footprint.

      Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.- Village Jackal Adolph Hitler-
      ______________

      Latest survey of 2013 issued last Tuesday India, Indonesia and Lanka are almost the same except Lanka is getting worse by the month.Abe the Amude so you run away looking for work with the man you curse so much- you are a slave bandit.
      _____________

      Corruption Perceptions Index 2013
      Highest score possible 100.Survey of 177 nations.
      from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

      Lanka: 37/2013; 40/2012 rank 91/177

      India: 36/2013; 36/2012 rank 94/177

      Indonesia:32/2013; 32/2012 rank 114/177

      Within 5 years of another Rajapassa Lanka Joins north Korea, Somalia, Afganistan at 8 points rank 175

  • 0
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    As expressed by the writer, it is no secret that the whole country, meaning from North to South and East to West has been subjected to a wave of mismanagement in all spheres of life. Excepting the capital investment projects that are being carried out; the expectations of economic advantages these bring to the country are being siphoned out by way of corruption in an unprecedented scales, deterioration of social and judicial structures and its virtual collapse have engulfed the country in a very much bigger volume than ever. The wave of crimes of all sorts have spread even to the remotest village areas and in many of those instances a local politician is at the forefront. To tell a long story short, the whole of “Governing” the country appears to be a “spoiled soup” cooked by too many crooks. But the irony is that the Government of the day carry on regardless, trumpeting still on war on terror and accompanied development of roads,power projects, ports and airports.This too given priority not for common good but to fill the pockets of regime goons and relatives. Some of the very establishments that are run on disastrous bankruptcy levels are run by the regime’s own relatives and goons and no corrective measures are taken or appear to be instituted even in the near future thus allowing them the “freedom’ to loot public funds.

    Anyone can write and relate this story for volumes and volumes; but the question is “WHO OR WHAT ORGANIZATION” has come forward to CORRECT THE COURSE and put the HOUSE IN ORDER? In my opinion NO present day political party or such organization has the capacity and the WILL to do that JOB. Do we have a KIJIRIWAL among us? If there is one, please come forward and take the lead. We need a new face urgently to change the course.

    • 1
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      Douglas: you’re spot on!!!

      We cannot see any Kejriwal coming for our rescue because we have to re-correct the mistake and damages done by Banda family. Remove the protection cover given to the Terror minded Monks – the so called primary protection for Buddhism. Then, everything will settle down and return back to its former glory.

      Stop teaching to the young ones the filth emanated from the stinky mouth of Anagarika and Gangoda Soma. These are the evil words that drives monks into monkeys and then they go berserk in destroying other’s belongings.

      Give monks some sex life in a legal way. Then Gnanasara’s piston will be cooled off once its comes back after the spill inside a woman’s vagina. Stop them from inserting their monk pistons into the various stinky anals that comes back with the coat of shit tainted on them.

      This cursed country will come back to its former glory as when it was knowned as The Ceylon.

  • 1
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    We need a Kejriwal and an Anti Corruption Ombudsman.
    We also need the RTI law, and an Election Commision like that in india.

    But the immediate project of MR is to win anther presidential election – and these will not allow it.

    As long as we have corrupt lawmakers.administraters and public servants,MR will prevail.
    Any peoples’ movement will be countered by force.
    The future is bleak.

  • 0
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    The difference is that India is still somewhat of a democracy. Not perfect but can claim the mantle of democracy.

    In contrast Sri Lanka is a thugocracy. The current malaise cannot be blamed on the Rajapaksa clan alone. All governments in power since independence are guilty of thugocratic practices.

    Kishali, expectations of a radically new political critique in the present political climate of Sri Lanka is quite ludicrous, to say the least.

  • 1
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    We need the majority community initiating some real action first. Then everyone else will follow to rescue this country.

    • 2
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      “|”We need the majority community initiating some real action first. “|”
      ______

      BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUL SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT

      Stereotype!

      Rajapassa speaks Sinhala to `God Buddha`; He speaks Islam to Women;

      He speaks English to Men; He speaks Tamil to Dogs. Like most SL politicians.

      _____________

      We can see even the judiciary, journalist,monks like the politicians are tyrants.

      The need is for a arty farty mixed race new president to dump the constitution and produce a one page like UK- no changes allowed all citizens are equal and resign to hold elections as happened in new Czechoslovakia.

  • 2
    1

    Thank you BBS for put it in context the point I was trying to make. Tamil terrorism is a response for the unrestrained State control unleashed on them in all forms by the majority dominated governments since independence. The sinhala community failed to recognise the thugocracy when the ethnic card was successfully used against the Tamils even before the origin of LTTE. The collective Tamil voice of ‘Cry for Help’ in the form of Vaddukottai Resolution and the election results in 1977 was ruthlessly suppressed by JR’s Government while the sinhala community became mere on lookers. The triumphalism that followed May 2009 is an another example.If not for the concerns raised by certain world powers I strongly believe Sinhala community will still be silent. If the demand for Tamil Self determination is acknowledged at least as a theoritical possibility by the progressive sinhala journalists and intellectuals if a negotiated just political settlement is not delivered soon by the government then I shall be proven wrong in my belief of sinhalese being silent. I want to be proven wrong because I am as desperate for peace as a sinhala sri lankan if not more as I have lost everything in the past six decades of struggle.

    • 1
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      “|”theoritical possibility by the progressive sinhala journalists and intellectuals”|”

      They simply cannot because they are the product of standardisation by race adopted by CBK’s mother Sirima.

      They are not interested in a level playing field and also fear of repercussions by their own desperate folk. eg Dr J UNP; Bahu etc.

      If you had seen some of the sceans during 83 also confirms their fear.

      Hard luck they have to come out and accept the cause and the JVP terror first then tamil terror by tamils for any negotiated solution or live like Bangladesh elections without witnesses.

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