Colombo Telegraph

Constitution Impeached!

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

It is now official.  The Executive-Judicial clash is heading towards denouement and one that is not hard to call.  We’ll get to that later.

Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon escaped the ignominy of impeachment by resigning.  Chief Justice Sarath N Silva was spared by the Parliament being prorogued first and then dissolved.  In the case of the former, the Executive had sway over the necessary numbers in Parliament.  In the case of the latter, the mover, Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t have the numbers and didn’t have the support of the Executive, Chandrika Kumaratunga.  When Silva ruled to snub Kumaratunga, she couldn’t think impeachment because she didn’t have impeaching numbers.  Today it is Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake who is in the dock.   In a context where regime popularity is hinged on the popularity of the President and therefore the political fortunes of ruling party MPs are tied to him remaining in power, the Executive has a vice like grip on the legislative branch.  The Executive, moreover, has the numbers that neither Wickremesinghe nor Kumaratunga had.  As such, things look bleak for the Chief Justice.

There are howls of protests of course, but not all the protestors have moral right on their side.  Silva himself had his ups and downs as well as his sideways ways including encroachment on executive territory.  Among those who object to the current moves against the Chief Justice are those who sought to bring down Silva but forgave and forgot the moment Silva fell out with the Executive following the classic ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ formula.

Many who are shedding tears for the Chief Justice today, howled in protest when she was first appointed to the Supreme Court.  ‘Political appointee!’ was the scream back then.  Morality was cited by the objectors who pointed out that the lady’s husband was a high ranking government servant.  They later even salivated when her husband, who was Chairman of the National Savings Bank, was implicated in a 390 million rupee deal in the stock market.

On the other hand, the current investigation of the husband, following the much publicized Executive-Judicial spat and the subsequent impeachment move, says a lot about selectivity and even revenge-intent.   The message that is not spelled out but is nevertheless clear is, ‘We can just get along, but if we can’t, there’ll be arm-twisting, and if that doesn’t work, well, we have the numbers and the law’.

It doesn’t make it morally right though.  It is morally wrong to subject the Chief Justice to a witch hunt, for that is what is has amounted to.  It may be legal, but still the use of available mechanism to get rid of her without any mention of ‘reason’ or transgression on her part, makes a bad, bad, bad precedent.  The howlers don’t have the moral authority either, given their flip-flopping nature on issues of this kind and the fact that they’ve been consistently motivated by matters of political expediency and not issues of legality and morality.    If indeed, as alleged, the Chief Justice is inept or guilty of wrongdoing, the process that seated her in that august office must be flawed.  If unseating is simply a matter of leveraging numerical edge, that too indicates mechanism-flaw.

Perhaps these developments, in the end, serve only to strip the 1978 Constitution to its iron-like bones, demonstrating that for all the sway and punch of the judicial and legislative arms, the executive can be too a heavy a weight to budge.   It boils down to presidential discretion and that shows constitutional error and poverty.  We can curse the Second Republican Constitution and its architects.  We can find the gripe of its never-envisaged victims (the UNP) amusing.  None of this requires us to cheer the current and principal beneficiary.
Simply, the constitution and by extension, its props and beneficiaries stand impeached.Morally.

*The Nation editorial – Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation and his articles can be found at .

Related posts;

Not Only The Chairman Husband; Chief Justice Wife Must Also Resign! by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

Chief Justice Or Her Husband Must Resign by Uvindu Kurukalsuriya 

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