By Kusal Perera –
Now that the Mayan calender has been cleared of all doubts on the “Apocalypse” that was predicted for 21 December, 2012, to begin a new calender, let me get back to the attempt at impeaching Chief Justice (CJ) Bandaranayake by the Rajapaksa regime. I used to call this regime a “Kleptocracy”. Now, on one hand, it shows a logical path such a regime could politically traverse and thus on the other hand, makes me redefine it as a “Plundogarchy” [‘Plunder’ = illegal appropriation of wealth often by force + ‘Oligarchy’ = rule by a small group of people]. This new definition of the Rajapaksa regime as a “Plundogarchy” is what makes it easier to understand it and thus its attempt at impeaching the Chief Justice that by now has catapulted the regime to override the judiciary in its totality.
The basic or the fundamental political character of this regime, that keeps Ranil Wickremasinghe also compromising with it at every step, is its firm resolve to travel along with a “free market” economy. This “free market” economic model, does register a nominal growth rate numerically, though it keeps a majority of the population out of the “market” and out of actual economic life. Its claims that the per capita income had increased quite fast during the pat few years and Moody’s rating agency fixing SL as the richest in South Asia with a 2,800 US dollar per capita per annum, noted, “the GDP is being enriched by worker remittances overseas which has been growing at over 15 per cent annually.” That in fact shows what type of a shallow growth this is, and this annual per capita income when turned into rupees per month at 29,400, would mean the whole rural population and the urban poor is no where there. This is again another indicator that wealth is being fast accumulated in Colombo and no where else. That simply is what this Rajapaksa economy is about.
Internationally and regionally, they have not fared too bad, though globally, the neo liberal economy is yet to recover from its recent meltdown. The IMF still feeds them well enough to survive. So is India and China that pumps in money through credit lines and loans. Other donors like USAID, GIZ, JICA who use, (let me stress that word USE), reconciliation, reconstruction and poverty in war torn areas to give this regime both credibility and funds, have a ready helping hand. Also, the regime’s accommodation of IMF and World Bank economic strategies in trying to maintain that very shallow growth, allows the local entrepreneur to live dependent on State patronage, but comfortable in being able to do business. It is not easy for any elected government to maintain a representative democratic content in governance, while nurturing such an economy with State patronage for business that accumulates wealth centred around Colombo. For that also has the larger side of it where State patronises mega corruption, in fact plunder and looting, partly on the labour strength of the “soldier” and that of the repressive presence of the military entrenched in civil administration.
Thus the nature of this Rajapaksa regime too comes in as very important, in understanding the reasons for this impeachment against the CJ. Political power is no more within the Constitutionally established bodies for governance. It is with a coterie of men who decides on monetary policy and finances, decides on all national policy, but are never answerable to any constitutional agency. Its power usurped on the strength of a Presidency that is constitutionally kept immune to the law of the land. The constitution is left only as a democratic façade to be used where and when necessary.
This Rajapaksa presidency therefore uses the Jayawardne Constitution to its maximum advantage that leaves even Ranil W envious. The 18 Amendment to date is the last it added as an Amendment to the Constitution in usurping more power to the already over loaded Executive Presidency. It thus has the policy making and decision making role of the parliament totally under its control, leaving the parliament to legitimise and legislate, only what it wants, the way it wants. This is now quite apparent in how the Budget 2013 went through parliament and how the Divi Neguma Bill came to the Order Paper of the parliament, compromised by the whole Opposition led by the UNP. Legislators like Eran Wickramaratne calls them “Unconstitutional” in the media, unfortunately, only after his party voted in parliament to legitimise all such “unconstitutionality”. The UNP has thus completed its role in establishing a parliament that has nothing to do with the people who elect it.
Now it is only a group of 225 men and women “selected” through a democratic hoax of an election, comfortably housed within the wildlife sanctuary in the Diyawannawa; most things wild and beastly they do, this Rajapaksa regime decides they should do. The era that could demand “transparency, accountability and good governance” from a regime like this, has now come to an end. This is what even gentlemen Sinhala lobbyists like S.L Gunasekara who dreamt of a decent, democratic government when the LTTE is defeated and therefore refused to accept this brutal human massacre by the name “war against terrorists” would only establish an openly arrogant rogue regime and nothing else, is now left with to denounce in the harshest language they know.
The impeachment against the CJ therefore is only the most logical step for this regime. This regime, having stalled the constitutional process of governing through parliament and taken that power into the hands of a few in the regime, has to have the apex of the judiciary (the SC and the CoA that determine and rule on FR petitions and Writ applications) also out of the constitutional process. They would not in any way have the regime answerable to the rulings and determinations of the Supreme Court or of the Court of Appeal. The attempt is to lift the parliament high above that of the higher Courts, breaking all norms and traditions of co-existence between the legislator and the judiciary, in a Westminster type of government. Thus the common rhetoric on the “Supremacy” of the parliament, at any cost by both the Rajapaksa regime and Wickramasinghe’s UNP. It is supremacy of a parliament that no more represents the sovereignty of the people who elected it. It is a foregone conclusion, the Speaker and those in government, would not honour the decision(s) made by the CoA on the writ application filed by the CJ. It would continue as a fist fight, till the regime finally wrest control of these higher judicial Courts. The lower Courts have never been an issue for any government for that matter, for they handle only issues that ordinary men and women waste time and money on, with an inefficient and corrupt system in their functioning, including the lawyers themselves. (President accepted in his budget speech in 2010 November, there are 650,000 unsolved cases in our Courts – MCs, DCs and HCs)
That in a way explains how and why the whole anti impeachment campaign is also class based. It is a campaign by the urban middle class and the elites only. Lower segments in society seem unruffled by the plain and pure legal approach in countering the impeachment by the elite in the city and the more concerned legal fraternity. Thus it remains a wholly inadequate campaign in facing a regime that decides politically and acts politically. The Rajapaksa regime can not be contained within legal arguments and legal forums. Such protest campaigns could only legally and academically expose the regime for their arrogance against democratic governance within the more concerned urban middle class. But this regime is into devaluing all such legal approaches and systems, themselves. Such exposure therefore, is not one the regime is very much worried about, any more. This could be seen in how they use the media and their stunt men in simply ridiculing and humiliating the whole judicial system and the legal fraternity too. They are politically content as long as they could keep their rural lower middle class and the predominantly Sinhala agricultural voter base, intact till the next elections, two years hence.
The use of the 13 Amendment once again as a “patriotic” cry for re aligning the Sinhala middle class in support of the regime that defeated “LTTE separatism”, new media hype about “re grouping” of LTTE cadres in South India, projecting student agitations for democratic space in their universities and student arrests in Jaffna as arrests of pro LTTE elements, are nothing but glue to keep the Sinhala voter base without cracking up (this proves why the likes of S.L.G and Gomin keep saying they are not against the Rajapaksa government, despite their wrath over the impeachment).
Therefore, within this regime’s Sinhala campaign package, it is quite apparent, there is no space or possibility to save the judiciary, by saving the individual, Chief Justice Bandaranayake. It is also clear, there is not enough attraction in this Sinhala society for the academic slogan, isolated as that of an independent judiciary. This judiciary as it is, is too corrupt, working with other equally corrupt law enforcement agencies and too inefficient and callous in its delivery of justice, for the ordinary Sinhala man and women to take judicial “independence” seriously enough for any breach of allegiance from this Sinhala Rajapaksa regime.
With the UNP also consciously avoiding challenging this regime, not wanting to see the State and its authority cracking up, it would take a “Left” discourse to seek an alternate programme for the people to get out of this chaos in the making. The “chaos” the Court of Appeal too sees coming round the corner (“….Any decision disregarding these proceedings to alter the status quo may lead to a chaotic situation.” – quote from CoA decision / 21 Dec., 2012).
For me, a far more serious issue though, is to find such a “Left” discourse in Sri Lanka, where the “Left” has left the “Left” politically to be either ‘fleas’ on this degenerating socio political carcase, or bag carrying porters waiting on the now abandoned “platform for freedom”, that was earlier leased to the UNP of Wickramasinghe. The discourse therefore has to begin with perhaps, loose groups of federated “freelance” Leftists in Sri Lanka and may be from the Diaspora.