He that Steals an Egg will Steal and Ox
By the time this piece appears in print on Sunday 13th, Parliament would have decided on the CJ issue; to either vote for her impeachment or obey the courts’ determination that the Parliamentary Select Committee’s finding is null and void.
If Parliament chooses to impeach the CJ, it would be a brazen violation of the constitution and kill any democratic semblance the country has maintained despite the killing of 70,000 Tamils and myriad journalists, the curtailment of the press, buying of MPs, election violence, and many cabinet members being implicated in murder. The sixth amendment fiasco of 1983 that disfranchised Tamils and provoked Tamil militancy, seems unnecessary if we dismember the constitution now.
President Rajapaksa’s main plank was that he had saved the country from Tamil separatism. If the impeachment happens as predicted, it would do exactly what Rajapaksa claims he prevented. For if Parliament does not obey the constitution, why would Tamils want to obey the constitution that prohibits separatism in Art. 20.157(2)? The present crisis, with the ill treatment that the Rajapaksas give Tamils, is a strong argument against the Rajapaksa legacy which really makes Tamils want to separate. It should give pause to the Rajapaksas as they think of over-turning the constitution on the road to the anarchy they have charted in reaching for unlimited power.
Float or Sink Together
A people does well and does good when living collectively with other peoples. The right thing must be done this weekend; but I have little hope. The Tamils and Sinhalese will float or sink together, depending on the outcome.
In 2008/9 the Sinhalese broadly seemed to have lost all democratic values and ready to allow the government a free hand, even to kill Tamil civilians. The BASL resolution against the UN Report to Ban Ki-Moon was a symptom of that time. Few sane voices were heard. That margin given to the Rajapaksas to do anything to defeat the LTTE led us to this current impasse. Like most people, they could not help arrogating more power when they were given carte blanche.
This present moment holds the potential for change. The Sinhalese polity is now more cognizant of the dangers from the blank cheque it gave Rajapaka to fill. Suddenly almost every commentator is in agreement on the enormity of the current situation and the regime ruling over us. Even the few intellectuals who were working with the Rajapaksas like Dayan Jayatilleke and Rajiva Wijesingha have publicly come out against the impeachment, the former calling it “a Perfect Blunder.” Although the impeachment of the CJ would be yet another nail in the coffin of Sri Lanka’s democracy, it may yet be an important step in the long-term as it has coalesced an understanding that reasserts the integrity of the Constitution and rule of law.
R. Sampanthan: Jaffna Development
Mr. R. Sampanthan is firmly entrenched as Tamil leader. He is not a separatist and his leadership is wise. He does not object to the reasonable presence of the army and his views are widely accepted by Tamils in Sri Lanka. There is some criticism that the TNA is like an Elders’ Home, for example, or that no parliamentarian has visited the detained university students. But generally Sampanthan can carry the Tamil people with him in any agreement.
Occasional signs of development are seen in Jaffna because the government has crafted its entire Tamil policy believing that economic tidbits are an acceptable substitute for political dignity. Only a few Tamil entrepreneurs have had the confidence to return – Gnanam’s Studio and Subash Hotel for example. Without dignity, even good things fail to satisfy. The magnificent 4-storey Tilko Hotel has come up next to the Post Office. But people think the Sinhalese are colonizing and ask why multi-storey buildings are refused for the university as impracticable and, according to S.B. Dissanayake, too expensive in terms of electricity bills for elevators. Planned high rise flats in Chundikuli at some Rs. 14 mn each are also seen as colonization. The raised plush roads are blocking the free flow of water, and people forced to pay spot fines for mosquito breeding ask if they are to drink the water in their compounds. The hurried repairs to Hospital Road and the extension of Palaly Road from Ariyakulam to Vembadi are dismissed as political stunts for the opening of a new 4-storey block at the hospital on Pongal by the President – an event suddenly cancelled because of the political and physical climate.
Showing Muscle at Jaffna University
Instead of reaching a political settlement with Sampanthan, the government is on the foolhardy mission of demonstrating power with economic crumbs. Higher Education’s S.B. Dissanayake has threatened their own EPDP VC, boasting to the Sunday Times “I have told the university authorities that, willingly or unwillingly, we will have to close the university, even for one year, if campus activities are not normalized.”
On Monday the harassed VC promised Deans that she had been privately assured by Dissanayake that if they reopened he would get the students released by Pongal. She added pressure threatening to resign if the university is not reopened, and then repeated it to the media. She started off on the wrong foot on her first day when she castigated students for disrespecting her, the VC, by coming in T-shirts. Moreover anyone with EPDP associations like her is viewed with disdain in Jaffna. Thus students have adamantly refused to attend classes, issuing caustic comments against her in private.
But the Deans were persuaded and the university reopened for classes on Jan. 8. A few students came and went off seeing few others there. The authorities hope that once students from outside Jaffna see the newspaper notices announcing the reopening, some would report, and more would return if examinations are held on Jan 16.
To defuse matters a meeting was held on Jan. 10 at the university between the Council and the parents of those arrested and then released. Indicating where government lawlessness is leading, a heated argument arose between two EPDP Councillors – while Shereen Xavier spoke of law and order, Sripathy countered that when there is neither justice nor law and order in the country, there is no need for the university to observe rules and regulations. The parents were lost.
Army in Peacetime: Rape and EPDP Pretences
The army in the meantime is reportedly visiting some Kilinochchi students in their homes, persuading them to report, thereby visibly interfering in civilian matters. A retarded woman escaped from the Thellippalai hospital, and the police and GS took her to Moolai where she was refused admission. She was then dropped off at the junction of the Vaddukoddai and Moolai Roads, an isolated area except for soldiers. She disappeared on Dec. 8 and a few days later her body was recovered from a well. A judicial report declared her to have been raped. Following adverse publicity from a four-year-old’s rape and murder in Mandaitivu under the EPDP and navy, the EPDP made a charade of demanding why the culprit had not been caught and then, as if to pacify their protectors, tried to change the Jaffna Municipality’s lyric by inserting a section praising Buddhism. The EPDP’s detractor, Uthayan newspaper, on Jan. 10 had two employees delivering newspapers to agents attacked. One escaped riding into a police station but the other had his bones broken and motorbike burnt.
As the bumbling army denies it is occupying civilian lands and injecting itself into civilian matters, its prevarication was bared when French Ambassador Christine Robichon and her delegation testified this week that they personally observed the army’s intrusive dealings.
Holding to Promises
On Friday, Parliament will have an opportunity to do the wise and right thing on impeachment. Failing that, as likely, their resolution will go to Rajapaksa. In 2010, he pledged a commitment to human rights, peace, pluralism and equality. He must read his old speeches as he plays Solomon – for, the rule of law is foundational to all these things.