By Kusal Perera –
President Rajapaksa keeps every one guessing, though few would want to believe him now. But that’s good enough for him. He used the stage of the Institute of Charted Accountants of Sri Lanka on Tuesday 11 December (2012) to tell the urban middle class and its professionals, that he was not for impeaching the Chief Justice.
President was quoted as saying, “How did this all start ? The opposition went and submitted a complaint with the Commissioner of Bribery and Corruption without even our knowledge. The opposition then said that punishing the husband (Chairman, NSB – Pradeep Gamini Suraj Kariyawasam) will not suffice because his wife (CJ – Shirani Bandaranayake) holds a high post. Therefore they said that justice won’t be meted. I wasn’t the one who did it. All government MP’s were completely silent on the matter. They were the people who went to the bribery commissioner and told the media that they would initiate an impeachment motion first.” [DM on line – Wednesday, 12 December 2012 05:09]
But they, the Opposition, did not impeach her. It was 117 government MPs who signed the motion impeaching her and handed it over to the Speaker. It is not necessary the Speaker should immediately accept the impeachment motion and appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee. IF, let me stress this, IF the President did not want to impeach the CJ, then he could have easily stopped his elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa as Speaker of the House, from pursuing on that motion. But he did not.
This whole brawl between the CJ and the Executive started in the open, grabbing media attention in September. The Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) issued a statement to the media on 18 September, as instructed by the Commission, with carefully nuanced mention of pressure brought on the CJ and the judiciary on decisions the JSC made by the highest in government. Every one knew who, it meant. Reaction to this statement by the President who met a collective of editors on 28 September at Temple Trees over morning tea, implied there was going to be a malicious and a ruthless backlash on the highest echelons of the judiciary and was soon proved so, in open daylight with Secretary JSC, going under a goon attack. Rest is recent history.
The impeachment process started off with the Rajapaksa regime deciding it would control all proceedings to have their decision imposed, the way they want. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was constituted with a 07 to 04 composition between government and opposition Members, respectively. It began investigations into the 14 charges listed in the motion, without any witnesses or documents available, or called upon. It continued without any agreed procedure for investigation and without any reasonable time given for the defence. It was seen and was without doubt, in a mighty hurry to conclude the investigation(s).
Nothing more and nothing different could be expected from this regime. What nevertheless remains to be seen, expected and therefore discussed is the outcome of this single episode tragi – comedy, scripted and directed by this Rajapaksa family regime. Apart from all the political blundering by the parliamentary opposition including the TNA and the JVP by compromising on the PSC the Wickramasinghe way, the impeachment defined the next logical extension to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
The flat argument put forward by Wickramasinghe that supremacy and sovereignty of this parliament is sacrosanct, is a total lie. Parliament is now a body of elected men and women, representing the Executive and not the people, with cross-overs and buy-overs holding even ministerial positions. President Jayawardne‘s 1978 Constitution that made the Executive the Head of State, also made the Head of State the authoritarian leader of the ruling political party. Ever since then, the legislature, the parliament lost its democratic essence and supremacy. After Sarath N. Silva‘s determinations as CJ on cross overs, the parliament has no validity and no credibility as a representative body of the people. The parliament today reflects the optimal decay and degeneration any elected body that is alien to representing the people could have. The conceptual difference between an “elected” parliament and a “representative” parliament of the people, is too wide and contradictory to be even compared.
The will and the sovereignty of the people is therefore being expressed outside parliament, in the form of continuous protests and agitations, pickets and work stoppages on most everything; from high cost of living, wage increases, arbitrary arrests, involuntary disappearances, serial killings, sexual abuse and rape, break down of law and order, unconstitutional bills brought to parliament to even this present impeachment motion. People’s response to governance mobilised outside parliament can not be substituted through Standing Orders and legal jargon in a parliament that only decides according to the dictates of the Executive. Wickramasinghe’s argument on the supremacy of parliament, thus gave the right to a discredited lot to sit on judgement, over the highest in the judiciary, in the “name of the people”. Her innocence or guilt being another matter after an investigation by a constitutional mechanism with independence for serious and impartial investigations.
His next argument, Sri Lanka would lose its Commonwealth membership unless there is an impartial impeachment process after it was allowed to conclude investigations by participating in it, is as good as Rajapaksa saying he was not for the impeachment of the CJ. But what relevance has the Commonwealth ? That has not been and will not be worth a hoot, in Sri Lankan politics. There was NO Commonwealth during the pre conflict period that cared to intervene on SL democracy and decency of rights. There was NO Commonwealth in sight during the armed conflict period when there were numerous attempts at negotiating a decent, democratic conclusion to the national conflict. No Commonwealth even during the human tragedy called “war against LTTE terrorists” that now debates numbers in thousands after a massive human massacre. The Commonwealth is not even now interested in any of it, when it’s Heads of Government Meeting is scheduled in Colombo for 2013 November, hosted by the Rajapaksa government. So why bother about a Commonwealth, which is only ceremonial and a few political elites from post colonial countries meet once every two years to spend millions from tax payers money ? (The 2011 CWHOG in Perth, Western Australia was estimated to cost USD 69,449,169)
The impeachment has other and more serious issues for Sri Lanka than the Commonwealth membership. While the 18 Amendment allowed for the repeal of the 17 Amendment, it also allows Rajapaksa to continue contesting presidential elections one after another, if he can win. That plainly says, the Rajapaksas are working to stay long in power, as a closely knit family dynasty. Such a dynastical family rule can not allow those they consider “aliens” to its regime to question its authority. It therefore needs enormous power that would remove every space the people could have in challenging the regime. The necessity for such usurping of unquestionable power comes logically with enormous accumulation of unaccounted wealth by undeclared means. In short, the whole constitutional governing process is being revamped and refurbished to remain as a constitutionally unaccountable and unchallenged system of governance.
For the Sinhala South and the Tamil and Muslim people, the usurping of power is about abolishing of the 13 Amendment. It is about further accumulation and centralising of power necessary with the regime. The Sinhala society for now would take it as “good punishment” for Tamils who wanted a “separate State”. They little realise that its not just Tamils being denied their political and democratic rights, but the right of the Sinhala South that for over 60 years lost its right to develop economically, rid poverty and live a modern, democratic society. Centralising of power in Colombo had denied them of any decent development in the provinces and would now rake in their wealth to Colombo too. It has over 60 years left economic poverty, social dependency and absence of cultural life, the legacy of refusing to have devolved power in the provinces. And, Weerawansa‘s NFF of the UPFA is given the license to keep the anti devolution campaign going, while the impeachment against the CJ is being manipulated.
Its not just Weerawansa who is kicking off a campaign in justifying further centralising of power. This regime, lives on Sinhala-Buddhist frenzy in the South, in accumulating and usurping power, by way of illegal and criminal campaigns like the rampaging “Bodhu Bala Sena” (literally translated to English as ‘Army of Buddhist Power’). This gangster type group led by saffron clad men, who break into government family health clinics, into Christian churches and even storm police stations to have law in their hands, are never arrested and produced in Courts by the police. Nor are they taken into custody and detained, for breach of peace, racial and or religious amity. Never even baton charged as they do with other “rights based” picketing or protesting civil groups and organisations. This Rajapaksa regime would certainly not want to even hear, this Buddhist mobster gang is vandalising public life and property. They need such Hitler’s “Brown Shirts” types to keep the South intimidated, to go along with more usurping of power.
Such is in practise in the North and East with heavy security operations used against especially youth that accounts for disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions. A reason for the government to propose amends to the Criminal Procedure Code to allow the police to detain a suspect in their custody for 48 hours, instead of 24 hours, for now. That with the UNP parliamentarian Wijeydasa Rajapaksa as President BASL, accepting extended time as necessary with a heavy increase of crimes, as he said. A sorry interpretation of politics in understanding the total breakdown of law and order, corruption in law enforcement and the total consent in the regime to allow such politicised anarchy in enforcing law.
We thus have a legislature under the total control and dictates of the Executive and a regime now decided to take over the remaining third segment of governance, the judiciary, under its firm control to complete a “Constitutional Kleptocracy” (klepto = compulsion to steal + autocracy = complete one man rule). The irony remains, the Opposition is in no mood to leave aside its timid, compromising, conservatism in giving the people a political direction for a better future. That responsibility too is left with Citizen groups in debating, discussing a programme to move forward.
*Written on invitation for Sri Lankan Tamil magazine “Samakaalam” – 2012 December, 16 – 31 issue