By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
The impeachment of the Chief Justice is neither the beginning nor the end of the Rajapaksa-rush towards absolutism. But it does constitute a watershed moment in that journey, perhaps its final really-existing breaking-point.
Whether the impeachment boomerangs on the Rajapaksas or scythes Lankan democracy depends on how the judiciary, polity and society, including the non-SLFP parties in the UPFA, respond to it.
The Rajapaksas are determined to get rid of the CJ, because she has begun to block their way and cramp their style. Impeachment is the only possible solution to the Rajapaksa conundrum that is judicial independence – since doing to a chief justice what was done to Lasantha Wickremetunga or Prageeth Ekneligoda is not tenable….yet.
A pinprick of light still prevails in this gathering Cimmerian darkness. By going for the impeachment in such a ham-fisted fashion, the Rajapaksas have overplayed their hand. Handled properly, the impeachment can be used to de-legitimise the regime nationally and internationally, and impose a strategic wound on the Rajapaksa project.
The impeachment can be made to boomerang on the Siblings, if the CJ continues to stand firm and our customary indifference does not condemn her to wage this national battle alone.
The impeachment is a mark of Rajapaksa hubris; it is a result of Rajapaksa-numerical strength and of Rajapaksa-political weakness. It denotes a break in the Rajapaksa’s Southern hegemony. The impeachment is symbolic and symbiotic of the Siblings’ inability to do to the judiciary what they did, with such terrifying success, to the legislature, the army, the bureaucracy and the SLFP. All those entities succumbed to that particular Rajapaksa concoction of threats and rewards, snarls and smiles, with nary a murmur. Until a few months ago, the judiciary seemed to be headed in the same anti-democratic direction; and the Rajapaksa power-project seemed totally unassailable.
The Rajapaksas do not want a chief justice who will cooperate with them some of the time, on some of the issues (as Shirani Bandaranaike indeed did). The Rajapaksas want a chief justice who will do their bidding, unquestioningly, on all the issues, all the time. The Rajapaksas want a chief justice no different from the fawning ministers/parliamentarians, the subjugated military-bosses and the supine bureaucrats, the sort of mindless underling they have become accustomed to.
Why the judiciary in general and the CJ in particular decided to resist Rajapaksa tyranny is for historians to debate. For us today it suffices that they are doing so. The judiciary, led by the CJ, is fighting to prevent itself from becoming another pillar of Rajapaksa power. They cannot win that necessary battle without the backing of all those who value the rule of law and understand that tyranny becomes destiny only through default.
The Rajapakses Expose Themselves
According to reports, the impeachment motion is riddled with errors and inaccuracies – just like Rajapaksa development and Rajapaksa governance. This shoddiness stems not only from the Rajapaksa penchant for low-quality, be it in road-building or parliamentary conduct, but also from the impeachment’s very nature: a rush-and-rash job, motivated not by a desire for justice but by a raging thirst for vengeance.
Logically it would have been better for the Rajapaksas if the CJ continued to do their bidding. Logically it would have been better for the Rajapaksas if they did not have to impeach the CJ.
Though the Siblings pursued their power-agenda ceaselessly, from November 2005, they did so while making an effort to maintain appearances. They pretended fidelity to such impediments in their path towards absolutism as the 13th Amendment or judicial independence because they did not want to reveal, completely, their real purpose. But with the impeachment (and the growing talk about a 19th Amendment) the Rajapaksas have torn asunder the veil of deception of their own making and displayed their natural self to the world.
Interestingly, intriguingly, the Rajapaksas engaged in this political-disrobing while the world’s attention was onSri Lankavia the UPR process.
The Rajapaksa need/desire to axe a chief justice who finally decided to place the constitution above the will of the executive is comprehensible. But they could have waited until the UPR process was over. The Siblings are adept at deception, and in the past they acted with considerable guile and wile to seduce the nation and hoodwink the world. Their dexterity enabled them to conceal behind a banal façade the insatiable ferocity of their power-famish. But this time they decided to go for the Chief Justice’s jugular, while the world was watching. They could have waited, mouthing their usual shibboleths for a few weeks more, but didn’t. They could have used at least a pinch of finesse and a drop of restraint, but didn’t. Instead, they went for the kill, with bloodcurdling howls and bared fangs, at once. In doing so, they exposed their true-self, far more repellently than a thousand critical analyses could have.
Their new normal is demonstrated by their decision to reject, sans explanations, the unexceptionable requests by several countries (at the UPR) to respect judicial independence.
Why did the Rajapaksas act with such uncharacteristic rashness? Have their Chinese overlords given them a gilt-edged assurance about their financial, political and diplomatic safety? If so, what promises did the Rajapaksas make, in return? Or did their fury at an unexpectedly recalcitrant chief justice make the Rajapaksas abandon sense and sobriety and lash-out, Medamulana style? Did the Rajapaksas decide to nuke the CJ because anger made them forget the incinerating impact such a strike cannot but have on the people, the country and even themselves?
The Rajapaksas are in a hurry; they want to rid themselves of this CJ and replace her with a tried-and-tested henchman. It does not require oracular powers to know that all seven UPFA members of the Parliamentary Select Committee (a careful mix of wolves to maul the CJ and sheep to bleat indifferently) will find Shirani Bandaranaike guilty. But if those Lankans who are appalled by this dangerous charade, who understand its deadly consequences (including to themselves) make their displeasure felt, that might suffice to compel the left and minority parties in the UPFA to oppose this most egregious of travesties. If the impeachment gives rise to societal outrage, if it creates just a few wavelets of dissent in the UPFA, even a win for the Rajapaksas can become a pyrrhic victory.
Once this CJ is out and her supine successor is in, the Rajapaksas can amass every iota of power, constitutionally and legally. To achieve this end, the Siblings are willing to destabilise the system and confound the society, to blackenSri Lanka’s image internationally and cause ordinary Lankans to suffer a critical loss of confidence in every branch of government.
Under Rajapaksa rule the Rajapaksas deny themselves nothing, from tax-free sports cars to witch-hunting troublesome chief justices. The cost is of no moment because the only things that count are Sibling Power, Familial Rule and Dynastic succession.
Just as Vellupillai Pirapaharan warped Tamil aspirations, undermined Tamil interests and destroyed Tamil future, in mindless pursuit of his own megalomaniac nightmare.