By Kusal Perera –
“Reason has always existed, but, not always in a reasonable form” – Karl Marx
The Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Sirirpala de Silva, also a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) investigating 14 charges against the Chief Justice (CJ) had told parliament on Saturday, 08 December (2012) that only 05 of the charges were investigated, while the rest of the charges against the CJ were dropped. He had further told parliament that charges 01, 04 and 05 against CJ Shirani Bandaranayake had been proved. This was after the Chairman of the PSC, Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa handed over the PSC report to the Speaker of parliament, the same morning.
Immediate reaction of MP Lakshman Kiriella, one of the two UNP parliamentarians who sat in the PSC, was to say they “reject the report” while the JVP member in the PSC went a step further by calling the people to protest against it. The TNA parliamentarian Sumanthiran was heard against the impeachment, though his leader, veteran politician Sampanthan sat through the PSC and walked out with other opposition members, sans any comments to date.
Kiriella was totally contradicted by his colleague in the PSC, MP John Amaratunge the Chief Opposition Whip in parliament, who wants a debate on the same report that Kiriella rejects. Amaratunge no doubt voiced the decision of his leader. The Speaker said the report would be included in the Order Paper with a promise of 10 days for the debate on the report after one month.
In such controversy and contradictions over the whole PSC and its report, it is of worth to summarise the role of the Opposition, mainly that of the UNP.
- The UNP and Opposition leader agrees for a PSC as constituted according to the likes of the Rajapaksa regime, with 07 from the ruling alliance and 04 from the Opposition, instead of 06 to 05. NO serious opposition to such constitution was ever seen.
- Despite their proposals on how the PSC should conduct its inquiry as an impartial, fair and just manner, giving the accused reasonable opportunity to defend herself against the charges were rejected by the Chair of the PSC, the UNP and the other opposition members sits through the PSC. It was a foregone conclusion that the whole case was being designed and executed as the Rajapaksa regime wanted it, BUT the UNP and the Opposition sat through giving it the necessary legitimacy.
- The 04 Opposition members walk out only after the CJ decides, “enough is enough” of this indecent inquiry that gives her absolutely no chance of presenting her defence. By then the Opposition had only made very meek statements on the injustice meted out in carrying through the investigation, but had allowed time for the Rajapaksa regime to get its act together.
- The UNP and its collective of smaller political parties and NGO activists that went round as the “Platform for Freedom” (PfF) was a conspicuous absentee in all protests against the impeachment. No were there any official statements or media briefings from PfF, or by their main allies.
- The UNP leadership that reiterates its claim to form the next government even before 1916, never played any leadership role in society during the whole impeachment episode to date, at least to establish the fact that this society needs an independent judiciary and thus, political intrusions into the judiciary have to be opposed.
I wouldn’t want to believe, the men (and women if any) in the UNP leadership are mere ‘babes’ in parliamentary politics to have played such an indifferent role. But for now they have left themselves as complete subordinates to their leader Wickramasinghe in making decisions, during the next 06 years. That is how and where the decision to allow the Rajapaksa regime to take total control of the judiciary through this PSC was taken. Thus the unwanted legitimacy given to the PSC, while trying to make themselves look as opposed to the injustice and indecency in how the PSC conducted itself.
Though Kiriella would want to reject the PSC report, the UNP would give credence and constitutional legitimacy to the final decision of the parliament, being part of the debate. Do I or any one else have to tell the UNP that the report would definitely request the parliament to vote in impeaching the CJ and resolve to remove the CJ ? Do we have to tell the Wickramasinghe leadership that taking part in the debate would only give Rajapaksa’s decision, its due share of constitutional legitimacy, it doesn’t deserve ?
Wickramasinghe and the whole UNP and even most men and women on the street know, its a political decision taken by the Rajapaksa regime and would be carried out by the majority in parliament, under any circumstance. The whole world knows all those in the government benches would simply say “Aye” when they are called to vote. Including those like former liberal Rajiva Wijesinha and Senior Ministers Vitarana and DEW Gunasekera, who for now keep saying the PSC was not independent for very many of their own reasons. Its a political decision of the Rajapaksa family regime and none of these men would want to lose their perks and privileges earned by being with this nauseatingly corrupt and arrogant regime. Wickramasinghe too would not disagree on that, for sure.
The only compromise the regime is prepared to have on the impeachment is for Shirani Bandaranayake to resign from her post as CJ during the coming month, before the next parliamentary sessions begin on 08 January, 2013. “I will give her some other position somewhere. “Tell her to resign. I think there has been some injustice done to her husband as well. All that can be dropped,” Some web news sites reported President Rajapaksa himself telling, CJ Bandaranayake’s lawyer, Attorney Neelakandan of Neelakandan and Neelakandan Associates, over the phone on 06 December. A mainstream English language print media this Sunday confirmed the offer sans President’s name. That would not be. Shirani Bandaranayake as CJ, refused such offers before the impeachment process began and was determined to go through without any compromises. Thus its for the parliament to remove her now on a majority vote.
No protests, no petitions, nor even threats on emotions by lawyers they would not accept a new Chief Justice, could now turn the wheel back now. The ordinary man knows the lawyers’ profession is not that political to sacrifice their daily “Guinea” for too long. The UNP avoided the possibility of socially challenging the regime on the impeachment by simply calling the parliament supreme, when it has no independent voice outside that decided by the Executive. This parliament is neither sovereign nor representative of the people. That sovereignty and independence was usurped by the Executive long time ago and became more a place for slander and gullibility, wholly irrelevant to representative governance. More after Sarath N Silva as CJ gave his perhaps politically motivated interpretation in allowing cross-overs, buy-overs and sell-overs of any number of MPs. The Executive now controls the legislature. Its almost taken over.
Today, the impeachment against the CJ is the next move in trying to hold a crumbling State together by taking over the remaining part of the three part State, the Judiciary. As argued once before in a separate article (Economics of Impeaching Chief Justice in the Absence of the Opposition), for the UNP and Wickramasinghe, “it is their responsibility to save the system on which they would have to live and take over.” That is reason why the UNP would take part in the parliamentary debate on the PSC report and make it legitimate by voting against it.
The challenge for politically active social activists who wish to defeat the impeachment therefore becomes doubly difficult. They nevertheless have one way forward and one more month to go. To prove to the society and to the world that everything this regime does is illegitimate and unconstitutional. That needs getting the Opposition out of parliament, more as a decision of the people. “Citizens” as a political collective now have to pressure every UNP and Opposition member in Local Government (LG) bodies, in Provincial Councils and even MPs and electoral organisers, to demand their own party leaderships including Wickramasinghe, to walk out from the debate on the PSC report. That would then leave the Rajapaksa regime without any legitimacy in carrying out its pre planned eviction of Shirani Bandaranayake from the high seat of Chief Justice.
It is a new situation, a new era, where the people would have to decide what the Opposition MPs representing them in parliament should do and should not do. It can not be the other way round now. Thanks to the “impeachment”, an era of people making decisions have been opened up, IF we want to capitalise on that political space.