By Sarath de Alwis –
Inject truth to politics. Then you will not have any politics.
The Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt stressed on the importance of rhetoric to create fear of imminent danger threatening the state.
The first step in the process was to create open hostility to verifiable reality.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe in his exceptionally provocative denunciation of the constitutional council seems to follow that fascist logic.
Schmitt the Nazi legal theorist argued that the way to destroy or undermine all rules is to focus on one exceptional idea however outlandish it may sound.
The citizenry thus made uneasy and fearful of impending chaos or disorder will then trade their real freedom, to the fake and fraudulent safety promised by the so-called messianic leader.
A democracy needs an independent judiciary. It is central to ensuring the rule of law amidst vibrant debate. This writer is one of those six million odd people who voted to make Maithripala Sirisena the president of this benighted land. I don’t cry over spilt milk. As Somerset Maugham says in ‘Human Bondage’, it is no good crying over spilt milk, because all the forces of the universe seem hell bent on spilling it.
Recent events have explicitly demonstrated why we enacted the 19thamendment. An independent judiciary is the ultimate custodian of the constitution. The apex court is the final arbiter in ensuring the fundamental rights of the people.
We must not blame Mahinda Rajapaksa. During his recent visit to India, Mahinda Rajapaksa explained why he agreed to be Prime minster under Maithripala Sirisena. It wrecked the ruling coalition and deprived it of a possible two thirds majority.
Mahinda Rajapaksa did not violate the constitution. It is somebody else who did that. That is why Ranil Wickremesinghe harbors no grudge against Mahinda Rajapakse.
That explains his presence at the fairy tale wedding at the ‘Medamulana’ manorial wedding feast together with the forty first chief justice Sarath Silva and forty second Chief Justice Asoka de Silva.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a lawyer who knows his lawyers. He replaced the independent commissions envisaged in the 17thamendment with simple straightforward handpicked commissions as designed in the 18thamendment. He does not hide his contempt for the abstract notion of independent commissions under the 19thamendment.
Sirisena in his harangue of homespun wisdom delivered after reinstating his sacked prime minister, did not concede that he was in error. He expressed no regret or unease for the constitutional scrape he caused.
The president insisted that his dismissal of one prime minster, the swearing in of another, the prorogation pending negotiations to build a workable parliamentary majority, and the botched dissolution of parliament were all based on good, considered advice tendered by eminent men learned in the law and distinguished president’s counsel.
It was our great and grand misfortune that Ranil Wickremesinghe at that epochal encounter thought that getting his premiership restored was tantamount to saving our democracy. As far as Ranil was concerned, with him restored in office, constitutional propriety was observed.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is no political simpleton. He was recklessly unafraid to make Arjun Mahendran a Singaporean citizen the governor of the central bank. He was cavalierly complicit in appointing Suren Ratwatte the brother of a crony as the CEO of the loss-making airline at an astronomical salary.
Yet, he did not dare to ask Sirisena the simple question- Did the president consult the Attorney General before arriving at those precipitate decisions?
Now we see a monstrous cat quietly crawling out of the bag of Presidents Counsel Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe the Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Philosophy in Buddhist Ethics.
He has concluded that the Constitutional Council was one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. It needs to be abolished. It was incapable of taking correct, impartial and reasonable decisions. He is particularly pissed off by its refusal to endorse the former Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath for the position of Attorney General. He does not mention that at that point in time he too was a member of the constitutional council and that he was supported by at least one other eminent civil society nominee in the constitutional council. The CC in order to resolve the issue requested the President to nominate one person and the President responded by nominating the current incumbent.Let us not be hoodwinked.
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe does not want an independent judiciary. He wants a pliant judiciary. He has deep links to Nissanka Senadhipthai and the Avant Garde outfit whose day in court has finally arrived. Therrien lies the real tale of woe on the constitutional council and its independence.
With the inept government of Ranil Wickremesinghe meandering through its own mire of misdeeds, all what the mouthpiece for Avant-garde racketeers needs ds wants is a battle of attrition until the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
The first salvo against the CC was fired by the President. It was squarely rebuffed by the speaker who chairs the constitutional council. Now Wijayadasa Rajapakshe wants a public debate on television. That is a strange option for a former member of the constitutional council who can quite easily demand a debate in parliament.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has missed the opportunity to either impeach or censure the President for blatant constitutional violations.
Selection and appointment of independent, competent judges trusted by the citizenry is essential for the rule of law in a democracy. It is in search of this often-forfeited principle, that we plead for a judiciary that is insulated from and independent of the government.
The degree of independence enjoyed and exercised by the judiciary determines the difference between democratic and authoritarian governance.
Failure of governance has become the catchall phrase in our political discourse. Maithripala Sirisena is not our only mistake. Ranil Wickremesinghe is an equally debilitating mistake.
Failure of democratic governance is an invitation to authoritarian rule. On the rebound, public anger can and often do install populist tyrants. Fascists and neo fascists throughout history have gained electoral success by hammering out the idea that democratic governance is rotten to the core.
Let us look closely at Mahinda Rajapaksa the most charismatic and popular despot who makes no attempt to hide his desire to make one of his family the next president.
In her “Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt describes how fascism invites people to “throw off the mask of hypocrisy” and adopt the worldview that there is no right and wrong, only winners and losers.
Mahinda’s hypocrisy is aspirational. Mahinda wants his family hegemony restored. All political actors are motivated not so much by ideals but by the plums of power.
We have failed to abolish the executive presidency. We have failed to enact lasting constitutional reforms.
In the year 2019, we face only one overarching conundrum. What kind of hypocrite should we choose as our next president? It is no cynical rant.
Political hypocrisy, as Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has demonstrated is a paying proposition. It would be much more cynical to pretend that politics is a vocation that rewards sincerity.
Instead of airing his deep disenchantment with the Constitutional Council in parliament he aired his views at a press conference that was widely shown on electronic media mostly owned by oligarchs spawned in the Rajapakse decade.
This is the age of post truth and instant communication. Clever politics demands feeding controversial clichés to television. It has the supreme advantage of compelling even your opponents who disagree with you to repeat them in order to debunk them.
As Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has demonstrated, television is far more conducive than parliament to mislead the people. On television, everything happens fast. The print media restricted by space reports only the essence. The next morning it is again taken up by a television commentator under the guise of reporting what the broad sheets have to offer. The previous clip is shown again with added commentaries from others.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s demand to abolish the constitutional council, the only successful achievement of the good governance manifesto is suddenly a huge controversy of national proportion.
One television commentator asked the audience how unfair it was to assess the merits of a judge on the basis of judgements delivered.
That the controversial judgements mostly political were later nullified by presidential pardons escaped the critical mind of the eloquent television anchor whose name itself is the Sinhala expression for ‘eloquence’! MR was the benevolent god farther. His purpose was not punishment per se. Intimidation and fear served his purpose. He was the kind of god-fearing southern landowner who dealt with his slaves with a harsh empathy that William Faulkner describes in his novel Absalom. “Necessity had a way of obliterating from our conduct various delicate scruples regarding honor and pride”.
Television can define the shape and frame the significance of events with added visual imagery. That such opportunity is the monopoly of a few oligarchs is our current predicament.
What is worrisome is that the hired mouthpiece of the Avant-garde racketeers succeeded in creating a collective trance over the Constitutional Council. The United National party or front should sack Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe ensuring his immediate expulsion from parliament.
If Ranil Wicremesighe needs advice on how to go about it, he should consult Gotabaya Rajapakse. Sarath Fonseka was removed from Parliament on the basis of a judgement that sentenced the general for a prison term that forfeited his right to retain his seat in parliament.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was not ham-handed in governance. Under his watch, opponents were prosecuted, tried, convicted and pardoned with deliberate decorum. Following true Buddhist ethics in governance he pardoned the wrong doers.
On 31 August 2009 Journalist J.S. Tissanayagam was convicted by the Colombo High Court and sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment. Then US President Barack Obama had the temerity to interfere in our internal affairs describing Tissanayagam’s conviction as an “emblematic example” of harassment of journalists.
Not giving a hoot for Obama’s advice, our charismatic president Mahinda Rajapakse pardoned Tissanayagam on 3rdMay 2010 which marked ‘World Press Freedom Day.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe may consider 20 years RI just punishment for a busybody journalist. Makandure Madush, roll over, and make way for Walasmulle Wijeyadasa.