25 May, 2024


Political Optics: What The Appointment Of A New Chief Justice Means For The Country

By Rasika Jayakody

Rasika Jayakody

The appointment of the new Chief Justice Nalin Perera, a career judge who has served in the judiciary for over 30 years, provides a snapshot of the dynamics within Sri Lanka’s major political powers.

It offers a glimpse into President Maithripala Sirisena’s thought process, amid vigorous calls by his allies to form a Caretaker Government, replacing the current Prime Minister with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The 64-year-old new Chief Justice has maintained a relatively low profile thus far. Before sending his name to the Constitutional Council, President Sirisena , considered with several other high-profile names, including those of Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya and Eva Wanasundara, the senior-most judge in the current Supreme Court.

In fact, two separate groups were strongly backing both Jayasuriya and Wanasundara, for two completely different reasons. The UNP, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was in favour of Attorney General Jayasuriya as the latter was a politically “safer option” in comparison to other candidates in the fray. Jayasuriya, a smooth and meticulous operator, walked a tightrope when he questioned the Prime Minister after he made his “voluntary statement” before the Bond Commission in November, last year. In choosing to back Jayasuriya for the post of the 46th Chief Justice, the UNP was signalling its unflinching confidence in the man.

Jayasuriya, however, did not earn the support of the UNP at the expense of President Sirisena’s goodwill. His loyalty to Sirisena was manifest in the AG’s submission to the Supreme Court, when the President sought opinion on whether, in terms of provisions of the Constitution, he had an impediment to continuing in the office of President for a period of 6 years from 9th January 2015.

Much to the surprise of many good governance activists, Jayasuriya presented asubmission to the Supreme Court that said the incumbent President was elected by the people for a term of 6 years, and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the term to five years, was operative after he was elected. As later proven by the Supreme Court’s opinion on the matter, Jayasuriya’s submissions sharply contravened the provisions of the 19th Amendment, and it was all too evident that the Attorney General was pandering to the President’s political whims.

Given this history and strong support-base on both sides, many initially believed that Jayasuriya would be the hot favourite for the spot under Sirisena.

Then emerged Eva Wanasundara, who is largely supported by a section of the SLFP, the SLPP and the Rajapaksa family. As Wanasundara’s name surfaced at a time when the President was cosying up to the Rajapaksa family, speculation was rife that she stood a strong chance of becoming the country’s second female Chief Justice.

Wanasundara, in an interview with the ‘Deshaya’ newspaper in July 2014, publicly admitted that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was one of her closest friends during her ‘Law College Days’.

I was suddenly called up to Temple Trees by President Rajapaksa. He just asked me to drop by at Temple Trees on my way home after work. I was surprised at this gesture but went to meet the President nevertheless. Upon greeting me, the President said he was going to appoint me a Supreme Court judge and asked if I had any concerns. I was shocked by the sudden announcement. At the same time, I felt so happy as I always wanted to become a judge and suddenly, the person in front me was offering exactly what I wanted,” she also said during the interview.

Further explaining the degree of her close friendship with Rajapaksa, Wanaasundara said, “One day, one of my colleagues had shown a picture of me to another friend saying he had an affair with me. Mahinda, a close friend of mine then, had seen this incident. He promptly conveyed this to me as he was concerned that it could bring me a ‘bad reputation” (Extracted from the Colombo Telegraph story on October 07, 2018)

Wanasundara has been dogged by severe criticism from government supporters for soft-pedalling cases involving high-profile members of the former first family – especially former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. She is also one of the four Supreme Court judges who stepped down from hearing the FR petition filed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeking a stay order preventing his arrest.

Sirisena, interestingly, opted to leave both names out and handpick Perera who is the sixth in terms of seniority in the Supreme Court’s 10-judge bench. However, the President presented a strong justification in favour of Perera saying he had been in the judiciary for more than 30 years and had risen through the service to the top – unlike others who parachuted into the bench from the Attorney General’s Department. Perera was the first career judge to be the made the Chief Justice after Parinda Ranasinghe, who became Chief Justice in 1988 under President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

It is understandable that the President would be inclined to treat the candidate preferred by the UNP with a modicum of suspicion in the current circumstances. At the same time, his decision to bypass Wanasundara makes it clear that despite attempts at forming new alliances, there is still a deep sense of distrust between the President and the Rajapaksa group.

It also indicates that the process of forming an alliance between the two groups is a seemingly insurmountable task. Even if they manage to enter into a common framework of some sort, the two parties will view each other with scepticism and deep-rooted mistrust, causing problems for themselves at multiple levels.

In essence, this means the country will be caught up in the current political gridlock for at least as long as until the next Presidential election. This triangular contest among Sirisena, the UNP and the Rajapaksa group will result in heightened drama, escalating policy instability and intensifying bitterness in the political sphere, leaving the government machinery inert.

*The writer is the former Editor of Daily News and the former Editor-in-Chief of Asian Mirror. He may be contacted at rasikajayakody2@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Separate judiciary from politics …
    Let judges have freedom to do this jobs with out interference from politicians ..
    Judiciary has been under control of politics since 1948;
    When will we have free judiciary and when we will have freedom in Sri Lanka from rongue political leaders ..
    We know how justice was twisted with MR was in power..
    Still we want back MR back.
    This is Sri Lanka .

    People love corrupt leaders ..

    • 1

      I fully endorse ‘Lanka’s views.
      Also if one goes by the author , then I fully support the Prez decision on this isse,

  • 2

    ” ……the country will be caught up in the current political gridlock ………. until the next Presidential election.
    It offers a glimpse into President Maithripala Sirisena’s thought process, amid vigorous calls by his allies to …………………. replacing the current Prime Minister with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa
    ……… the process of forming an alliance between the two groups is a seemingly insurmountable task. Even if they manage ………………… the two parties will view each other with scepticism and deep-rooted mistrust. “

    Mistrust is not an issue here. October 2016 foiled coup perceived as was against New King. External elements suggests, October 2018 foiled Coup was against Ranil. They all always live together with that. The main problem is Old Royals’ dream Slap Party still cannot be launched to public, certainly not before the end of this term. New King is, without doubt, recognizing that Slap Party is only for Old Royal Family. The Younger Old Brother Prince would not like to go under New King in SLFP, unless New King willing to give up his dream of second term and come under him in Slap Party. If SLFP is left not wound down, no Old Family member can come to power, other than possible one more time Old King. The rest of the history of SLFP and Slap Party will remain as subservient to UNP governments. So it is a “ seemingly insurmountable task.”
    How do you evaluate this statement? : “amid vigorous calls.. ..replacing the current Prime Minister with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa”. In 2018 LG election public only asked replace New King with Old, Not Ranil with Old King. UNP fared in that election far ahead of SLFP. In the NCM, the Joint Comedy club, where the highest number of SLFPyers, split and Old Royal absconded it. SLFP government party’s 15 member voted and split from SLFP. Old King is personally called Ranil and told not to resign. So far not in one single stage Old King said he wants the PM Job (after 2015 elections). Why these allies are asking him to take a job that he is shying from it?

  • 2

    Let’s see who really wanted to do that: (1)New King appointed PCoI to catch New King, refused to the release the report when it failed, but suggested Ranil’s name in that statement he read out. (2)After many times asking Ranil to resign at end of 2017, New King gave up on that. (3) Supreme Court said 19A may not allow New King to dismiss Ranil. New King’s NCM failed at Parliament and votes showed Prime Minister is stronger than President. (4) Noe New King tried a new strategy & he failed. This is what JVP Vijitha Herath tried to explain when he said that to replace PM they are attempting a military government.
    The question remains not answered by Colombo Media is if that failure affected the CJ choosing decision. Mokan Perris, S Bandaranayke, Sripavan, Dep and now Nalin Perera is coming as the CJs in 3½ years. Nalin Perera’s appointment may indicate only another slip of New Royals, but certainly this not any turn in the New Royals’ thought process. I don’t get well what the glimpse into the New Royal’s thought process has given here.
    The needed was only CJ. But New King attempted to change CJ, AG, IGP, Defense secretary, Law and order minister, Police Commission and tried to use the opportunity of the leaving members of the Constitution Council too. Certainly they don’t like Dep. Few of his judgements were not in government’s favor. They may see Nalin Perera as quite candidate until they come around by other means to his seat.
    Media reported Jayam Jayam was not willing to get on to hot Chair of CJ. New King Probably wanted him to tear Rail off at PCoI and make him to leave the PM seat. But he saved Ranil, on the total destruction of Mahendran. Wanasundara the dreamer of being a judge wouldn’t have stopped dreaming of becoming as a CJ after being a justice. Why was she skipped? Debacle in UNGA? Failed October 2018 coup?

  • 1

    Recently I listened to a very illuminative theory that which very comprehensively explains the state of affairs in Sri Lanka politics. In an address , to a gathering of teachers, Lal Kantha of JVP said: ” A new “CULTURE OF POLITIC OF CORRUPTION” has taken firm roots, in that, if anyone criticizes or revolts against it, that individual is without any hesitation labelled a “PISSA” – a “CLOWN” by the people. He also went on to say that is what has happened to JVP and all those who rally round JVP are also “PISSAS” or “CLOWNS”. In keeping with that “CULTURE” JVP has around 700000 “PISSAS” or “CLOWNS” he said. So this “Manoeuvre” by political “Big Wigs” has become a “THING TO STAY”, and I am sure in the coming days we will hear from both the UNP and the “POHOTTUVA” and not forgetting the “Legal Fraternity” naming the President My3 a “PISSA”. You will read this clearly demonstrated and practised in another story relating to Sri Jayawardenepura hospital and many many more doings during the last three and half years of “Yahapalanaya” Now who has to TEACH them a ever lasting lessen and put things RIGHT, would be none other than the JUDICIARY and those who administer it. Let this be an eye opener to AG and his successors.

  • 1

    The author visualizes that there was a triangular contest between, MY3, RW and MR. I definitely cannot buy the MR factor here as he is nobody today, in terms of auhority. Mr. JJ, who is the AG, is portrayed as an RW man while it is stated that he supported MY3 as well. If Mr. JJ is an RW man, did he support MY3 at RW’s expense? The answer has to be no because if the answer is in the affirmative he cannot be an RW man any more. It is clear that he has to pacify both the power blocs. Why must either a judge or a public officer boot-lick a politician? Yes! They decide the fate of all un-elected officials of the state. In spite of having a so called independent Public Service Commission, why must the junior officials be sycophants of the politician? Of course! Who approves foreign trips? Who approves private foreign leave? The Minister has to sanction. In my view, it is pathetic to associate the stated legal personalities as associated with some power bloc. Our duty is to cultivate an independent execution by an independent public servants of policies spelt out by the elected representatives who command a majority. The stated apparent partialities have arisen entirely because boot-licking of politicians is essential for public servant’s survival.

    • 1

      Unless and until the people of the country are informed enough to know who is good for them when it comes to selecting representatives every five years to exercise their sovereignty in parliament, they will not have an Independent Public Service or Judicial Service Commission.

  • 0

    please refer to my comment above. I am happy in “Judiciary” the administration in Kurunegala has sent a very strong message and taught a good lesson to the prosecution, by releasing the accused the former Minister Johnston Fernanado, without even hearing the defence. The AG failed to prove his charges and also it was found that that the evidence submitted are contradicting. This was a much publicized case against an ex Minister of MR’s regime. Now what do PEOPLE have to assert? It would be either MR’s claim that these cases against ex Ministers of his regime are “Political Vengeance, or “Deals” made by the present “Yahapalanaya” OR both. Now, what is “AG’s” explanation to the PEOPLE of this country.? This case involved “Misuse” of millions of PEOPLES’ MONEY by an ex Minister. Shame on you AG!

  • 0

    Rasika Jayakody by no will knw that the new CJ SL has to retire sometime early next year. This factor influenced MS in the appointment. It is a win-win for MS!
    Last week in the Indian State Kerala, the court decided that preventing women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple is discriminatory and illegal.
    As expected there were protests that ‘tradition’ has been overlooked by the Court.
    The CM Kerala stepped in and reminded everyone that in the past Kerala women were topless, but this tradition has been broken and no one complained!
    Will a CJ SL challenge the culture of corruption/nepotism/impunity?

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