By Kumar David –
Impeachment: Three types of opponents
The anti-impeachment mobilisation consists of three, not two conceptual orientations. First there are those who hold that Chief Justice Bandaranayake (CJ-B) is not guilty of any form of turpitude and is a victim of a frame-up. Second there are those who reserve judgement on that matter, but declare that process infringed natural justice (2a) and/or is in violation of the constitution (2b); these are two variants within the second camp. Most of those who reject the Rajapakse witch-hunt hold more than one of these views; there is no contradiction in holding one, two or all three of these positions.
The third orientation is made up of people like me who think it unlikely that the CJ-B is guilty of misconduct as construed in the 14 allegations and recognise that we will never know the truth because the regime has so muddied the waters with its own far more egregious misconduct. (We will have to bring judges from abroad or from the planet Mars for a fair trial). Hence we are agnostic on the first issue. On 2b we are prepared to await the opinion of the courts before forming our conclusion re constitutionality of the Parliamentary Selected Committee. However, neither of these is our main concern.
We agree that the proceedings of the PSC were flagrantly biased and an unconscionable violation of natural justice (2a); but here comes the punch line and this is what we hold to be most important. We hold that 2a and the behaviour of the Executive, the government party majority and the PSC is part of a larger process developing in Lanka since the end of the war. The underlying logic of these happenings is a drive by the Rajapakse siblings to install an autocratic state, modelled on Corporatism, in Lanka. All else is strategic or tactical. The underlying reality is an attempt to enhance dictatorial muscle; otherwise why on earth try to frame CJ-B? Because a CJ who may not play ball in the future is a risk when crises develop, as they inevitably will, on the path to despotism. The central concern for us is the drive to autocracy; the impeachment saga is one element in this larger picture.
Does the difference matter?
Do these shades of difference among participants in the anti-impeachment movement matter? Not at this time and it is heartening that adherents of different views are collaborating smoothly to give the regime a bloody nose. But the differences could matter at a later stage. For example, if the procedures were straightened, those who are solely concerned about 2b will be mollified. Or if personal injustice to the CJ is eliminated – say a deal was struck and she is bought off with an ambassadorship or some such perk – those who are only concerned about personal injustice (2a) would probably quieten down.
But none of this will be any good in the eyes of those who see the main threat as an accumulating trend to dictatorship. In fact if critics fall by the wayside it would be a harmful distraction. Dictatorship is dictatorship, even if the road is lined with correct procedures. Dictatorship is dictatorship, even if someone is bought off on the way – the whole cabinet is a massive bribe given by the Executive, at public expense, to suck-up to its power, is it not? Therefore, we fight not for CJ-B per se, nor for correct procedures per se, but in addition we desire to build a mass movement to halt the slide to dictatorship. The battles of today are just engagements in a larger war.
Should the lady enter the political arena?
Taking it as given that Rajakapse will get rid of the CJ by some artifice or deceit the next question is what type of activity should, Shirani Bandaranayake (Mrs S; I think she would abhor the abbreviation Mrs SB, and Mrs B is already taken), engage in thereafter? I am afraid the choice of going home, relaxing with the grandkids (sorry if I am aging her prematurely), cooking Sunday lunch for the family, and disengaging from public life is not available. She is the eye of a storm and giving as good – if not better – than she gets; she has decided to bunker down for a fight. She cannot cut, run and drop the matter after the lynching.
In fact if the lynching goes through, it becomes more important for Mrs S to continue the fight in her post-judicial new after-life. The good lady has clearly projected herself as not only fighting for her own job, as not only fighting for her own good name, but also as epitomising the struggle for and on behalf of the public good. Proof of that will come only if, and in the manner in which she continues the struggle after her very likely eviction.
Clambering on the political platform with Ranil, General Fonseka, Somawansa, Bahu and so on is inappropriate. She should play a different oppositional role; that of educating the petty-bourgeoisie about the dangerous road the Rajapakse siblings are taking the country down. An ex-CJ is well positioned to explain how bad governance and rampant abuse of power are contributing to the erosion of law and order; to explain how the road to dictatorship is paved by subordinating, first the legislature (already a done deed), and next the judiciary, to the wilful excesses of an executive drunk on power.
It is useless if the discourse is confined to the English speaking elite and the chattering classes of Colombo; there are plenty of NGO’s and Justice Wigneswaran doing the job of converting the converted – no disrespect implied. What is needed is to go into the Sinhala speaking world. The JVP and the Peratugami may, perhaps, if they can overcome their congenital sectarianism, be helpful in arranging venues. Nor must the importance of going among the Tamils, the Muslims and the Catholics be neglected. The minorities stood shoulder to shoulder with her during the fight; she must repay that debt by conducting educational seminars and meetings among them on topics that build social and political awareness.
I do admire the dignity and courage CJ-B has shown so far and the poise with which she has carried herself in what must be very difficult times. But I also have my criticisms; it is difficult to forgive her for lubricating the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. She will have to admit a mistake and seek a pardon from the public – everyone makes mistakes – otherwise there will be nagging doubts about her role as a teacher of the public at large.