By Dhammika Herath –
Will Democracy in Sri Lanka die on the 14th of January, the day on which the incumbent chief Justice may be impeached? This question is relevant only if one is willing to consider the state of political affairs in Sri Lanka as of 11th January to conform to the ethics of democracy. It was indeed heart breaking to see the scenes of hooliganism demonstrated by the thugs who shamelessly blocked the Yesterday’s march (10th Jan) by the citizens who value democracy in general and judicial independence in particular. It was apparent that those thugs had been sent there by some politician or another. People in their early morning sarongs worn above the knee and holding clubs against lawyers, academics, members of parliaments, former generals, civil society and other concerned citizens, was indeed obscene to say the least. People shouting against the incumbent CJ and accusing her of compromising judicial independence and respect of the judiciary were asking her to step down in some other quarters in Colombo. I can only pity those people because had they had the slightest understanding of what they were doing, on how ignorant they were of the bleak future of themselves and their children, they would not have done that. Nevertheless, the fact, remains Chief Justice of the Democratic Socialist of Republic of Sri Lanka is most likely to leave her office in 48 hours or less. Unfortunately, by the time she departs, we may be asking very serious questions about the future of this country.
Recently, I was reading a book on Culture of Corruption by D.J Smith who mentions that in Nigeria, the police takes bribes not only for releasing drivers after traffic offences, but merely for letting vehicles proceed on roads which are there for that purpose. Virtually most government officials in that country takes bribes, and officials are expected to help relatives and friends from the money looted in that fashion. The top leaders loot the oil, which they export as crude oil, while companies owned by the same top leaders import purified patrol and diesel to sell at higher prices. How far behind Sri Lanka is and will be by 2014, the time we may expect next general elections?
Coming back to the impeachment, how can a government turn such blind eye to all peaceful appeals by most revered and respected in the country; the Mahanayakas, the Cardinal, the Bishops, eminent retired judges, the academics, the bar association, and the civil society…the list goes on. Where are we heading? Some of the worst possible outcomes that I can imagine but pray they will not happen from now onwards include, a referendum to extend the life of parliament along with the repetition of the infamous “Wayamba” type elections (in which people of the province did not go the booth but goons voted carefully on their behalf) unparalleled use of public property for elections and completion of the politicization of the judiciary, extensive militarization, Chinization of the entire economy, and so on. Then comes the intimidation of political opponents with any sense of opposition. Even at prevent one Minister was calling for the “dealing with” the judges who gave the verdicts against PSC. In future, the parliamentarians will find it more and more insecure to speak about corruption and journalists would have less and less room for criticism. Lives will be at risk in doing so. Corruption can engulf the whole economy and public lands can become private property. In short, Sri Lanka is dangerously close to losing all sorts of freedoms. Majority of the Sri Lanka adult population above 18, today and tomorrow will go to sleep after watching their daily teledramas and reality shows and some even News, yet still without realizing that this is happening under their feet. For me, that is not the most worrying thing. My greatest worry is, I am beginning to lose hope. Sri Lanka can slide into complete dictatorship. For how long???
Let me nevertheless salute everyone who put up a valiant but losing battle against the Impeachment. They may have lost but not the message they gave.
*Dhammika Herath PhD in Peace and Development Research