By Vishwamithra –
Ever since the substantial breach of our Constitution by the Executive branch, only one political party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), has been consistent in its action and speech; only one political party, JVP, has been trying to drive home the point that there is no possible compromise between constitutionality and non-constitutionality; there is no compromise between treachery and patriotism and there shouldn’t be any compromise between right and wrong. The Executive committed the first sin: firing of one Prime Minister and replacing him with another who did not have a majority in Parliament; then in order to cover up that sin, the Executive committed the other sin: dissolution of Parliament. As the axiom goes, two wrongs don’t make one right. And added to the confusion of circumstances, is the unfortunate status of the polity of Sri Lanka- a looming anarchy replacing ‘Yahapalanaya’.
A country, whose innermost commitment to a life and governance of majority rule, in other words Democracy, was being played inside out and upside down to the whims and fancies of just two individuals, the Executive and Mahinda Rajapaksa. One can understand or rather surmise why Mahinda Rajapaksa is so keen to wrest the Premiership away from the then holder Ranil Wickremasinghe. When one holds the wheels of power of government, as was shown during his infamous regime of corruption and greed, Mahinda may have hypothesized that he could approach or even direct the arms of the law in the country not to stretch that far so that he and his family remain unchallenged from that stretch of the law. Unlimited Impunity that he enjoyed in his own regime was the scourge of the decade that spanned from 2005 to 2014.
Whole lot of litigation proceedings are pending against the Rajapaksas. Not even Mahinda’s powerful siblings and sons are spared. The lap of luxury and the cushions of power have been removed, not by a decree of the Executive; they were removed by popular vote in the Presidential Elections held on January 8, 2015. What the voter took away from him and his family, Mahinda Rajapaksa was successful in regaining, this time by the power of the Executive in the fading hours of October 26, 2108. With that Executive order, people may have thought, one nail was driven in on the country’s coffin of democracy and the rule of law. Not so. There was the judiciary, the Supreme Court.
My previous column made an attempt at explaining the supreme power our Supreme Court has and how that three-bench court arrived at a very sane and rational conclusion to stay the ‘dissolution’ of Parliament which was executed by the Executive of the land on November 9, 2018. That ‘stay order’ was a slap in the face of the Chief Executive, not his office, but his personal self. Carrying out the responsible and burdensome office of the Chief Executive is no mean task. It requires a great deal of political understanding, political tact and political discipline. That poise, grace under pressure, as Earnest Hemmingway most poetically described, is courage. One cannot be described as courageous when one is seen resorting to desperate measures that are outside the confines of the source of the country’s law, its Constitution. These are the real issues that have sprung up from the unprecedented constitutional impasse that has crippled the country’s lingering journey towards her prestigious goals.
Resolution of the present constitutional gridlock is easy, if those who control the switches of power intend to resolve the issues. As per reports, if the Executive can withdraw the infamous Gazette notification, a definite comeback from the falsely lofty posture the Executive assumed on November 9, the Executive may well be spared the shame of being found wanting by the Supreme Court. In order to provide a dignified exit for the Executive from the crisis,which the Executive himself created, withdrawal of the said Gazette notification may be cited as an easy and dignified way out. But what must reign supreme are the national interest and continuation of democratic governance and the rule of law. Today even in the remotest hamlet in Sri Lanka, whether in the North or Deep South, along the coastline or in the chilly Hill Country of the land, the people are unequivocally concerned about the rule of law. The rule of law cannot be tampered with, period.
A softening of mind and tempering of blind determination is not a weakness of a human being. On the contrary, it is conclusively a positive and rational response to an uncertain and volatile circumstance. Moderation, when taken as a weakness, bends to shameless subordination of principles and core philosophy in life. But if moderation is taken as a calm and sublime response to a hard and inflexible condition, it is highly commendable and praiseworthy. Yet it is a grim test to pass.
It is in this unkind environment the Appeal Court of Sri Lanka, on December 3, followed hersuperior, the SupremeCourt. The Appeal Court issued a so-called writ of Quo Warranto on Rajapaksa and his disputed Cabinet of Ministers, requiring him to justify his staying in office in a case to be heard on December 12. As at now, December 4, while doing the finishing touches to this very column, there is no Prime Minister, no Cabinet of Ministers, and no government. The Executive consists of one solitary figure, the President. However, both the Legislature and the Judiciary have chosen the path of right. The Executive has a very easy decision to make. Yet it takes enormous humility and consequently courage to say ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’. Just six words in English and these words consist of a truly unpretentious and adequate expression of humble submission to the rule of law.
If on the other hand, the Executive wishes to trek a more winding and unbecoming path, the destiny of our democracy could be in grave danger, this time not from a demented set of parliamentarians, but from the Chief Executive himself. Expression of personal dislike of one individual, in this case, Ranil Wickremasinghe, is most ‘un-Presidential’. That would be a tragic expression of loss of hope in human tolerance and decency. A nasty end to an imprudent judgment made in a different time could still be averted. A wrong committed under different circumstances could still be righted. Bur resort to delusional processes in a democratic framework is far worse than a well-thought out grabbing of power by a military leader.
Whilst all this tragicomedy is being enacted before a docile public, the very foundation of the country’s governing framework is trembling. Seventy years of self-rule is being tested to the hilt. The people’s will is being challenged and their dreams and aspirations are fading. From the mist of this potential doom must rise hope and optimism; from it must rise courage and humility; form this dark cloud must separate a silver lining which is a profound commitment to optimism, to hope and wisdom. There may be many a bright person in our midst, but finding a wise one is most difficult and they are indeed rare and nearing extinction. Indulgence in analytical talk is redundant and infertile. We must first learn not to look beyond the obvious. What is palpable is evading us and there is no reason other than we are refusing to see such palpability.
The Executive has desecrated the nobility of office; it has wounded the hearts and minds of a people who placed immense trust in that office and they are left to the moods of a demonic conduct of political hooligans.And the Executive has wounded the conscience of a nation that craves the rule of law and majority decision called democracy. That ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’ is precariously hanging on a fine yet hitherto unbreakable thread of the judiciary. Independent judiciary, not because it gave a decision in favor of one party as against another, but by reaffirming the fundamental principle of the rule of law, in its last two judgments expressed the glory of our traditional commitment to democracy and sublime adherence to our Constitution. Yahapalanaya, having reached the threshold of anarchy, is still breathing, hopefully not its last. A journey that began with much hope and dreamlike cannot be left to end in tragedy…
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org