15 January 2013

The morning after (impeachment)

J.R. Jayewardena was president for more than 11 years.  I remember a few things about him.  First, the 1978 Constitution.  I also remember the line with which he launched the ‘Open Economy’: ‘Let the robber barons come’ (and how they did!).  I remember the Referendum of 1982.  I remember the July 1983 riots. I remember the shameless submission to Indian hegemony in July 1987, which beefed up Tamil chauvinism and spawned the provincial council system. 

Ranasinghe Premadasa inherited a democracy in shambles and a bloody insurrection.  I remember that he planted trees.  I remember his housing projects. I remember some 60,000 people being killed and I don’t remember there being any Weliamunas, Jehan Pereras, Saravanamuttus, Sunilas, Nimalkas, Gordon Weisses, Navi Pillays or Channel 4s objecting.
We had Chandrika Kumaratunga from 1994 to 2005.  I remember a ‘package’ but that’s about it.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is recent. Current.  Memory is fresh, therefore.  I remember a lot of things, but I will mention a few.  First of all I remember his maiden speech as President when he requested people to avoid singing his praises. No prashasthi gaayana (hosannas), he requested. 
I remember that he gave political leadership to the struggle to rid the country of the terrorist menace.  He didn’t do it alone, but he played a key role.  No one thought it could be done and few would have imagined he was capable of doing it.  I am grateful. 

I remember also that he moved to amend the constitution for the 18th time, thereby abolishing term limits.  He stands to benefit, given the obvious advantages of incumbency (JRJ had two terms and so did Chandrika and Rajapaksa; Premadasa was assassinated and Wijetunga stepped down).  It also did away with the flawed 17th Amendment, without being a corrective but rather a throw-baby-with-bathwater exercise.  I objected. 

I am no clairvoyant and so I shall not speculate on what might happen and whether or not I would remember the ‘possibles’ of the future.  I doubt, however, that if I am alive 5 or 10 or 20 years from now and happened to be writing the ‘unforgettable’ of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as President I would neglect to mention the impeachment of Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake.

There have been arguments.  We’ve heard rhetoric. There has been logic.  And if these appeared to be voluminous it is because the politics that birthed them came in tons.  So much so that even the ‘neutrals’, i.e. those who really thought beyond person, party, preferred outcome and such, appeared thickly compromised in one camp or the other.    
The judiciary spoke. So did the legislature.  The executive has spoken too. Some say, ‘match over’. Some retort ‘the fat lady is yet to sing’.  Some say, ‘battle won, but the war will be lost’.  I said that if it was a matter of Mahinda Rajapaksa vs Anarchy, I would hesitate to pick the latter.  In general ‘let’s get rid of the dude first’ type exercises leave a lot of people dead.  I believe there has to be a better way.   

The judiciary spoke, as I said.  Parliament had no ears.  ‘International conspiracy’ was tagged to all persons, groups and moves that stood against impeachment.  I believe that this is only partly true, for I don’t believe that everyone who opposed subscribed to the outcome preferences of people like Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Sunanda Deshapriya, Elmo Perera etc.  S.L. Gunasekera, for example, would hardly break bread with that lot with a smile on his face.  The more sophisticated of the anti-impeachment commentators focused on process. 
When process is privileged, allegations can be left uncommented.  When process is privileged, the politics of the supporters, i.e. the true ‘why’ of position taken can be left unexplained.  There are those who say that the courts are corrupt.  I would hesitate before giving a blank cheque to the judiciary myself.  The fact that the Chief Justice is the ex-officio Chairperson of the Judicial Services Commission, does raise questions about the independence of any judge or any panel of judges assessing anything that involves the CJ, including of course her own petitions to the courts.  Still, the word of senior judges should be taken seriously and I believe their integrity should be presumed.  The determinations, therefore, are serious matters which Parliament ought to have treated with respect. 

Flaws in the constitution were pointed out.  Parliament insisted that the constitution is unflawed in terms of impeaching judges of the higher courts.  The Executive concurred.  No one should be surprised.  I am not. 
I am not surprised that the CJ’s backers made the arguments they made.  I am not surprised that they backed the CJ; well, most of them.  They were, after all, the very same people who backed Sarath Fonseka three years ago.  Not because they loved him, no one can deny this now.  It is not out of love for the CJ, concern about judicial independence, the undermining of democracy that issues such as this are heavily commented on and used as grist in the anti-Mahinda media mill.  If and when it all hits Geneva, it will still not be about any of these things.  Saravanamuttu, for example, has openly dedicated himself to ‘regime-change’.  ‘When did ever he care about the miseries of ordinary people?’ we can legitimately ask.  It is the same for others who suddenly realized that the impeachment was an ammunition dump.  I am not surprised. 

There are those who claim that the charges against the CJ are frivolous.  I don’t think they are.  But if the process was wrong and I firmly believe that regardless of the constitutionality or otherwise of the matter, there was a deliberate politicization of the issue by the regime.  The process smacked of vindictiveness and selectivity, both compromising the integrity of the impeachment process. 
The CJ, with or without the consent or complicity of her backers or rather the anti-regime circus, did herself no favors. The argument can be made that she’s eminently impeachable (subsequent to appropriate constitutional amendment, provided of course that the judiciary, seeing beyond personality and position, endorse the same) on account of her behavior during this process;  which is not to say that she has an unimpeachable pre-impeachment track record.  The antics of the Government and its backers certainly made it possible to tag ‘witch-hunt’ to the process, thereby effectively giving the CJ and her friends, new ones (JVP, sections of the BASL) and old ones (Saravanamuttu, who is a fellow devolution, nay federalism-lover and Chandrika Kumaratunga, who took this lady who was not an Attorney-at-Law out of academe and dumped her in the courts, with her happy consent of course) the opportunity to cry ‘foul’. 

The behavior of the Chief Justice, before and after the process began, tells me in no uncertain terms that she falls well short of expectations.  She has, by omission and commission, helped compromise the dignity of the position.  If people felt divorced from courts before, if they felt that lawyers lived on dates and that judges were in the take or just didn’t care, they might feel that not just insulted but humiliated to boot.  Worse, they can’t be blamed if they can’t differentiate court from thovil maduwa or Lipton Circus, considering the coconut-smashing and chest-beating that took place respectively in what used to be a place of sobriety.   
The only consolation for the executive and legislative branches is that they have (unfortunately) played true to form.  No surprises.  They need not have dragged the judiciary down, but then again it seems that dragging the courts down was what they needed.  Shameful.    

President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave political leadership to the struggle to rid the country of the LTTE.  I am grateful.  He did away with the 17th Amendment and did not replace it with better checks and balances, but consolidated his hold on absolute power with the enactment of the 18th.  No cheers for that.  No cheers for the circus that this impeachment became.  President Rajapaksa is the Executive President under the 1978 Constitution (with the added advantages of the 18th Amendment).  Credit for all good things go to him and rightly so.  The buck also floats up to him.  Ex-officio.  I am not surprised or disappointed, not because I wanted this outcome but because politicians rarely rise to be statesmen.  He did not.  No hosannas.
I mentioned J.R. Jayewardene at the beginning.  His ghost presided over this drama.  He did not die, then.  He needs to.  Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, belatedly, blamed the constitution and called for re-haul.  He deserves a clap. A slow-hand one. 

 
Reactions:

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

In 1987-89 there were only a handful of print media that were not state controlled. All television and radio stations were state controlled and there was no internet.

Human Rights Watch however were not silent

http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,,LKA,,467fca3710,0.html

http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/s/srilanka/srilanka925.pdf



Thrishantha said...

This interview is worth watching:http://groundviews.org/2013/01/15/the-devastating-impeachment-of-the-chief-justice-in-sri-lanka-interview-with-asanga-welikala/

In particular, this question: http://vimeo.com/57450773

Ramzeen said...

My question is simple. If parliament sets up a police force and hands it a set of laws does that make all parliamentarians immune from the laws they formulated? Isn't that they told the supreme court?