Connect with us

Politics

Drafting of new constitution begins

Published

on

by C.A.Chandraprema

The drafting of the new constitution to replace the 1978 constitution has begun even before the 20th Amendment has been through the committee stage in Parliament. The Special Experts Committee to Draft a New Constitution headed by President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva has been allocated offices in the BMICH, and three senior officers of the Ministry of Justice have been appointed to the Secretariat of the Committee. Sittings of the committee have already commenced with meetings being held every Friday. Two formal weekly meetings have already been held.

The other members of the committee are President’s Counsel Manohara De Silva, President’s Counsel Sanjeewa Jayawardena, President’s Counsel Naveen Marapana, Prof. Nazeema Kamardeen, Dr. A. Sarveswaran, President’s Counsel Samantha Ratwatte, Prof.Wasantha Senevirathne and Prof.G.H.Peiris. The fact that this Committee has commenced work would have been headline news in normal circumstances but it has been completely overshadowed by the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

 For that matter, Covid-19 has drowned out the noise generated over the 20th Amendment as well. The government can be seen to be taking a very cautious approach to this Covid-19 cluster with whole villages and individual establishments being shut down at the slightest suspicion that an infected person may have visited the place concerned. Quite a number of false alarms have been reported but the government is proceeding on the basis that it’s better to be safe than sorry. There seems to be little doubt that the government agencies concerned will be able to get over this latest Covid crisis as well.

 Even though yahapalana theorists have raised a mighty caterwaul of protest claiming that the 20th Amendment will give rise to authoritarian rule, the 20A only restores the constitutional provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment, which essentially means that after the 20th Amendment, the President will have the approximately the same power that past Presidents J.R.Jayewardene, R.Premadasa, D.B.Wijetunga, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and even Maithripala Sirisena had. Even though the 19th Amendment removed some of the powers of the President, the yahapalana President Sirisena continued to enjoy those powers through other means and it’s only the incumbent President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who has had to bear the full brunt of the 19th Amendment.

 

Yahapalana sleight of hand

 One significant way in which the 19th Amendment sought to truncate the President’s powers was by establishing the Constitutional Council which would have the final say in making appointments to important state positions. After the establishment of the Constitutional Council, the President cannot appoint members and Chairmen of Commissions set up by the 19th Amendment such as the Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, the Election Commission, and several other such commissions without the individuals to be appointed being recommended by the Constitutional Council. Likewise when it came to the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the Attorney-General, the Auditor-General and Inspector-General of Police and other such high state positions, any person appointed by the President to such positions had to be approved by the Constitutional Council. Thus either way, it’s the Constitutional Council that has the final say in making such appointments and not the President.

 Even though these provisions in the 19th Amendment were supposed to limit the powers of the President, they did not limit President Sirisena’s or the yahapalana government’s powers because the yahapalana political parties working in concert divided up the parliamentary government and the parliamentary opposition among themselves and established a complete hegemony over the Constitutional Council. It goes without saying that if the political backers and promoters of the President have complete and total control over the Constitutional Council, it’s the same as the President exercising those powers and that was the situation during the Sirisena Presidency. President Sirisena’s political setup enjoyed the same powers over high appointments that the political setups of his predecessors did.

 Another way in which the 19th Amendment sought to limit the powers of the President was by not allowing the President to hold any ministerial portfolios. Hence the pre-19th Amendment Article 44(2) of the Constitution which said that the President may assign to himself any subject or function and shall remain in charge of any subject or function not assigned to any Minister was repealed. Even though the 19th Amendment never expressly said that the President could not hold a portfolio, the repeal of Article 44(2) was supposed to mean that despite the fact that even under the 19th Amendment, the President continued to be the Head of the Government and the Head of the Cabinet he could not hold a ministerial portfolio. President Sirisena was not affected by this limitation because a transitional provision in the 19th Amendment allowed him not only to assign to himself the subjects and functions of Defence, Mahaweli Development and Environment so long as he holds the Office of President but also to determine the Ministries to be in his charge for that purpose. So all that President Sirisena had to do was to decide upfront which ministries he wanted. All Presidents do in fact decide upfront which ministries he would hold, so President Sirisena despite the 19th Amendment was able to do what all his predecessors did in this regard.

 

The genuine changes

To be fair, there were in fact a few genuine ways in which President Sirisena’s powers differed from those of his predecessors. The first and foremost of these was that the tenure of the presidency was shortened from six years to five years by changes made to Article 30(2). This was a genuine change and the 20th Amendment seeks to retain this without alteration. Another genuine change was the effective removal of presidential immunity by the 19th Amendment by means of changes made to Article 35(1) of the Constitution. Article 35(1) as amended by the 19th Amendment states that no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by the President, either in his official or private capacity, provided that this shall not be construed as restricting the right of any person to make a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court under Article 126 against the Attorney-General, in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by the President, in his official capacity.

 Making the President subject to fundamental rights litigation basically makes it possible to challenge any action that the President takes. In fact the 19th Amendment specifically stated that the Supreme Court shall have no jurisdiction to pronounce upon the exercise of the powers of the President only when it comes to declaring war and peace – which establishes that the Supreme Court can pronounce judgments on virtually everything else other than that one exception. President Sirisena was subject to this provision during his tenure and this was a genuine change made by the 19th Amendment. But it’s an unusual, and arguably counter-productive change. Even under the 1972 Constitution, the ceremonial President was designated the head of the Executive who was required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. Article 23 of the 1972 Constitution stated that while any person holds office as president, no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against him in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by him in his official or private capacity.

 If one takes the Ceylon Constitution Order in Council of 1946, the Executive power was exercised on behalf of the British crown by the Governor-General who was required by convention as mentioned in Article 4(2) of that Constitution to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Even though the Governor General was the representative of a titular head of state, even he was protected from litigation with the proviso that no act or omission on the part of the Governor-General shall be called in question in any court of law. We see the same protection accorded to the President of India. Article

53(1) of the Indian constitution says that the  executive  power  of  the  Indian Union  shall  be vested  in  the  President. Article 77(1) states that  all  executive  action  of  the  Government  of India  shall  be  expressed  to  be  taken  in  the  name  of  the President. Article 74(1)  requires the Indian President to act on the advice of the Prime  Minister and the  Council  of  Ministers  and the question whether any, and if so what, advice was  tendered  by  Ministers  to  the  President  cannot  be inquired  into  in  any  court. Under Article 77(2) of the Indian constitution, orders and other instruments made and executed in the name of the President shall not be called in question on the ground that it is not an order or instrument made or executed by the President.

 Thus we see that in the 1946 Ceylon Constitution Order in Council, the first Republican Constitution of 1972 and the second Republican Constitution of 1978, and even in the Indian Constitution, the actions of the head of the executive had always been given immunity from litigation. If the actions of the executive can be subject to litigation, then it can be argued that the final arbiter if not the wielder of executive power will be the judiciary and not the executive. The immunity of the President from suit was removed on the argument of limiting the President’s executive power. That gives the impression that before the 19th Amendment was passed there were no limits on the President’s executive power.

 

President never had unlimited power

 Two Supreme Court cases presided over by former Chief Justice Sarath N.Silva indicate otherwise. The 2006 landmark judgment in Nallaratnam Singarasa vs the Attorney General stated as follows:

“The President exercises the executive power of the People and is empowered to act for the Republic under Customary International Law and enter into treaties and accede to international covenants However,… such acts cannot be inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or written law. This limitation is imposed since the President is not the repository of the legislative power of the People…. such a treaty or a covenant has to be implemented by the exercise of legislative power by Parliament and where found to be necessary by the People at a Referendum to have internal effect…where the President enters into a treaty or accedes to a Covenant which is “inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or written law”… such act of the President would not bind the Republic qua state….”

Then there was the famous Waters Edge judgment of 2008 (Sugathapala Mendis and Another vs Chandrika Kumaratunga and Others) where it was stated as follows:

 “The principle that those charged with upholding the Constitution – be it a police officer of the lowest rank or the President – are to do so in a way that does not “violate the Doctrine of Public Trust” by state action/inaction is a basic tenet of the Constitution which upholds the legitimacy of Government and the Sovereignty of the People. The “Public Trust Doctrine” is based on the concept that the powers held by organs of government are, in fact, powers that originate with the People, and are entrusted to the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary only as a means of exercising governance and with the sole objective that such powers will be exercised in good faith for the benefit of the People of Sri Lanka. Public power is not for personal gain or favour, but always to be used to optimize the benefit of the People. To do otherwise would be to betray the trust reposed by the People within whom, in terms of the Constitution, the Sovereignty reposes. Power exercised contrary to the Public Trust Doctrine would be an abuse of such power and in contravention of the Rule of Law.”

 The Water’s Edge judgment also quoted a previous 1998 judgment by Justice Mark Fernando, Karunathilaka v Dissanayake which stated as follows: “The immunity conferred by Article 35 is neither absolute not perpetual….Article 35 only prohibits the institution (or continuation) of legal proceedings against the President while in office; it imposes no bar whatsoever on proceedings against him when he is no longer in office…To hold otherwise would suggest that the President is, in essence, above the law and beyond the reach of its restrictions. Such a monarchical/dictatorial position is at variance with (1) the Democratic Socialist Republic that the preamble of the Constitution defines Sri Lanka to be, and (ii) the spirit implicit in the Constitution that sovereignty reposes in the People and not in any single person.”

 

Keeping yahapalana overkill in check

 All these cases were heard long before the 19th Amendment. Thus the proviso to article 35(1) introduced by the 19th amendment enabling fundamental rights cases to be filed against the AG over actions taken by the President was clearly a case of yahapalana overkill. The removal of this proviso and the restoration of the pre-19th Amendment Article 35 does not turn the President into an autocrat. It just provides the executive branch of the government the leeway to exercise the powers vested in the executive. While it’s true that former presidents in Sri Lanka have been accused of being authoritarian, the same accusation has been levelled at former Prime Ministers like Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Much the same thing was said about Mrs. Indira Gandhi as well.

 The person holding the title and functions of head of the government can be as authoritarian or as liberal as he or she is inclined to be. In fact it may be argued by some that Prime Ministers have even greater potential and incentive to be authoritarian because no Prime Minister in the world seems to have term limits whereas almost all presidential systems do have term limits. Even the 20th Amendment will retain the two term limit for the President. Lee Kuan Yew was a Prime Minister but he too was accused of being authoritarian. It just so happens that Presidents tend to attract more charges of authoritarianism than Prime Ministers even though everyone knows at the back of their minds that Prime Ministers who are heads of government can be as every bit as authoritarian as any President holding the position of head of government.

 It’s interesting to speculate on why this is so. Is it because the President sits and does his work in grand isolation whereas the Prime Minister sits in Parliament with everyone else and is available to be heckled and booed at? Is it because the President once elected, is very difficult to remove whereas the Prime Minister (at least theoretically) can be thrown out at any moment through a Parliamentary revolt? It has to be noted that under the presidential system introduced by the 1978 Constitution, the President cannot rule without the support of Parliament. In 2001, at a time when President Chandrika Kumaratunga possessed all the powers of J.R. Jayewardene’s presidency, her party lost a parliamentary election and lost her majority in Parliament. She gave all powers to the newly elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasnghe and took a back seat for a while. Despite all the hype about authoritarian Presidents, the fact is that both Presidential heads of government and Prime Ministerial heads of government that this country has had in the past, have been completely dependent on Parliamentary majorities to govern. No President can override Parliament even under the pre-19th Amendment 1978 Constitution.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics

A brave new world

Published

on

By Uditha Devapriya

Divided from the Indian subcontinent, yet also deeply connected to it, Sri Lanka has never had an opportunity of forging and shaping a foreign policy of its own. The high point of its foreign relations, under the three Bandaranaike administrations over a period of 20 years, did signal an effort, and a sincere one, towards this end. Yet with the election of a staunchly pro-Western government in 1977, the emphasis on non-alignment that had been a hallmark of the island’s foreign policy ruptured, never to be regained or restored.

Of course, commentators would contend that Sri Lanka need not be non-aligned. They would also point out that non-alignment, in itself, doesn’t preclude making choices and siding with friends. The fact that the country lead the Non-Aligned Movement, at its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s, did not prevent it from privileging one set of interests over another: this is why, and how, while forging a close relationship with the Indira Gandhi administration, the United Front regime (1970-1977) was able to balance its ties with Pakistan vis-à-vis the 1971 War in Bangladesh and the West vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

In actual fact, the former colonies of Asia and Africa did not, in the wake of decolonisation, explicitly ally themselves with either side of the Cold War. Ideologically many if not most of them adhered to a socialist economic system, or something that could pass for one. But this didn’t always mean they bandwagoned with the socialist bloc, or, conversely, alienated the Western front. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attempts at obtaining American funding for the Aswan Dam, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s ability to enlist Western aid against the 1971 insurgency, showed that the indigenous elites in these ex-colonies did not [always] identify their foreign relations with one side of the Cold War to the exclusion of the other.

For its part the socialist Left went along with these trends. Throughout the Third World, particularly in countries like Sri Lanka, where traditional Marxist categories did not make sense, the [significantly non-Communist] Left advocated alignments with parties which were, from a Marxist perspective, hardly radical or revolutionary. The LSSP advocated no contest pacts and later agreements and alliances with the SLFP, while Nasser carried on a troubled, ambivalent relationship with the Communist Party. It was only logical to expect a similarly ambivalent stand on foreign policy from these formations.

It wasn’t just those groups, of course; even the strongholds and heartlands of the ideologies and tendencies they stood for often deviated from the orthodox line. Thus, the Maoists in Ceylon, while holding the line against the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, could not quite withstand China’s decision to provide that regime with military aid against the 1971 insurrection. Internationally, it could not tide over or come to terms with the shock of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. In foreign policy as in domestic policies, discretion frequently took the better part of valour; ideological abstractions did play a part, but they were often dispensed with in the interests of better relations with other countries.

The lines that had been drawn during the Cold War sharpened considerably in the 1970s and 1980s across Asia and America, often disrupting the political divisions that had been drawn for decades in these countries. In Sri Lanka the election of a leftwing government failed to prevent an uprising among radical Left university graduates. Four years later, that avowedly leftwing government splintered, leading to the expulsion of the two oldest Left parties in the country. Neoliberal authoritarianism, of the sort which had been installed via covert US support in Chile, became a fact of life in 1977. The rhetoric of non-alignment and neutrality, evoked so frequently once, became passe now.

In Sri Lanka, the first and second waves of neo-liberal authoritarianism – the two UNP administrations of J. R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa – would be followed by the election of a Clintonian Third Way Centrist regime, led by the daughter of the same lady associated with the country’s dalliance with socialism. Under Chandrika Kumaratunga Sri Lanka’s nonaligned credentials were restored, yet never to the same extent as before: it was under Kumaratunga, after all, that Israel established an Embassy in Colombo, more or less breaching Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Palestinian cause, which had been a hallmark and a motif of the Non-aligned Movement at its very inception.

It’s tempting to argue that none of these changes could have come about without the end of the Cold War. To say that is to assume that the end of the Cold War came about because of one set of forces triumphing over all others. For a brief time in history, from 1991 to 2001, the United States enjoyed its peak years: what Charles Krauthammer called, not unfittingly, the “Unipolar Movement.” For some it was the end of history, for others it was the victory of liberal democracy. In this brave new liberal world, we were told, power no longer had a say in international relations: hence the many calls, deplored by diplomats such as the late Gamani Corea, to do away with institutions like UNCTAD and NAM.

This argument has many pitfalls, not all of which deserve mentioning here. I would contend that the unipolar moment came to an end in 2001, when two planes rammed into the World Trade Center in New York, the capital of liberal internationalism. What began in 2001 more or less culminated in January 2022, when Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in Ukraine and kickstarted a war that continues to redefine the frontiers of geopolitics in the present century. Viewed for long as a dependable friend of the West, Putin has now turned into a symbol of the continuing relevance of power in geopolitics: a point which suggests the Cold War never ended, and the old lines and distinctions still linger.

By all accounts, the new Cold War is different from the old. The clash today is not between two superpowers, but between various powers vying over different interests. The world was simpler then. It is more complicated now. While major powers like India and China vie with each other for dominance over specific regions and interests, developments like the Russia-Ukraine War have brought them to the same table. Xi Jinping’s congratulatory missive to the new Indian President and Wang Yi’s meeting with Delhi’s Ambassador to Beijing should not be taken as mere formalities, nor should Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s remarks be taken as ramblings of an annoyed government official. These episodes suggest clearly the complexities of geopolitics, where, more than the days when the world was divided into two warring halves, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

Sri Lanka so far has not been fortunate enough to benefit from these developments. It has been guided by a philosophy which died in 2001, a philosophy adhered to by the most zealous advocates of liberal internationalism: those who believe that Western rhetoric on human rights and democracy is what it purports to be and nothing else. As Rajiva Wijesinha has noted in Representing Sri Lanka, a book that deserves to be read closely, these groups make up a considerable part of our foreign policy establishment: a fact which has precluded the country from making some much needed choices in foreign relations.

In his book Wijesinha lambasts two tendencies within the foreign policy establishment in Sri Lanka: a line that hedges all bets for the country’s future on relations with the West, and a line that shirks and demonises the West and seemingly “Western” abstractions like human rights and democracy. As Dayan Jayatilleka has pointed out only too eloquently, the former line almost lost us the war, while the latter has line lost us a durable peace. The result has been a grand mess, where, in a never-ending cycle, we latch ourselves onto one or another major power, only to switch sides unceremoniously to another power while neglecting the concerns of our ex-partners. The recent fracas over the Chinese “spy” vessel is the latest in a series of faux pas that will, I suspect, continue for quite some time.

Stripped of all abstractions, foreign policy is but a manifestation of a country’s interests. Trapped in the past, Sri Lanka is yet to come to terms with this fact. But in the face of an unprecedented crisis, it cannot afford to think this way any longer. It must take stock of what is happening outside, and realise that what matters is what we need. And what we need now is a foreign policy that coheres with our interests.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

Continue Reading

Politics

Crime and Punishment In Sri Lanka – Where is the Equity ?

Published

on

By Anura Gunasekera

Recently, the Kegalle High Court Trial at Bar, on conclusion of the December 2018 Mawanella Buddha statue damaging case, conducted under the Prevention of Terrorism( Temporary Provisions) Act, has passed sentences of varying severity, on the accused who have admitted culpability. Three of the accused have been discharged and the cases against two fixed for further inquiry

Moving back to the period between June 2014 and March 2018, rioting Sinhala mobs, incited or led by Buddhist priests, destroyed or damaged hundreds of Muslim owned businesses, private homes, vehicles, and a couple of mosques, in Aluthagama, Digana and Panadura. Seven people were killed, six of them Muslims. The cost of the damage to assets, owned mostly by Muslims, would be, conservatively, in billions of rupees. Any forensic investigation of the Aluthgama carnage was pre-empted by forces personnel quickly cleaning up the scene of the crime, before investigations could begin, apparently on the orders of former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Secretary of Defence.

As far as I am aware, not one person has been convicted for any of the above crimes, though much of the destruction is reported to have been caused, in full view of armed police and the forces. There have also been allegations of active assistance provided by uniformed police to the rioting mobs. Two Buddhist priests, Galagoda Athhe Gnanasara and Ampitiye Sumanarathana, publicly associated with the incidents, have been ignored by the law. In fact, in 2020, the Galagoda monk was appointed by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the chairman of the “One Country, One Law” task force.

Amit Weerasinghe, leader of the “Mahason Balakaya”, a Sinhala-Buddhist extremist entity associated with the riots, was arrested and released. It is not clear whether any action was filed against him. More than a 100 individuals, all from the majority community, arrested in connection with the incidents of anti-Muslim violence described above, were enlarged on bail at the respective first hearings. However, 45 individuals, all Muslims without prior criminal records, arrested in connection with the Mawanella affair, were held in remand custody for forty two months, though there were no eyewitnesses to the related incidents.

Jude Jayamaha, convicted murderer sentenced to death in 2012, was pardoned in 2019 by then President Maithripala. Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, sentenced to death for the torture/murder of a Tamil civilian family of eight, was given a “full presidential pardon” by former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in 2020. Former member of parliament and close associate of president Gotabaya, Duminda Silva, sentenced to death for complicity in murder, benefited from a “special presidential pardon” , extended by GR in June 2021, which also included over a hundred other prisoners. However, Silva has been rearrested in May 2022, on a Supreme Court order suspending the pardon.

In the meantime, the loose-tongued MP, Ranjan Ramanayake, has so far spent one year of a four-year sentence for contempt of court. I am open to correction by those who know the law better but, as I understand it, his sentence is based on a provision of the Penal Code, which dates back to a 19th century statute. However, it is a fact that most mature democracies have moved on from such archaic legal provisions, and now permit robust and reasonable debate in regard to matters pertaining to the judiciary itself.

Also relevant is the case of Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the many other journalists and anti-government activists, featured in the list of the murdered regime-critics over the last three decades, now simply names in a long and sad litany of unsolved crimes. There are the thousands of civilians who disappeared during our long war, and in the course of the suppression of two consecutive Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprisings; over 700 Sri Lankan policemen were murdered by the LTTE, in June 1990, after surrendering to them on the orders of the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa, conveyed through then Inspector General of Police, Ernest Perera. The absence of an in-depth investigation in to this incident is, perhaps, due to the fact that the alleged mastermind- according to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka- Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran of the LTTE, subsequently became a government ally.

In fact, a review of unsolved murders and extra-judicial killings since the beginning of the Eelam war, would require a separate volume. The land that the Buddha is supposed to have consecrated with several personal visits is, truly, very bloody, underfoot.

In more recent events, parliamentarian Prasanna Ranatunge, heavily fined and sentenced to a suspended sentence, for attempting to extort money under threat from a businessman, has been appointed Minister of Urban Development and Housing, by President Wickremesinghe. Nimal Siripala de Silva, who resigned his cabinet portfolio pending investigation in to a major bribery charge (reportedly conveyed to then president Gotabaya by Japan’s ambassador), has been “acquitted”- by a panel led by former High Court judge, Kusala Sarojini Weerawardane, on conclusion of what must be the speediest of such investigations conducted in decades; just one week! Within a day of this miraculous “acquittal”, he is reappointed to the cabinet by President Wickremesinghe, as Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation.

The two actions by the new president makes a mockery of a key assurance given by him regarding the elimination of bribery and corruption during his maiden address to parliament. How does one conflate that noble pledge with the elevation of two individuals, one patently corrupt and the other allegedly so? That situation is decidedly worse than the case of former state minister, Lohan Ratwatte, whose forcible entry in to Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons, was investigated- with no conclusive outcome- by the same lady.

All of the above is a preamble to the current situation. Wickremesinghe, immediately upon assuming the acting presidency, declared a state of emergency and enabled the arrest of a number of individuals seen as leaders of the “Aragalaya”, the movement which actually paved the way for his presidential appointment. Apart from Joseph Stalin (General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers’ Union), Fr Jeewantha Pieris, Wasantha Mudalige ( Convener, Inter-University Students’ Federation) Eranga Gunasekera( National Organizer for “Socialist Youth Union”) and Lahiru Weerasekera (National Organizer for “Youth for Change”), four protesters “loitering” around the Bandaranaike statue at Galle Face, and a few who have been identified as having entered the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s House, have also been taken in.

In the greater scheme of things the “crimes” attributed to these individuals are clearly low level misdemeanors. Proven damage to premises and content are crimes which must be punished, but relaxing on the president’s bed and sitting in the president’s chair are not major crimes, though the latter have been classified as ” terrorist acts”.

Compare the above with the events which took place in parliament , on November 15, 2018, when members of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party physically attacked the then Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya. At the fore-front of the aggression were then ministers, Johnston Fernando and Mahindanda Aluthgamage, who attacked the police who tried to restore order. Arundhika Fernando occupied the Speaker’s chair and was seen being smilingly felicitated by MP Pavithra Wanniarachchi. All these events have been caught on video-film as indisputable evidence. Despite the desecration of the very seat of governance by the lawmakers themselves, no action was taken against those guilty. Let us also not forget the May 9 attack on unarmed activists at Galle Face, in which Mahinda Rajapaksa and Johnston Fernando were clearly complicit.

Since April this year six dead bodies have washed up ashore along the Colombo district coastline. The police have been very quick to attribute these incidents, and other recent murders in and around the Colombo district, to drug-related violence, though results of investigations have not been made public. Surprisingly, these incidents appear to have slid under the radar of routine news reporting, with minimal mention in the media.

One can also add the “Bond Scam” of 2015, involving the current president’s then Central Bank Governor appointee, Arjuna Mahendran, the “Sugar Scam” of 2020, the shambolic “Greek Bonds” affair of 2012, under the stewardship of then Central Bank Governor, Nivard Cabraal and the controversial settlement of International Sovereign Bonds in January 2022, again under the supervision of Cabraal in his second term as CB governor. However, Mahendran, hiding from the law in plain sight, is safely delivering profound statements on the economy of Sri Lanka to, international media, the profiteers from the sugar deal have not been dealt with despite recommendations by the National Audit Office, and Cabraal, still unscathed, is living in seclusion.

And what of the Rs 17.8 in cash, discovered in the President’s House by the Aragalists and handed over to the Fort Police on July 9, but produced in court by the police only on July 29? Where did the Fort OIC store this cash in the interim? Will former president Gotabaya, as head of the presidential household, be asked to explain the source of the cash and the reasons for its retention?

The point of this narration is to highlight the glaring inequity, in the application of the same body of law, in the context of social and economic position, proximity to those in power, personal political significance, and ethnicity. It would seem that the wheels of justice grind slowly, and selectively, subject to the above considerations.

President Wickremesinghe’s pious sentiments about combatting crime and corruption, are simply echoes of similar statements made by previous leaders of the country, in successive regimes, which have condoned colossal crimes and acts of corruption. Collectively, they have contributed to the present economic disaster, and the humiliating position of Sri Lanka in the global Human Rights Violation index. After 75 years of independence and “democratic” governance, Sri Lanka occupies the 112th position (in the 3rd quartrile), in the Global Freedom Index of 2022, behind Sierra Leone, Belarus, Kenya and Lebanon. The ongoing repressive measures being implemented by a supposedly liberal president, is likely to result in a further downgrading before long.

Continue Reading

Politics

PROPPING-UP THIS PRESIDENT IS A PRESCRIPTION FOR POLITICAL SUICIDE

Published

on

DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

In one dimension, Sri Lankan politics is a tale of cross-party political collaboration that should have taken place but didn’t, and those that shouldn’t have taken place but did.The two varying yet intermittently intertwining story-lines have widely discrepant endings, though. Collaborations that should have taken place but didn’t are stories of what might have been and wasn’t. What might have been is often better than what actually was.By contrast, stories of collaboration that should not have taken place but did, are stories of disasters that were avoidable but weren’t.

Sometimes the collaborations that should have been preceded those that should not have been but were acted upon. These are particularly poignant because an alliance or political equation that had the potential of leading to something positive, was immediately substituted by an equation which culminated in catastrophe.

There is another, inner connection. It is the causal link between the alliances that should have been made and weren’t, that led to lost potential, which was then sought to be offset by alliances that should not have been entered into but were, with worse consequences than the stagnation sought to be avoided or offset by entering into them.

The Left was never as strong as it was after the General Election of 1947. If the discussion at H. Sri Nissanka’s residence ‘Yamuna’ succeed and a bloc had formed of the three left parties—the LSSP, CP and the BLP—and the independent progressives, Ceylon would have had a left oriented Government which would have taken the country on a Nehruvian or ‘left-Nehruvian’ path.

Having rejected that option, the same leftist parties were later reviled, and correctly so, for having clung to “Sirima’s sari pota” and electorally decimated where they remain to this very day. Just recently, and incredibly, their residues voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Emergency under which the Aragalaya activists are being arrested.

After the magnificent Hartal of August 1953, the political parties that participated and supported it failed to unite in a single bloc. The result was that SWRD’s SLFP fell prey to the temptation of Sinhala Only, lobbied for by a civil society caucus led by Prof GP Malalasekara and the All- Ceylon Buddhist Congress he chaired, riding the surf of the Buddha Jayanthi and the ACBC report.

When SWRD tried to compensate by course-correction through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, the Left didn’t come forward to enter a bloc with him in support. Ironically the same left entered a united front with his far less progressive widow and enthroned Sinhala only in the 1972 Constitution.

The Left finally entered a United Front in 1963, accompanied by the unification of the left-led trade union movement. The united left won the Borella by-election that year. In 1964 the LSSP broke the left front and joined Mrs. Bandaranaike’s cabinet. In 1968, in place of a reunified Left, the CPSL joined the LSSP in a coalition with the SLFP, holding a joint rally in Bogambara.The resultant vacuum on the left permitted the birth and rapid growth of the JVP.

Fifteen years after the LSSP’s co-optation and nine years after the CPSL’s, the entire old left had been electorally wiped out, with Philip Gunawardena who had joined a UNP cabinet, having been electorally eliminated earlier in 1970.I could go on. The moral of the story is simple. Left unity is a good thing and left disunity is not. Left and the unity with progressive independents is a good thing and its absence is not. The Left uniting with a center party under left dominance is bad but doing so on an equal footing, isn’t.The Left uniting with a dominant center party, i.e., with the SLFP in 1964 and 1970-1975/’77, is a terrible thing.

A center-left or center party uniting with a rightwing or center-right party is a bad thing. President Sirisena and the SLFP learned that lesson the hard way and the current trend of the SLPP opting for Ranil Wickremesinghe over Dullas Alahapperuma, the SLFP and the 10-parties being drawn into President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s orbit, having voted for his draconian Emergency (the SLFP was absent), will prove electorally fatal.

TAMIL PARTIES

The Tamil parties have a sad history of supporting the rightwing UNP which inevitably winds up unpopular and the target of a huge backlash. The presence of the Tamil parties in a bloc with the UNP, unfortunately facilitates an utterly reprehensible entry of Sinhala chauvinism into the anti-government backlash.

It is utterly counterproductive for the Tamil parties to be in an elitist UNP bloc. It was the presence of those parties in the UNP-led seven-party national Government of 1965-1970 that facilitated the opportunistic or semi-spontaneous injection of Sinhala ethno-populism into the Opposition campaign of the second half of the 1960s, which even more horridly, culminated in the official Sinhala racism after it assumed office, e.g., media-wise and district-wise Standardization of university entrance, the hegemonistic status of Sinhala and Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution.

The Tamil parties should think twice before being enticed into an alliance, de jure or de facto, with the unelected, illegitimate president Ranil Wickremesinghe who will cause a further spike in unprecedentedly high social disaffection by his economic “shock therapy”. It could cause a toxic cocktail as Sir John’s Delft speech did.

TODAY’S OPPOSITION

What would have happened to any Opposition political party that joined, propped up or let itself be drawn into the orbit of the hawkish UNP administration of Sir John Kotelawala after the Hartal of August 1953?

What if SWRD Bandaranaike, having left the UNP in 1951, helped it in 1953, after chairing the Hartal rally on Galle Face Green, though the SLFP didn’t participate in the Hartal?

The answers of these counterfactual history questions are obvious. Any such party which became a de jure or de facto prop (“mukkuwa”) of the Hartal-hit Establishment which had a harder-line post-Hartal leader, would have been committing political suicide.Had SWRD Bandaranaike done so, he would not have been the beneficiary of the anti-Establishment tectonic shift caused or denoted by the Hartal and swept into office through the Silent Revolution of 1956.

Why then are the Opposition parties of today doing or contemplating something even more colossally stupid, of joining, supporting or collaborating with the UNP leader of the Aragalaya-hit Establishment? It is suicidal for two reasons:

Firstly, the leader in question is utterly unelected, totally devoid of a popular mandate, and is therefore a completely illegitimate (though not illegal) ruler.Secondly, he will drive through a controversial and polarizing economic program, which will sink any party associated with it.Meanwhile, the failure of the pro-Aragalaya parties, the JVP, FSP, SJB and TNA, to unite is a repetition of the failure of the pro-Hartal parties to do so in 1953-1956.

Continue Reading

Trending