“We were on the Titanic and everyone knew it was hitting the iceberg” – Eric Hobsbawm (Interesting Times)
In 2013, Sri Lanka will continue to be blessed with a President who is intent on life-long rule and dynastic succession, at whatever cost; and a Leader of Opposition who unfailingly lends that President a helping hand, at crucial junctures.
The regime’s decision to boycott the Appeal Court hearing is understandable. Having conducted the most indefensible ‘trial’ in living memory, without even the barest show of impartiality or justice, the regime would not want to deal with questions it cannot answer and explanations it cannot provide. Since the impeachment was a witch-trial, the Rajapaksas have no choice but to hug the cloak of impunity ever closer and defy the courts.
The decision by Ranil Wickremesinghe, and it is indeed his decision to ignore the summons of the Appeal Court, is not so logical. It is in the interests of the UNP to assist the courts to uncover and expose the shenanigans of the impeachment. So what made Ranil Wickremesinghe make a decision which will hurt his party, the country and eventually himself (a subjugated court can be used against him, if the Rajapaksas decide that it is in their interests to promote an even more reliable tool as the leader of the UNP)?
The argument about parliamentary sovereignty does not hold water, because in today’s Sri Lanka it is the Rajapaksas who are sovereign. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka parliamentary sovereignty is as much of a lie, as democracy, human rights, media freedom or a political solution to the ethnic problem. The subjugated UPFA majority in parliament has turned the legislature into a Rajapaksa-doormat. Just last month, the parliament, in violation of a Supreme Court ruling (by a bench headed by Justice Shiranee Thilakawardane), assented to a Bill which seriously eroded parliamentary control over finances, one of the few preserves the 1978 Constitution left under sole legislative aegis.
In reality, parliamentary sovereignty is as dead as a dodo. It is one thing to embrace the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty as a desirable goal; it is quite another thing to elevate its corpse and strengthen the asphyxiating hand of the executive still further.
Today, both within and outside the impeachment process, the real conflict is between the executive and the judiciary, the Rajapaksas and the courts. The conflict between the legislature and the judiciary is a myth concocted by the Rajapaksas to hide their dynastic purpose; plus provide their puppets in the UPFA – and in the UNP – with a lofty-sounding excuse to do the inexcusable.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is too clever not to know this. His is a political decision, taken not in honest ignorance, but in conscious duplicity. In fact this is not the first time Mr. Wickremesinghe made a decision which brought him some very short-term and extremely ephemeral gains while harming his interests in the medium to long term. And he will persist in committing such small acts of hara-kiri, especially if the Rajapaksas continue to stir the UNP-leadership pot using their other tool, Sajith Premadasa. With the leader and the alternate leader of the main opposition party in thrall to them, the Rajapaksas are in an unassailable position, or will be once they have subjugated the judiciary.
The Consolidation of Rajapaksa Rule
The impeachment, nakedly unfair and glaringly unjust, is the most grievous blow the Rajapaksas have inflicted on Sri Lanka. It will push Sri Lanka beyond the threshold of liveability.
Once the impeachment is through, the Rajapaksas are likely to move ahead with lightening speed to appoint a more amenable chief justice and a more reliable prime minister. Both choices are of seminal importance to the Rajapaksa project. The Shirani Bandaranayake saga would have demonstrated to the Rajapaksas the danger of placing non-family members in positions of power. After all, the Siblings showered the husband of the CJ with undeserving honours, and believed that that would be a sufficient guarantee of her eternal obedience. But Shirani Bandaranayake did thwart the Rajapaksas-purpose, just five months after she became the CJ. In November 2011, a bench headed by Shirani Bandaranayake effectively killed the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act (the so called ‘Sacred Areas’ act, which sought to empower the regime to expropriate any piece of land by the simple expedient of fixing a certain label on it). The Supreme Court decreed that this Act cannot be presented in parliament without the consent of all the provincial councils; the regime was compelled to withdraw it. Perhaps that was the day the Rajapaksas decided that Dr. Bandaranayake must either be broken or evicted.
Given this experience, the Siblings would want to ensure that the next CJ and the next PM are totally committed to the Rajapaksa power-project, out of choice or necessity. And they will not hesitate to pick candidates who are appallingly unsuitable. Once the impeachment travesty succeeds, the Rajapaksas will not feel the need to bother about maintaining appearances (except internationally, until the Hambantota Commonwealth Summit is successfully concluded). After all, if the UPFA and the country can digest this impeachment, they can imbibe any abomination, without even a twinge of indigestion or nausea.
2013 is thus likely to be a fortuitous year for the Rajapaksas, however unlucky it may turn out to be for ordinary Lankans. The SLFP’s back is truly broken, as is evident from the grovelling conduct of senior and junior SLFPers throughout the impeachment process. The leasers of the SLMC, the CWC, the EPDP and other minority parties might make occasional noises, but will eventually knuckle down, placing their own powerless positions above their parties and their peoples.
And there is nothing substantial or worthwhile left of the UPFA left.
So 2013 is likely to be a year in which the Rajapaksas consolidate old gains and make new ones: “…the government was planning to make wide-ranging changes to the powers vested with the provincial councils…. Accordingly changes are to be made to laws pertaining to Police powers vested in Councils together with amendments to the law which states that in the event an Act regarding the subjects of provincial councils is to be tabled in parliament it should be passed by all nine provincial councils” (Daily Mirror – 1.1.2013).
Once the impeachment is successful and the judiciary subjugated, the regime will be able to bring in any law it likes, including ones which violate constitutional provisions and/or the norms of natural justice. Bad laws will be passed by the subjugated parliament, and implemented to the letter by subjugated courts, rendering insecure the lives of most Lankans.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidency in November 2005, if someone foretold that this moment will arrive in just seven short years, would we have believed it?
2012 was bad; 2013 cannot but be worse, barring a miracle.
Referring to America’s critical failure to address the issue of gun control, massacre after massacre, Jon Lee Anderson asked, “Where is our threshold for self-awareness? What is our national threshold for shame?” (The New Yorker – 16.12.2012). It is a question we should do well to ask ourselves, as 2013 advances, the Rajapaksas progress and the country regresses.