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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Speak out for democracy, or remain silent forever – Editorial, DM

A parliamentary motion to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was presented to the Speaker on Thursday, marking a dangerous stage for democracy and the separation of powers which have carried Sri Lanka through trials and tribulations, bloody insurrections and war since independence.
The presentation of the motion coincided with the Supreme Court’s second ruling on the controversial Divi Neguma Bill amid speculation that the judgment would not be pleasing to the Rajapaksa regime. On Wednesday the state and other TV channels showed President Rajapaksa coming out openly against the National Savings Bank’s former chairman Pradeep Kariyawasam and the bank’s recent stock market fraud. Mr. Kariyawasam is the husband of the Chief Justice.
The President also said judges were respected like the Maha Sangha and were often referred to as “Nadukara Hamuduruwo”. He said the judges should maintain this respect, but gave no details though discerning listeners and independent analysts were aware of who and what he was referring to.

The cold war between the all-powerful executive and the legislature on one side and the judiciary on the other began some weeks ago, but it will be an open battle from next week. With opposition parties unable or incapable of giving strong leadership at this time, it appears that the Supreme Court is now seen as the bastion for those who still cherish democracy, good governance and accountability, integrity and social justice and a separation or sharing of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

As the battle lines are drawn for what might be a historic make or break drama for democracy in Sri Lanka, many will recall what happened after the imposition of the 1978 constitution for the executive presidency. The first executive president J.R. Jayewardene called upon his widely-respected lawyer Neville Samarakoon to be the Chief Justice. In several cases Mr. Samarakoon gave judgments which independent analysts saw as fair and balanced – but were not pleasing to the Jayewardene regime.

A cold war began with the criticism of the judiciary and even attacks on the residences of judges. Mr. Samarakoon in 1984 made a historic hard-hitting speech insisting that as Chief Justice he would not allow party politics to twist the judicial process. This led to a move to impeach the Chief Justice, but he resigned and left the country. What happened after that is history.

It is not for us to pre-judge whatever charges contained in the impeachment motion.

Suffice to say, that the government should think most carefully and deeply on how the recent discontent between the Executive and the Judiciary is seen and interpreted by the people of this land. A lasting damage could be caused to the corner stones of Democracy on ensuing loss of faith in the system of democracy, far from perfect even as we know it now, could open a new and unpleasant chapter in our island’s history.


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