2013: Vital year for democracy and justice – Editorial, Daily Mirror
A New Year dawned today with the usual extravagant five-star balls while some half a million people were seriously affected by floods, earthslips or landslides in 21 districts. Most people have read about or watched the spectacular tragedy of the Titanic, but we don’t seem to have learnt the right lessons with the Colombo elite indulging in super luxuries while millions of people are suffering in different degrees of disaster, destitution and desolation.
The agony and ecstasy of New Year’s Eve apart, the stark reality is that Sri Lanka is staggering into 2013 in a quagmire of political, constitutional and socio-economic crises.
Most independent analysts believe it may be a make or break year. The choice is between democracy, good governance, transparency, accountability and a balance of power on the one hand, and dictatorship and anarchy on the other.
The most important issue that needs to be resolved justly and immediately is the crisis over the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. It is no longer a question of personalities, but one of Sri Lanka’s gravest crises with barbarians at the doorstep of the temple of justice and possibly a chaotic reign of terror if the independence of the Judiciary is jailed. Former Supreme Court Judge C.V. Wigneswaran — one of the most eminent and widely respected legal personalities – said last week democracy was on the brink of collapse largely because of the 18th Amendment, which he described as a national calamity. Justice Wigneswaran gave this warning in a keynote speech he made at the annual sessions of the Judicial Services Association, which comprises District Judges and Magistrates. More than 180 of the 200 judges attended the meeting paying Rs.4000 each after the government at the last moment withdrew funds for the sessions saying it had information that a resolution was to be passed against the impeachment motion. The besieged Chief Justice was the chief guest at the J.S.A. sessions, but she left after making a powerful speech, and was not present when Justice Wigneswaran blasted the 18th Amendment, which had been approved in 2011 by a Supreme Court bench including Justice Shirani Bandaranayke. Now she has become a high-profile victim of this very same amendment, which gives the powerful Executive President virtually absolute powers. When the sages told us that absolute power corrupts absolutely, they were obviously referring not only to material things but also to the mind.
To turn around in 2013, we hope there will be a prorogation of parliament so that the impeachment motion will lapse and an independent committee comprising former Supreme Court judges or other eminent legal personalities will be appointed to probe the charges against the CJ. Activists for democracy and human rights also hope the President will rise to the level of a statesman and at least restore the 17th Amendment as a first step toward reviewing the 1978 constitution for the Executive Presidency.