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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sri Lanka: Presidential Elections and Prevailing Situation of Abysmal Lawlessness

[Prison inmates are being used for the election campaigning activities of the President Rajapaksa (Photo: : CaFFE )]

The following statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Whatever be the outcome of the presidential election to be held on the 8th of January 2015, Sri Lanka has already entered into the deepest political crisis it has ever faced since the adoption of the Executive Presidential system through the 1978 Constitution. Within the period of a few weeks, all the manifestations of strength and might that the system was able to put up have vanished. In all likelihood, there will never be a return to a confidence in the Executive Presidential system again. The President himself may try to survive politically in some way, but the system he tried to make permanent by adopting the 18th Amendment has been exposed as lacking moral and political validity.

What the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned about at this juncture is the tremendous adverse effect of trying to keep this system afloat. The AHRC is concerned about the consequences of the current political crisis on the people and on future generations.

In this regard, the following indisputable aspects of erosion into the people’s freedoms need noting:

1. The juridical system, particularly at the very top, has eroded completely and it has lost credibility in the minds of the people. All that is visible is a stooge system. The political master, the President, has unashamedly wanted to dictate his terms on all political matters to the courts and the public understand that the higher courts, on such political matters, have but one option which is to obey. Even under some military dictatorships the courts are not reduced to servility in the manner that the courts in Sri Lanka have been reduced at present. This means that the people perceive the role of the judiciary as a ridiculous one. That, unfortunately, is what the Executive President wants the courts to appear as. Under these circumstances, the courts simply cannot play the role of being the protector of the rights of the people. Instead, the courts are being required to stand up against the rights of the people. This complete transformation of the role of the higher courts has already happened. What it means to each of the individual citizens is therefore a matter that each citizen should fathom for his or herself.

2. The government has lost the loyalty of the people, including its own servants. The motivating factor for those who serve the government is fear and not loyalty. Perhaps the only loyal circle is a small circle, which has proprietary and financial benefits in the abuse of the government’s power and resources. The general loss of loyalty is most manifest in the very fact that the President and the inner circle were unable to have any kind of information about the defection of the General Secretary of the ruling party itself.

3. A further clear manifestation is that the government is unashamed about lawlessness. The Asian Human Rights Commission has noted for years that the issue of legality and illegality has lost significance in Sri Lanka. In a modern society, there can be no worse crisis as a whole, whether political, commercial, or social, than the loss of the meaning of legality. This simply means that any kind of arbitrary action is possible and that there is no legal defence of any sort against such arbitrary actions. This is even worse than situations that exist in monarchies. Even in monarchies the kings were jealous in guarding the enforcement of the law in order to maintain their own power. It is in fascist dictatorships and the kind of dictatorship that existed under Joseph Stalin that the idea of legality was altogether abandoned. Though Sri Lanka may not be a fascist state or a Stalinist regime, the approach to law that has been adopted is manifestly similar. This, as far as the citizens are concerned, is a threat, not only to their civil liberties but also to their property rights and all economic, cultural, and social rights, and other great concerns of modern times, such as the environmental rights. There is no basis on which to pin any expectation on law for the safeguarding of any of these rights.

If a citizen is unable to pin their hope on the law for the safeguarding of their rights, then what will they turn to for protection? The ominous nature of this problem can be seen from what has happened to the system of policing in Sri Lanka and the prosecution system, which is vested with the Attorney General’s Department. These are two of the most important institutions for law enforcement and they have lost their capacity to act on the basis of any kind of legal criteria. The Executive Presidential system has destroyed the potential of these two institutions to be guardians of the law within accepted norms and standards.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to find any kind of rationality in the assertions of those who vociferously argue that Sri Lanka cannot do without Executive Presidency. Does Sri Lanka need to be lawless? That is what the type of Executive Presidential system that Sri Lanka has proved to be over several decades. How could any rational person argue that a state of lawlessness will safeguard the best interests of Sri Lankan citizens?

In this situation of chaos and utter confusion, a citizen has nothing to go by except his own faculty of reason and his own good sense. If Sri Lanka is to overcome what has happened and what is continuing to happen, this will depend on the extent to which Sri Lankan citizens are able to rely on their own faculties of reason and good sense and face up to one of the worst times in their history. Whether the prevailing catastrophic situation will worsen or not will have to be decided by the citizens themselves, who will be better or worse depending on their ability to use their own rationality and good judgment.


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