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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s civil resistance awakens, like the phoenix from the ashes – Kishali Pinto Jayawaradena

Despite the undeniable shock caused to Sri Lanka’s democratic system on October 26th 2018 as a result of President Maithripala Sirisena’s swearing in of a new Prime Minister lacking a majority in the House, several unmistakable positive factors have emerged since then.

Those ‘legal experts’ who led the President up the garden path in persuading him to discard constitutional prudence should hang their deviously plotting heads in shame. Assuming they feel shame in which case, (as that colourful colloquialism sharply puts it), pigs may fly. Of course, it is very much an open secret as to who these reprobates are, including those who played fast and loose with the country’s judicial system for years. But the President is yet to name them or for that matter, yet to explain himself to the people as to why he did not seek the advice of the Attorney General or an opinion from the Supreme Court prior to bringing the nation to the brink of the edge.

Showing great endurance

True, the damage is considerable. This political tomfoolery has tarnished the country’s reputation, lost preciously needed financial resources at year end when that is needed the most, imperiled the nation’s long praised manner in which peaceful transfer of power took place through the exercise of the franchise and cast a pall of uncertainty over what is in store for us with the dawning of 2019.

Yet institutional strength and civil rebellion has risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, some from most unlikely quarters at that. Institutions and individuals who could have crumbled under the pressure, quite unexpectedly, did not. Judges carried out their constitutional and statutory duties from the Supreme Court to the Magistrate’s Court with great endurance even as unprecedented pressure was brought to bear on them. This is far different to the day when one ex-Chief Justice was so brazen as to apologise for decisions handed down absolving politicians of grand corruption and another Chief Justice was more in the residence of the executive than in court.

Painfully accustomed to the edifice of an independent judiciary crumbling, bit by agonising bit, citizens have responded to the judicial fortitude now being illustrated with a measure of quiet relief. Reprimanded in some quarters for going to court along with others in seeking clarity on the gazette issued by the President dissolving Parliament, member of the Elections Commission Prof Ratnajeevan Hoole replied with force that he had not taken sides in the dispute between two political parties but that he would always take the side of the law.

Duty of the Elections Commission

In fact, those critics who question this perfectly proper seeking of judicial relief on his part would do well to remember the judicial caution administered by the Supreme Court to an Elections Commissioner that the Constitution assures him independence ‘so that he may fearlessly insist on due compliance with the law in regard to all aspects of elections – even, if necessary, by instituting appropriate legal proceedings in order to obtain judicial orders’ (Karunathilaka v Dayananda Dissanayake, 1999).

In that case, the Court found that Emergency Regulations issued on the basis of ‘national security’ having the effect of cancelling the date of the poll for Provincial Councils fixed by the Elections Commissioner at the time were not authorised by law or a valid exercise of power as there was no known threat to national security, public order, etc. The acquiescence of the Elections Commissioner in this action by the executive found little favour with the Court, Justice MDH Fernando going so far as to say that ‘the material available to this Court indicates that he made no effort to ascertain the legal position, or to have recourse to legal remedies.‘

That said, politicians engaging in several hasty utterances on the ongoing case before the Supreme Court and media reporting the same must also be far more cautious. In a case eerily similar to this, in which a provincial correspondent of the ‘Divaina’ had reported an opposition parliamentarian (when the presidential election petition was being heard), saying that ‘the petition had already been proved and if the petitioner did not win her case, it would be the end of justice” was found to have committed contempt. The argument that there was no intention to prejudice the outcome of the case and that the speech in question was solely political was not accepted (Re Garumunige Tilakaratne, 1991).

Eclectic range of resistance

Meanwhile, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and the police of the Sri Lanka Parliament bore with exemplar dignity, all the vulgar abuse and objects hurled at their heads by chillie-water throwing pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians who disgraced the House. Amusingly, after weeks of President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Pohottuwa party (SLPP) maligning the Speaker through slavishly adoring electronic media channels, the Speaker was cajoled by the SLFP to meet the President and thereafter (presidentially) ‘appreciated’ for those efforts.

Institutional strength was manifested elsewhere as well. Undeterred by political threats, officers of the Criminal Investigation Department proceeded stoically with investigations into killings and disappearances during the Rajapaksa decade resulting in the netting of a high- worth Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Thus the range of resistance was eclectic. Quiet relief is occasioned. These are incremental steps to rejuvenation of the democratic process that must be rightly noted.

Notably moreover, separating themselves from the messiness of one political crook calling out another political crook, Sri Lankan citizens told the political establishment off in no no uncertain terms. It is a safe bet that none, least of all those who precipitated this chaos, would have bargained for this robust reaction. As Sri Lankan women marched through heavy, lashing rains before the Presidential Secretariat this week demanding that the President reconsider his actions, it was a powerfully visual symbol of anger in the face of political chicanery. As young artistes refused to accept awards from two ‘Ministers’ when they came to the stage at a national event with the national clad ‘worthies’ at a loss as to how to react and only able to grin foolishly in the face of this palpable insult, this was civil resistance in its most evocative form.

The link between the Constitution and democracy

In the final analysis and to put the matter simply, the link between the Constitution and democracy are the citizens. No politician can be expected not to ‘tinker’ with the constitutional text. Some do it with flair and aplomb as what happened in 1972 (yes, even by the so-called great socialist brains of the day who pulverised the Public Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission) and in 1978 when the task of ‘constitutionally engineering’ a monolithic Executive Presidency was accomplished.

Others do it far more clumsily and with an appalling lack of foresight as what happened in 2015. But ultimately the protector of the Constitution is the people. And during the last month, we saw the hesitant beginnings of that process.

That by itself, should not be taken lightly.

-Sunday Times.

50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

50 Days Of Madness By The Executive & MR, Courage Of Speaker & Supreme Court & Calmness By The People: A Tribute To A Stoic Nation

It was indeed a fascinating period of time. The Executive branch of our government ran amok; it did not understand the fundamentals of democracy, leave alone its nuanced constitutional interpretations. He did not bend the rules; he broke them. On whose legal and constitutional instructions and guidance, one may never know. Yet he did it, almost at the cost of the country’s precious democracy. For fifty long days, before the country’s populace on whose tired and weary shoulders he ascended to power and before the world whose sympathy he needed most at this hour of crisis, he chose to play a very partisan game. Apparently, the survival of his beloved political party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was uppermost in his limited scope of governance. Political priorities overshadowed the grim realities of the moment.

The Executive

When the Executive was expected to exercise his stupendous judgment on matters of governance-affairs, that judgment not only came into question, it was proven to be unequivocally deficient. Irrational conduct of the Executive took the country by surprise; all the respect and honor one would bestow upon the office of Presidency was not to be; its glamour and luster gone, the holder of office became a laughing stock, not only in the social media, but it was even more evident among his own close supporters. The social media went to town on him. The ‘Smart Phone’ fraternity was busy, sending either on Whatsapp or Viber many a creative cartoon or musical clip that made the highest officeholder in the country a minion subjected to disparage and mockery. A deplorable behavior on the part of the Executive did not do justice to either the Legislature or the Judiciary, the other two pillars of our government structure. But for 50 days the people had to suffer this pitiful melodrama of willful violation of our Constitution. 

No one enjoys eating humble pie. Yet the Executive was forced to eat it, not at the behest of his conscience; he was compelled to do the right thing by the country’s Judiciary and the Speaker of the Legislature. All in all, the Executive’s dissemination and his crazy conduct, specifically in relation to the unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament of our Constitution without any due regards for due diligence for wise governance speaks volumes for the lack of understanding of the nuanced aspects of constitutional matters and challenges to democratic wellbeing of the country. Wisdom is not a talent one is born with; nor is it a product of association with those who are below one’s grade in life and education. Wisdom is a human quality that is, as George Bernard Shaw remarked: ‘We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future’. The Executive seems to be bogged down in the past. His unwinnable battle to save the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from extinction has taken priority surpassing the winnable wars against rampant corruption, nepotism and erratic exercise of powers to suppress and overturn the rightful dues form the ordinary men and women in the country. Wisdom has not dawned on the Executive and one cannot expect for such a miracle in the context of what occurred in the last fifty (50) days.

The Speaker and the Legislature

One conspicuous and hopeful side of the confusing drama that was played before our eyes during the last 50 days is the courageous and spirited part played by Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker of the House of Parliament. He, in arguably the darkest days of our Parliamentary history, stood his ground and showed the entire world that the spirit of our constitution was indeed alive and pulsating without any breakage. Such courage is indeed rare and calls for praise and applause. The unruly bands of parliamentarians who claim to be loyal cohorts of the shameless Mahinda Rajapaksa went berserk; they resorted to the lowest of human behavior and were successful in making Madávi Some and Choppe of a bygone era look like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa. Armed with chili powder and water, they soiled and desecrated the floor of the House of the People, Parliament; knowing very well that they did not have the numbers to defeat the resolution which was before the Members, an utterly uncouth and despicable conduct as was displayed by petty thugs who were elected to Parliament, managed only to reaffirm the general opinion of the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists as puny representatives of a culture that was nurtured and nursed by the Rajapaksa family and their immediate bedfellows.

It was against such anarchical and pagan behavior of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-supporters that Karu Jayasuriya made a gallant effort to uphold the fundamental values and ethos of a human fraternity which we call Parliament of Sri Lanka. However, he was not alone in his fight. The members of the United National Party (SLFP) backed by the other members of the Opposition too exhibited some guts and poise in the face of these marauding armies of parliamentary hooligans unleashed by the Rajapaksa clan. Parliament used to be an educative institute which had within its hallowed walls some giants and luminaries who were role models for the younger generation of that era. We have bidden adieu to that domain some time ago. A new culture has replaced that particular powerful force of our society. Holding one’s own stead, keeping calm at all times and delivering legal and constitutional deathblows to the opposition is indeed a very daring and fearless act. Karu Jayasuriya did just that.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the country is the last refuge for those who seek justice and the rule of law. It is the sacred institution in which many a gallant and heroic argument is made for and against one’s position on any given supposition. During the years of the Rajapaksas, this institution came under severe criticism and disparage. Many a member of this ultimate arbiter of the law of the land is usually held in highest of esteem and honor. Considered to be in the elite of the country’s social pyramid, members of this small group of professional men of law, in the past have written and interpreted some complicated legal issues and passed judgments on them without any prejudice to the men and women whose arguments for and against a distinguished attorney would argue.

The infamous 50 days witnessed the splendor of our Supreme Court; its conduct and delivery of orders in each of the cases put before them represented a microcosm of an independent court of justice. They justified their very presence in the Court with honor and admiration. Some wonder whether the Supreme Court during Rajapaksas would have been so impartial and just. But to pass judgment on the Supreme Court for a mundane writer would amount to questioning their intent more than the very substance of the issues involved. I would leave that to legal luminaries of a future time. Yet one cannot disregard one reality: What was placed before the Supreme Court in the last few days of November, 2018 was of great value in the legacy that each of the decisions would have left behind. Each and every member of that court would be remembered for the decision they made. 

‘Legacy’ value of that decision would certainly have played an unambiguous part in their decisions. They certainly left a grand legacy of right against wrong; legal against illegal and constitutional against unconstitutional. As  a matter of fact the Supreme Court saved the day for democracy and its continued sustenance in Sri Lanka.

The People

One cannot forget the role played by the people in Sri Lanka during these 50 days. Each party to the arguments for and against the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government has its fringe elements. However wrong their party’s stand, these fringe groups would not desert their political allegiances. But a great part of the electorate does not belong to these fringes. They inhabit in the middle; their allegiance is basically to the more sensible and conventional principles of democracy and fair-play. Those people still chose to trek in the middle without reaching the threshold of the fringes. They were patient and thoroughly poised; their demeanor did not change and they lent their ears to everyone but made no comment or pass judgment. That is a mark of a mature nature of character.

That character stood tall. That is the most remarkable feature in the midst of broken down Executive and the Rajapaksa-legacy. That character of our people deserves undiminished admiration and applause. 

The write can be contacted at [email protected]

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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

US urges responsible and quick end to Sri Lanka crisis

Image: US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz .

New Ambassador says global trust, confidence and reputation of SL at stake with political impasse causing serious socio-economic consequences.
Points to bigger challenge of how to deal with the aftermath of this crisis.
Admits crisis has impacted bilateral opportunities; finalising Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $ 500 m grant support “paused” .
Expresses hope for a legitimate Government via transparent and democratic process.
Clarifies that US is being transparent about its hopes for SL as partner and friend; is not interfering in internal affairs.
Assures of not preventing polls, will respect if crisis is ultimately resolved through elections.
Commends civil society and private sector for speaking out against crisis.

By Nisthar Cassim.

Stressing that it has no favourites in the contest, the United States this week urged Sri Lankan leaders to resolve the political crisis responsibly and promptly, as it has far reaching socio-economic consequences, apart from damaging global confidence and trust.

“As a friend and partner, we have urged Sri Lanka and its leaders to move promptly to resolve the political crisis in a transparent and democratic way,” newly-appointed US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz told the Daily FT, in her first interview with the media.

“We have no dog in this fight. We do not have favourites in this political contest. We are looking at an outcome that respects constitutional processes and transparency and produce a legitimate government,” added Teplitz.

Teplitz took office less than a week after President Maithripala Sirisena appointed MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, removing then-sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and thereby igniting an unprecedented political crisis.

After presenting her credentials to President Sirisena, in recent weeks, Teplitz has met with representatives of all political parties, though not yet formally with either Wickremesinghe or Rajapaksa. She said that during the meetings, she shared frank and candid views and also listened to the concerns of political parties figuring in the crisis.

“We have urged that the people’s elected representatives be allowed to resolve this within the framework of the Constitution. We have called on the political leadership and President Sirisena to responsibly resolve this crisis, so that it is clear there is a legitimate, constitutionally mandated Government running the country, and democratic institutions are fully respected,” emphasised Ambassador Teplitz during the interview.

“Sri Lanka must, and has the opportunity to, restore the political reputation of the nation, which is very important going forward. Challenging politics can diminish that reputation,” she pointed out.

“There are some damaging economic consequences from this crisis.I think there is some damage caused to Sri Lanka’s political and democratic institutions.

We do not have favourites in this political contest. We are looking at an outcome that respects constitutional processes and transparency and produces a legitimate Government

These are things we are concerned about as a partner and friend of Sri Lanka,” she added, noting that the full dimension of the crisis wasn’t clear initially, but of late the country has seen credit ratings downgraded, increased pressure on the currency and Bond rates, and private sector concerns of the fiscal situation have become apparent as well.

Teplitz, who is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counsellor, and previously served as the US Ambassador to Nepal, pointed out that the political instability sends a risk message to investors, and hence restoring political stability was crucial.

“What is more challenging is, how do you deal with the aftermath of this crisis.It is important to remember that even if it is resolved, there is going to be a period required to restore confidence and trust among Sri Lanka’sdevelopment partners, existing and potential investors,” Ambassador Teplitz emphasised.

Given the serious socio-economic consequences, Teplitz welcomed the growing concerns expressed by civil society and private sector. “I have seen that a number of industry groups including Chambers of Commerce and Industry had come out and said ‘please resolve the political crisis’ as it is harming the business and economy and future opportunities. Political leaders should take the concerns of civil society and businesses onboard and understand that the crisis has impacted well beyond the political realm,” she pointed out.

As the Sri Lankan political crisis is of serious concern, the US has “paused” finalising the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initiative with Sri Lanka, thereby putting $ 500 million of grant assistance at stake.

“We have paused it as MCC is based on the foundation of respect for the rule of law and good governance. We are waiting to see how the crisis is resolved before we could resume our negotiations and go forward. So there is definitely an impact from the crisis on some of our bilateral opportunities,” Ambassador Teplitz admitted.

However she remained optimistic and hopeful of resolution of the current political impasse. “We are hoping that this crisis is short-lived and something that we can turnaround quickly. We have to do our due diligence to ensure that we make these agreements under the right conditions and expectations, and that we’ve got full faith in one another as partners,” Teplitz added.

Whilst acknowledging that President Sirisena’s dissolution move is being contested in Court, Ambassador Teplitz said the US does not prejudge the outcome but noted: “We are prepared to work with any Government that emerges from this legitimate, transparent and democratic process. Our concern is our friendship with the legitimate Government, broadly speaking,but also with the people, and we are able to move ahead in areas of concern, which includes strengthening the democratic institutions,” she added.

The Ambassador also responded to post-crisis criticism that the US is meddling with internal affairs and also preventing the holding of an election.

“I don’t believe that being transparent about our hopes and aspirations for our partner and friend Sri Lana is interference. Certainly Sri Lanka’s leaders can take our leaf, take our opinions and hopes on board due to our longstanding relationship and many mutual interests.So that is hardly interfering in the sovereign activities of Sri Lanka as a country,” she explained.

“We are also not preventing anybody from having elections. If an election is how this crisis would be ultimately resolved, we support the democratic process being observed and respect it,” Ambassador Teplitz added.

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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: President should beg pardon from country for political crime he committed. – Anura Kumara

At the very moment the political conspiracy was committed with the mediation of President Maithripala Sirisena, the JVP resolved that the political conspiracy would be defeated and all moves that would be taken to consolidate democracy in the country.

When Parliament met on 14th November the JVP presented a no-confidence motion against the illegal, unconstitutional government that was set up. Rajapaksa faction obstructed debating the NCM. Amidst the obstructions, the NCM was passed. A document with signatures of 122 MPs was handed over to the President. Accordingly, the Speaker announced on the 15th that there was no longer a prime minister or a government. As the President was not prepared to accept this another NCM was presented to parliament on the 16th. On this day too Rajapaksa clique did not allow a debate to be held. They attacked with chili powder, broke equipment in parliament, toppled the Speaker’s chair and the table where the maze is placed and behaved like idiots. However, despite the obstructions, the Speaker entered the chamber and formerly got the NCM passed in Parliament.
In a situation where the President doesn’t act according to the Constitution the only action, we had was to seek redress from the Court of Appeal. With the mediation of 122 MPs, we stated that the NCM presented in Parliament had been passed and requested the Court of Appeal to declare that Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa has no power to act as the Prime Minister and his cabinet cannot act as ministers.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal has given a very important decision. The setup government has been barred from functioning until the hearing is concluded. Functioning according to arbitrary, distorted thoughts of President Maithripala Sirisena has been halted. Despite a NCM had been passed in Parliament and the Speaker had announced that there was no prime minister or a cabinet, the President convened the cabinet. Various decisions were taken. The ‘token’ ministers commenced giving employment so that they would have cadres for their future political projects. Do people have to accept the administration of such a ‘token’ cabinet? Do we, as citizens of this country, have to accept an illegal, unconstitutional clique that doesn’t have a majority in Parliament administer our country? Can the President rule the country with whichever group he fancies?

The NCM passed on the 14th and the Speakers’ special announcement on the 15th have been corroborated by the Court of Appeal. We would like to tell Maithripala Sirisena that his decisions have been proved wrong many a time. The gazette dissolving Parliament, the gazette appointing the prime minister, the gazette appointing ministers have been stayed by the Judiciary. This is the worst that could happen to decisions by a President. Hence, we ask the President to withdraw those gazette notifications. His moves have been defeated in Parliament and in Courts twice. The President should not come out of his distorted thoughts. The majority group should be allowed to govern.
What has taken place is a treasonable conspiracy. It is a political conspiracy by Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa to grab power. This treasonable conspiracy should not be taken lightly. We would not allow the issue to be closed even if Ranil and Mahinda become pals and have their hands on each other’s shoulders. These treasonable conspiracies should be countered. As such, we emphasize that the Parliament should pass a bill to appoint a commission to punish all those who were involved in the political conspiracy. The commission should also investigate the moves of the media institutions that functioned supporting the conspirators. The media has a massive task of making the people aware when such political conspiracies are being hatched. However, most of the media institutions in our country stood on the side of the conspirators.

Also, the importance of the proposal to abolish executive presidency is further established with what is happening in the country now. We, of the JVP, have presented in Parliament the proposal to abolish the executive presidency. We would like to emphasize now that this amendment should be soon debated and passed in parliament. We propose that subsequently the Parliament should be dissolved and a new Parliament should be elected according to the wishes of the people. This Parliament is not suitable to carry out any other programmes. Hereafter, no government, whoever makes it and if it is made with perks, privileges and bribes, it should not be allowed to carry on for a long time. We again emphasize that the political conspiracy should be totally defeated, a commission should be appointed to punish the conspirators and then the bill to abolish executive presidency should be passed before this Parliament is dissolved.

It was the President who made this country a ludicrous, clownish anarchic state. It was the President who broke down the economy, destroyed democracy and belittled our country before the world. As such, if he has a conscience he should beg pardon from the whole Nation regarding the political conspiracy he committed. We demand that the President, without continuing with his political conspiracy, should carry out his functions honouring the Constitution. We would like to emphasize that there would be inconceivable uprisings if he continues to carry out his arbitrary moves. In such a situation the President would have to confront a political fate that he would never imagine. We also would like to emphasize that the President has no right to instruct the people to act lawfully if he doesn’t act according to the constitution and the law of the country.

( Taken from the Leader of the JVP, Anura Dissanayaka’s speech at a press conference held at the head office of the JVP at Pelawatta to express the view of the JVP regarding the interim injunction order given by the Court of Appeal restraining Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning until the hearing is concluded. Courtesy of the Lanka Truth)

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