| by Upul Joshep Fernando
(January 9, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) ‘JR’s time of horror,’ is how Prof. K.M. de Silva and William Howard Wriggins described 1983 Black July in their biography of J.R. Jayewardene.
Black July 1983 was in fact an operation launched to teach the Tamils a lesson in treating JR’s Executive Presidency with more respect and seriousness. When 13 soldiers died in a landmine explosion in the North, Jayewardene’s regime was rearing to mount an offensive to punish the Tamils, equating the ethnic Tamils with the terrorists of Velupillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE. He was determined to punish the Tamils, who had bucked his executive authority, which he had acquired with a five-fifths majority in Parliament at the 1977 election. He was annoyed at the cavalier fashion his regime was treated by the LTTE.
Immediately after their election victory, JR’s Government wanted to teach a lesson to the vanquished Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was in any event in a pitiable position at the time. He instigated his supporters to vandalize the houses and property of SLFP supporters. At the time, JR boasted he had given three days leave to the police, so mobs were given a freehand to do as they wished, resorting to vengeful activities against political opponents.
It was this very same type of revenge they carried out against the Tamils after the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE. Jayewardene had a further reason to launch this pogrom against the Tamils. In the 1982 presidential election, as well as at the 1983 referendum, the UNP was badly defeated in the Northern Province. Even before the massacre of 13 soldiers in the North, JR had been entertaining a mistaken notion of punishing the Tamils who have not treated him as seriously as he deserved, in his opinion. Jayewardene badly misread the difference between the SLFP supporters and ethnic Tamils. He did not believe they were two entirely different groups. JR’s regime was too far gone to see with clarity what harmful repercussions such action would entail. More specifically his government did not see the very unsavory reality of providing ammunition to the LTTE propagandists, to create an international hue and cry accusing the Sri Lanka Government of genocide of ethnic Tamils. He also failed to realize that political violence launched by their goons could also incite violent protest against the Sri Lankan Government in the State of Tamil Nadu. Jayewardene’s short-sighted decision to punish the Tamils for the atrocities committed by a band of LTTE terrorists cost all Sri Lankans dearly. This unnecessary violence launched on the Tamils was a huge setback for the country. As a result, India imposed an unwanted war in the country. As a result, JR’s probable successors such as
R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake became victims of LTTE assassination squads.
Black July reared its ugly head in 1983 and now in 2013 the black frocked legal fraternity has taken up its cudgel against the regime as Mahinda’s Government has challenged the Aluthkade-based judicial citadel – the Supreme Court. Mahinda, after winning the 2010 General Election and having cobbled together a two-thirds majority in Parliament displayed the same mindset, which the Jayewardene regime had during their victorious days in 1977. It was obvious that Mahinda having that two-thirds majority entertained the vain glorious idea of nullifying any opposition to his immense executive powers. With his newly acquired majority he got the 18th Amendment added to the Constitution passed without any hassle and thought that no one would be able to challenge his superior executive powers. With Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm of the opposition, Mahinda would have thought he had been assured an unchallenged period of supreme political authority. Wickremesinghe’s leadership has broken the opposition camel’s back, so to speak, thereby assuring Mahinda an unhindered playing field without even a modicum of opposition. Anything detrimental to his grand designs was brushed off peremptorily. The Supreme Court ruling on the Divi Neguma Bill was a cause for his ire against the Chief Justice and the resultant impeachment motion against her.
Notwithstanding the fact the Court decision would not pose any threat to the regime, Mahinda decided to punish the Judiciary purely because it had challenged his executive powers as no one else did before. In spite of the fact that a regime change was in no way a factor in the Court decision, the government treated it as an affront to its all powerful status. By bringing an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice, the government is trying to browbeat the Judiciary so that it would toe its line in future. In a like manner, the government is trying to compel the Judiciary to realize it cannot act against the wishes of the all powerful government. It is the same mentality the Jayewardene regime displayed when it wanted to crush the SLFP. In both instances, it is nothing less than political megalomania. Jayewardene, by his insatiable hunger for power, dragged the country back many decades. Mahinda too is vigorously striving to go the same way, creating a massive rift with the Judiciary and dragging the country into a lawless pariah state. It is the only outcome to be expected from the present constitutional crisis created by this regime.
Drawing international censure
In 1983, J.R. Jayewardene tried to punish the Tamils and got his fingers burnt dragging the country into the mire, inviting unwanted attention from international busybodies seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of the country. Now, on this occasion, Mahinda’s Government is treading that danger-fraught route, causing a constitutional crisis with the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice, which could ultimately draw the unwanted attention of international organizations waiting on the wing to meddle in the internal affairs of the country. The government cannot be said to be unaware of the forthcoming March review of the progress, in respect of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recommendations made during the Geneva sessions. It has made a serious mistake by trying to tame the country’s Judiciary and judicial independence.
|Lalith Athulathmudali and JR Jayawardene (4th & 5th from left) at JCA Corea’s funeral
The government’s contention that it is not bound to accept the judicial decisions of the Supreme Court against the impeachment, in actual fact, doesn’t hold water. In 2003, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to take over three ministries, she first consulted the Supreme Court. When she faced a problem regarding her second term of office as President, she went before the Supreme Court to get a ruling for a definitive date on which she could take oaths. When the Court ruled that her term of office expired in 2005, Chandrika accepted it and decided to call a presidential election as per the ruling. When the Constitution clearly states members who change parties after election to Parliament will lose their seats, a ruling by the Supreme Court that they can retain their seats was accepted by Mahinda. It has always been judicial intervention MPs crossing-over to other parties sought, to prevent them from been dispelled from their respective parties. Whenever an impeachment motion is brought against a President, the Speaker of Parliament refers it to the Supreme Court seeking its advice. If charges are not provable in the opinion of the Supreme Court, the impeachment motion can be quashed without any further action, notwithstanding a parliamentary majority.
If the Judiciary can rule against an impeachment in respect of a sitting President, it can do the same thing as regards an impeachment against a Chief Justice.
In light of the above, the government’s refusal to accept the Supreme Court judgment in the impeachment case, is seriously flawed. Ironically, just as it was with the Black July, this impeachment motion conjures up the demons of a Black Jury in so far as parliamentary select committee’s inquisition of the Chief Justice is concerned.
( The writer is a senior journalist with the Ceylon Today, where this piece was originally appeared)