Crisis in Sri Lanka

( January 14, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Colombo seems to be enacting a scene from Islamabad’s yesteryears. The sacking of a top judge in Sri Lanka has parallels with the constitutional crisis that ripped Pakistan and resulted in chaos and misgovernance.

 Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake’s dismissal is being contested tooth and nail by the judicial community, and is likely to act as a source of political instability in the days and weeks to come. The presidential decree to oust her was taken on the merits of impeachment proceedings conducted by parliament on the allegations that Justice Bandaranayake is involved in corruption — a charge she denies vehemently. But the point of discourse in the legal and political circles is the modus operandi that was adopted to get rid of the country’s first women top judge. The route, almost all agree, was ultra vires and the exigency exhibited unwarranted. This is President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second political assault after successfully sidelining his opponent and former chief of army staff, Sarath Fonseka, who underwent court martial on the charges of abuse of power and misconduct. It, however, remains to be seen what stance the deposed chief justice takes in due course of time and what impact it bears on the fragile political culture of Sri Lanka after decades of civil war, bloodshed and destruction.

Sri Lanka, of late, is passing through a critical phase of its political nurturing. The parliament, media, the civil society, the judiciary and the army have a responsibility to consolidate the gains of an infant democracy, especially the bounties of peace. At the same time, the country is yet to strike a new social contract between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities, who had nursed grievances in the past. President Rajapaksa’s wisdom to rebuild the war-shattered country might get a serious jolt if the ongoing judicial controversy takes roots, and spills out on the streets in the form of a popular agitation. This is why the crisis should be minutely monitored and the presidential camp will be better advised to re-evaluate the entire case. 

As per the conventions of higher judiciary worldwide, there are inbuilt mechanisms to deal with such allegations and charges of unprofessionalism. But any attempt to coerce the judiciary through political means of parliament and the presidency are bound to trigger domestic and international dismay. Rather than opting for frightening dismissals by paralysing the institution of judiciary, it’s time for authorities concerned to take measures to subside the crisis instantly. The minimum options may include reinstating the honourable judge until a transparent judicial probe is conducted under impeccable eyes and hands.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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