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THREE CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW CHIEF JUSTICE - JehanPerera

The government acted swiftly to make the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranakaye a closed chapter. President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not appoint the advisory committee to provide him with a second opinion on the merits of impeachment. This was seen as a time buying exercise to enable the President to find a statesmanlike way out of the imbroglio that the impeachment had apparently created. However, there was no hesitation on the President’s part. He did not balk at removing the Chief Justice from her office despite the ruling by the Supreme Court that the impeachment process was not valid in law and when the public protest against the impeachment process was at its peak. He also immediately speedily appointed her successor, President Advisor and former Attorney General Mohan Peiris to be the new Chief Justice.

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IMPEACHMENT HIGHLIGHTS KEY ROLE OF JUDICIARY - JehanPerera

President MahindaRajapaksa has acted swiftly after the impeachment of Chief Justice ShiraniBandaranayake by Parliament to issue a Presidential decree that removes her from office. This letter has been delivered to the Chief Justice. However, there is considerable support from the legal fraternity that she remains Chief Justice regardless of the Presidential letter. This is on account of a Supreme Court ruling that the impeachment process was not in conformity with the law. A group of leading lawyers has said, “The Lawyers Collective categorically reiterates that Hon. Dr. ShiraniBandaranayake remains the Chief Justice, notwithstanding being unconstitutionally removed.” What will eventually transpire in the days ahead is unclear.

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INCREASING HUBRIS, BY WHICH SIN THE ANGELS FELL By Dr.Jehan Perera

I had Ambition, by which sin The angels fell; I climbed and, step by step, O Lord, Ascended into Hell -- W. H. Davies

Sri Lanka comes to the close of 2012 waist-deep in problems, not least those caused by extensive flooding in large parts of the country.  Hundreds of thousands of people in the central and north eastern parts of the country have been badly affected by the flood waters caused by incessant rains.  The misallocation of economic resources is made stark by reports of tax exemptions granted to night races.  In the midst of the social and economic catastrophe to the lives of a vast multitude of people, the government is also boasting that it will send a Sri Lankan astronaut into space in the next seven years with Chinese support, and the country has also in recent time launched a satellite.  These projects do little to redeem the image of an over-concentration of power and the potential for abuses that arises therefrom, in the presidential system.

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THE PITFALL OF IMPLEMENTING LLRC ONLY IN PART

Recent incidents in Jaffna are a matter for concern.  Two such incidents have widely publicized and have attracted much commentary.  Both of them involve the civilian population and the security forces. One case has involved Tamil women recruits into the army and the other university students who were commemorating the war dead.  As a result of these incidents the political debate about inter-ethnic relations in relation to the government has taken a turn for the worse.  The good work that the government is doing in terms of post-war economic development and recovery is being negated in increased acrimony.  The cycle of political grievance, protest, repression and violence that culminated in internal war needs to be guarded against.   The experience of the past would suggest that the better way is through political reform that is mutually acceptable.

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THE UNMET TASK OF THE POLITICAL OPPOSITION

The government appears determined to go ahead with the impeachment of the Chief Justice.  So far the attempts to broker a mutually acceptable solution have not yielded success. Not even the messages sent by the highest religious dignitaries or their joint statements have had their desired impact.  There have also been civil society initiatives to find a way out of the growing confrontation.  They have sought to convey to the government leadership that it has lost the intelligentsia’s support on the matter of the impeachment and that any good society needs checks and balances as exemplified by an independent judiciary.   But it appears that the peacemaking efforts of civil society groups have also come to naught.

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OPPOSITION CANNOT ABDICATE ITS ROLE TO JUDICIARY -- Jehan Perera

The crisis that is brewing between the executive and judiciary is a sign that the system of checks and balances continues to be functional. In the past eight years since President Mahinda Rajapaksa became the Chief Executive the accumulation of power in the executive branch of government has grown apace and appears to be an unstoppable march. It was thought to have reached its apogee with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by the present Parliament with a 2/3 majority. One section of this Amendment gave its assent to the President taking over the powers of appointment of heads to all key departments of government. This was a power that the previous 17th Amendment had thought fit to share between Parliament and the Executive President. This power sharing Amendment had been passed unanimously by a differently constituted Parliament a decade earlier.

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A DANGER OF INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION -- Jehan Perera

The impeachment process launched by the government against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake has entered its most contentious and controversial phase. The Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to look into the charges against her has declared that she has been found guilty on three counts and innocent of two others. There were a total of fourteen charges against the Chief Justice. The opposition members appointed to the committee had earlier withdrawn from it and the Chief Justice herself had refused to continue to appear before it citing bias. The belief that justice is being done in these circumstances would require a leap of faith. The national Bar Association has taken a decision to go on token strike on Wednesday. Many international legal and judicial associations, in which Asians have leadership roles, have got activated in opposition to the impeachment. This is generating a negative wave of opinion internationally.

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MAKE ALL PEOPLE PART OF WAR COMMEMORATION --Jehan Perera

The government’s decision to celebrate May 18 as a day of victory and the country’s second Independence is another one of its actions that has polarised the Sri Lankan people. Whether by accident or design, it is ironic that through its continuing actions the government that reunified the territory of the country should also be the one that fosters the divisions between the people. I was in Mannar on that day that marked a watershed in the modern history of the country, and saw that the Sri Lankan people were divided in their attitudes. There was no collective remembrance of loss, but a reinforcement of the separation that has overshadowed the post-Independence era.

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REASONS FOR SEPARATING MILITARY FROM CIVILIAN AFFAIRS -- Jehan Perera

The acquisition of about 7000 acres of land in the Jaffna peninsula has become a major issue that impacts upon the post-war reconciliation process.  The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommended the release back to their owners of private lands taken over for military purposes during the war.  This was also the position taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he made promises to the international community that the displaced people would be returned to their homes.  But as recent events have shown, the acquisition of privately owned lands by the military had continued dealing another blow to the possibility of national reconciliation.

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IN THE NORTH, THE GOVERNMENT IS SETTING A VICIOUS CYCLE IN MOTION AGAIN -- Jehan Perera

The government has given notice of its plans to acquire lands belonging to private citizens in the North for public purposes that involve national security. The pasting of notices on trees in Valikamam North under section 2 of the Land Acquisition Act coincides with preparations for the Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year. There is concern in the Northern polity that the purpose of this land acquisition is to change the demographic composition with settlers from outside being registered on the Northern electoral lists.  There are media reports of 3000 families being settled in different parts of the North with more to follow.   One of the recommendations of the government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was that land settlement policy should not be used to artificially change the demographic composition of the war affected areas.

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THE PRESIDENT AND HIS ASTROLOGER—THE MESSAGE -- Jehan Perera

Speaking at a public meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared he would hold the Northern Provincial Council election by September, but on a day to be given by his astrologer to ensure victory. “My astrologer gives me a winning time and I will decide on the basis on what he says,” the President said. The most obvious message coming from this speech is that the long delayed Northern election will finally be held.  In making this declaration the President once again demonstrated his deep understanding of the ethos of the electorate he cultivates.  The reference to his astrologer’s prediction has set the stage for the popular imagination to more than half believe that another governmental victory is already in the making.  
 

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