Gang rape of democracy

Courtesy of The Island

What we witnessed last Wednesday was, not to put too fine a point on it, gang rape of democracy. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has frowned on the manner in which the yahapalana government secured the passage of the Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Bill. It has issued a media statement inveighing against the government for contravening the due legislative process.

The passage of the aforesaid Bill is, in our book, the legislative version of the Treasury bond scams. The BASL has said it will take up the issue with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. That will surely be an exercise in futility because what the government did in a desperate bid to postpone the PC polls, which its fears, obviously had their blessings. Meeting the President and the PM over this blatant undemocratic act with a view to having the situation remedied is akin to powwowing with Aloysius and Mahendran on the bond scams!

Let the BASL be told in no uncertain terms that firing paper missiles at the yahapalana leaders, who are intoxicated with power and, therefore, impervious to criticism, won’t do if it is really desirous of knocking some sense into them. The BASL is duty bound to goad this regime into respecting parliamentary traditions and desisting from crippling democracy and, above all, causing affronts to the dignity of the Supreme Court because it was at the forefront of a campaign to bring the present-day leaders to power. The apex court has received a thundering slap across its face at the hands of the yahapalana bigwigs who pontificate on the virtues of good governance ad nauseam. Never have the national legislature and the judiciary been insulted in manner! The BASL top guns must take up this issue both locally and internationally and, do everything in its power, to rein it the monster it helped create.

The government has set a very dangerous precedent; it introduced a Bill purportedly to increase female representation in the PCs and, subsequently, smuggled thereinto some provisions contained in the proposed 20th Amendment, which failed to pass muster with the Supreme Court. Then, it unflinchingly had the Bill passed. This, the yahapalana leaders did, having pledged to end the practice of presenting urgent Bills, which foreclose judicial review!

Now, any leader can muster a parliamentary majority by bribing some MPs with ministerial posts etc, manipulate the composition of Parliament to ‘appoint’ a servile Opposition of his choice and have laws passed according to his whims and fancies. All he has to do is to present seemingly innocent Bills to Parliament and subsequently insert unconstitutional provisions thereinto at the committee stages before having them ratified. Hereafter, there will be no need for the government to heed the people’s right to challenge Bills in the apex court and the constitutional provision for the judiciary to review draft legislation so challenged. It may even be able to introduce a brand new Constitution without any judicial review surreptitiously.

The path is now clear for a political leader, present or future, to make laws to declare himself an emperor like Bokassa or Idi Amin.

All those who backed the PC polls (Amendment) Bill must be ashamed of themselves. They will go down in history as a bunch of self-seeking politicians who did the biggest disservice to democracy. The less said about the TNA, the better! It views all issues through the prism of federalism. The Rathu Sahodarayas also supported the Bill. Fearing elections, they are shamelessly colluding with the UNP the way they did in the late 1970s, when the JVP was derisively dubbed ‘Jayewardene Vijeweera Peramuna’. Time was when they resorted to extra-parliamentary methods to destroy democracy. It looks as if they were currently using parliamentary means to achieve that end! The Attorney General who facilitated the gang rape of democracy has no moral right to remain in his post any longer. It is a pity that he has not cared to emulate the brilliant counsel of his department, assisting the bond probe commission, fearlessly in spite of threats and political pressure.

The official Opposition is a political hermaphrodite, to say the least; it has the characteristics of both the government and the Opposition. The Joint Opposition is self-castrated; it is dead scared of taking up issues which are likely to provoke the government leaders into going the whole hog to expedite cases and investigations against its leaders and their kith and kin. Its bark is worse than its bite! No wonder the yahapalana government is surviving like Mike the Headless Chicken.

The term of the Sabaragamuwa PC has expired. But, there will be no elections thereto in the foreseeable future. The same fate will befall all other PCs sooner or later. The government has been able to postpone PC polls in this despicable manner because our Constitution doesn’t provide for the post-enactment judicial review of legislation. Anything parliament passes automatically becomes a fait accompli. A remedy is called for immediately. The BASL, the media, civil society organisations and all those who cherish democracy must campaign hard for having necessary provisions incorporated into the Constitution via an amendment forthwith to enable post-judicial review of legislation.

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