Lack of judgment
Posted on April 11th, 2017

Editorial Island

We quoted National Unity Alliance Leader Azath Salley, in yesterday’s main news item, as saying President Maithripala Sirisena had assured him that the established procedures would be followed in appointing judges. The President is only making a virtue of necessity! Having promised to usher in good governance, the government cannot act in contravention of time-honoured procedures. Similarly, Salley ought to give a pledge to the public that established procedures will also be followed in removing judges. For, in 2015, his efforts to make the then Chief Justice Mohan Peiris resign left a bad taste in many a mouth.

It is heartening that sanity has shown signs of prevailing at long last. President Sirisena has incurred the wrath of judicial officers by intervening to appoint a lawyer, named Ramanathan Kannan, to the High Court at the expense of a number of deserving District Court judges. He has not only landed the respected member of the unofficial bar in an embarrassing position but also cut a very pathetic figure himself. Now, it is alleged that the government has discriminated against two senior Appeal Court judges in trying to appoint the President of the Court of Appeal. It is said to be planning to appoint a judge of its choice to that post. Such political interference with judicial appointments is antithetical to the concept of good governance the present government pretends to cherish.

Anything King Midas touched turned into gold instantly. Our political leaders, who are full of themselves, have a remarkable ability to turn anything into a total mess by simply touching it. This is why they must never lay their hands on vital state institutions like the judiciary.

Those who expected the present administration, which promised a radical break from its predecessor’s style of governance, to make a difference are disappointed. The manner in which Chief Justice Peiris was ousted immediately after the 2015 regime change came as a shock. The Rajapaksa government abused its power to impeach Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake wrongfully and President Maithripala Sirisena misused his executive powers to get rid of CJ Peiris to pave the way for the reinstatement of Bandaranayake. The incumbent dispensation seems to think that two wrongs always make a right!

President Sirisena should desist from interfering in judicial appointments or resorting to any action which can be construed as a violation of the Constitution, for his own sake. It is only too well known that there is a not-so-cold war between the UNP and the SLFP in the yahapalana government. The SLFP and the UNP members of the Cabinet are at one another’s jugular in a bid to consolidate their power at the centre. This conflict is bound to come to a head sooner or later though the yahapalana leaders are papering over the cracks. If the SLFP-UNP political marriage collapses, the President will be reduced to a mere figurehead. The only way he can avoid such a fate is to capture power in Parliament. This is not a possibility in that the JO, which has within its ranks 50 UPFA MPs, has already said it won’t work together with the SLFP (Maithri faction) on the President’s terms. So, only the UNP has the potential to control Parliament by engineering some crossovers from the SLFP if need be. The JO is likely to remain aloof in such a situation deriving a perverse pleasure from its bete noire, Sirisena, stewing in his own juice. Odds are stacked against the President on the political front.

President Sirisena had no qualms about joining forces with the UNP to achieve his presidential ambitions at the expense of the SLFP. Likewise, the JO is likely to cooperate with anyone desirous of seeing the back of the President.

The need for President Sirisena to tread cautiously and ensure that all his actions are well within the constitutionally prescribed limits cannot be overemphasised.

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