The March of Folly The sad death of liberal Karu
Posted on November 14th, 2017

By Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

The saddest casualty of the Yahapalanaya Government determination to abandon all pretence of promoting democracy, let alone good governance, has been Karu Jayasuriya. I once thought of him as a decent man, weak but never doing dastardly deeds on his own. When he first started abusing the Office of Speaker, I made excuses for him, and even wrote to apologize for harsh criticism since I thought he must have been affected by the family bereavement he suffered.

But his latest chicanery has convinced me that he is the worst Speaker this country has had to endure, totally subordinating the Legislature to the Executive with no attention to parliamentary norms. Previously I had thought Bakeer Markar the worst, beginning from the days when he admitted a second member for Kalawana into Parliament. This little trick precipitated a crisis when the Jayawardene Government then brought legislation to perpetuate this. The Supreme Court said, obviously, that this required a Referendum, which worried Jayewardene since consulting the country on such a subject was obviously ridiculous. My father came to the rescue declaring that, if the obnoxious extra member whom Bakeer Markar had brought in by sleight of hand resigned, he would let the matter lapse. Jayewardene told my father that he was required to report any vacancy (for the Elections Commissioner to then work on filling it), the operative word being ‘shall’. My father noted that the operative word was ‘vacancy’ and that, if he thought there was none, he was entitled to keep quiet.

Jayewardene argued that that was going against the Speaker’s decision, but my father said that he was not responsible for the Speaker’s illegal rulings, and he could not be bound by them as opposed to the law. He added that, if a case were brought against his decision, he should be allowed to defend himself, without the Attorney General’s Department confusing matters. Jayewardene was relieved and accepted the advice, and so the additional member for Kalawana lapsed.

This time round, in what is an even worse ruling, Karu also brought in the Attorney General’s Department for good measure. This was I think to obscure his own responsibility for perverting the Constitution and the ruling of the Supreme Court. After all, he needs to consult the Attorney General only about new Bills, so indeed what he did was in effect an admission that this was a new Bill.

And then, when the Attorney General threw the ball back at him in citing Erskine May and saying the decision was up to Parliament, he shirked the responsibility and took refuge behind the Attorney General’s inconsistent claim that a two thirds majority was enough. Since that figure comes from the Constitution, the more important provision in the Constitution, upheld by the Supreme Court, that anything affecting the franchise requires a referendum too, should also have been taken into account.

But Karu sadly is hell bent only on hanging on in office, and to do this he has to please those in power. Some years back, when Sagarica Delgoda wanted to send someone from the UNP to a meeting of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, and mentioned Karu, I welcomed this since I thought he understood the basic tenets of liberal democracy. Characteristically, for her main focus was Ravi (who even elevated her to chair the holding company of the Hilton Hotel), she then sent Ravi instead, and for years he masqueraded as a Liberal while his Party was firmly entrenched in the international association of Conservative Parties.

But Karu I thought belonged to the liberal wing of the party, which I associated with Dudley Senanayake. Unfortunately, having floundered when he might have provided leadership that would have revived the national standing of the party, he has now turned into a time server, anxious only to please those in power. As when the historian George Dangerfield diagnosed the death of Liberal England, so too it now seems that, with this entrenchment of Jayewardene style authoritarianism, the last hope of a revival of the Senanayake’s liberal UNP has vanished.

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