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Rule of law and good governance


By Shanie
Courtesy: The Island

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.’

(December 05, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)Shelley’s ironical poem is about human power and a vain man’s capacity to project himself and his self-styled achievements. A broken statue lies in the desert. All what remains on the pedestal of the statue are two trunkless legs with the above words inscribed thereon. Shelley ends the poem: ‘Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.’ The self-styled king of kings thought his works were so wonderful that the mightiest men would look on them and only despair that they could not achieve such greatness. The irony is that nothing else remains of such ‘great works’ except those trunkless legs. Without casting any aspersions on any person, it would be good if our leaders and those who aspire to leadership refrain from projecting themselves as Ozymandias did.

In many ways, the upcoming Presidential Election has many similarities to the parliamentary election of July 1960. Four months earlier, the UNP had won 50 seats to SLFP’s 46 in the election which returned 151 members to Parliament. The UNP formed a minority government but was defeated in Parliament when the Throne Speech was voted on. A fresh election was forced on the country. The UNP went into the July election with all the advantages of a ruling party in power. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had, for the July election, taken over the leadership of the SLFP. The media went into a crude frenzy to attack her as a political novice incapable of giving leadership to a government and to the country. Professor Ludowyk wrote at that time: ‘Every weapon in the armoury from gingalls to sten guns was thrown into the fight by supporters who did not care how the campaign was conducted provided the election was won. With its band of election agents and veterans in full blast, and one section of the Press not above adding vulgar noises not officially set down in the score, the UNP drowned the wind with the noise of its electioneering.’ With the deafening sound of their own rhetoric, the UNP neither heard nor felt the way the wind was blowing. In the end, despite increasing their share of the popular vote, the UNP lost the election winning only 30 seats to the SLFP’s 75.

The campaign managers of both leading candidates at the forthcoming election must draw lessons from the vulgar campaign that was unleashed against Mrs Bandaranaike in July 1960. It boomeranged on her opponents. It was both a revulsion at the crudity of the campaign as also a vote of confidence in her ability, despite lack of political experience, to provide leadership. To be sure, crude and unprincipled name-calling will go against the name-callers.

The ‘Independent’ Commissions

It was shocking to read a report in the Sunday Island that President Rajapaksa had told the media at a meeting at Temple Trees that he had not appointed the Constitutional Council, which he was constitutionally bound to do, because he did not think they would be independent and therefore serve any purpose. The 17th Amendment, enacted during the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga was one of those rare occasions when there was consensus among all parties that the independent commissions to be set up under that constitutional amendment would ensure better governance. To ensure independence, the Amendment specifically prohibited members of any political party from being appointed to the Constitutional Council. Such appointees were to be persons of eminence and integrity who had distinguished themselves in public life. The majority of this nine member Council were to be selected by consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. This worked well during the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga and the names recommended by the current Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition were also men of eminence and integrity. But the President chose to disregard the joint recommendations of his own Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Constitutionally, the President could appoint members to the other Commissions like the Police Commission and Public Service Commission only on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The President chose not to appoint the Constitutional Council and then went on to appoint his own nominees to the other Commissions. He now tells the media how absurd it was to think that people appointed by the politicians of the government and the opposition (probably meaning the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition) could be deemed to be independent. That probably is his logic for appointing his own nominees. Only his nominees could be deemed independent? It is therefore now very necessary that all Presidential candidates make their stand clear on the 17th Amendment so that the public will know their commitment to a depoliticized public service.

Basil Fernando, that crusader from the Asian Human Rights Commission, in a recent contribution laments the pathetic levels to which law and order have deteriorated in Sri Lanka. He says, and this columnist agrees, that the restoration of law and order should be a vital promise that the Presidential candidates must pledge to the people. The Police have received unfavourable attention in recent times and this can be attributed to the politicization of the police service and the lack of an independent National Police Commission. Fernando quotes from a recent response received by an organization from the National Police Commission:

"(We are) in receipt of your letter dated 24th November 2009 on the above subject. Perhaps you may be aware that the National Police Commission (NPC) has not been meeting since 10th April 2009 due to want of quorum. The vacancies in the Commission have not been filled as the Constitutional Council has not been constituted. In the interim, the Cabinet of Ministers has decided that all work hitherto done by the NPC should be attended to by the Secretary Ministry of Defence and the IGP."

This is the pathetic level to which the intended independent National Police Commission has descended. We can only hope that the President has been misquoted in The Island report. However, in view of that report, we need a firm commitment from all Presidential candidates that in the event of their winning the election, they would, Presidential immunity notwithstanding, not only uphold the constitution but also ensure the rule of law and good governance.

A Clean Election

We are already receiving reports of acts of political thuggery and violence from several parts of the country. We cannot have a free and fair election if there is widespread intimidation. The Elections Commissioner has stated that he would ensure a violence-free election. But, even with the best will which undoubtedly he has, he cannot do so by himself unless he receives support from a depoliticized Police. The new IGP has assured such support and issued a warning to his subordinates that they would be held accountable if there was election violence in their respective areas. But, as the Island editorially commented on Wednesday, we have had such pledges from previous IGPs as well. IGP Balasuriya can turn his pledge into reality if he really resolves to do so. As the editorial pointed out, if he is able to do that, it will an achievement second only to defeating terrorism.

There is also a danger of communal feelings being aroused by bankrupt politicians. On Monday, reporting on Sarath Fonseka’s media conference, one newspaper headlined its report that Fonseka had wanted LTTE funds for his campaign. That Fonseka had made no such statement was clear from the live telecast that many had the privilege to watch; the only construction for such a headline was that it was intended to arouse base Sinhala nationalist feelings; that Fonseka was selling out to the Tamils. Fonseka did mention that he would even welcome support even from Prabaharan’s parents. There was nothing wrong with that. Prabaharan’s father is a retired public servant and, as far as we know, has taken a dignified apolitical stance apropos his son’s actions. There is no indication that he or his wife would move away from that apolitical position. But obviously there are elements using that statement of Fonseka to arouse Sinhala nationalist feelings against him. Those bankrupt politicians, who could not even win a single seat at the Southern Provincial elections and who now see red in in Fonseka getting the support of an apoltical Mr Velupillai, seem to have no compunction in embracing men who directed the massacre of hundreds of Policemen, Buddhist monks and Muslim worshippers. The candidates must distance themselves from such elements who engage in communal sloganeering.

When genuine heroes are being turned traitors overnight, one cannot but recall the speech of Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Caesar in the brilliant prose of Shakespeare. He is able turn around the statement ‘Brutus is an honourable man’ to mean just the opposite; he ends the funeral eulogy: "O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts. And men have lost their reason."
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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