Towards authoritarian rule
| by Raj Chengappa
( January 18, 2013, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has done a great disservice to his country by appointing a legal adviser to his Cabinet as the new Chief Justice (CJ) of the island nation. The new CJ, Mohan Peiris, is a retired Attorney-General, but known for his closeness to the President more than his achievements as a legal luminary. Peiris has replaced Shirani Bandaranayake, who was sacked on Sunday following her impeachment by the Sri Lankan Parliament dominated by members of Rajapaksa’s party. The parliamentary committee constituted for her impeachment found her guilty of having unexplained wealth and misusing power. But the truth is that she has an independent mind and is not pliable. She fell out of favour with the President after delivering a judgement not in accordance with the wishes of Rajapaksa.
It is not without reason that the Asia Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Sam Zarifi, has remarked that “Mohan Peiris’ appointment as the new Chief Justice, after a politically compromised and procedurally flawed impeachment, adds serious insult to the gross injury already inflicted on Sri Lanka’s long suffering judiciary.” The dismissal of Shirani has come under sharp criticism also from various sections within the island nation, including lawyers.
Rajapaksa, however, does not appear to be bothered about what the critics of his action have to say. He has been enjoying a high popularity rating since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009 with the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during his rule. His following among the people remained intact when he fired the army chief under whose command the LTTE was eliminated. However, today Rajapaksa is being accused of perpetuating his family rule. His elder brother is the Speaker of Parliament and two of his other brothers hold important positions in the government. His eldest son is a lawmaker. With the judiciary also coming under his grip, he can continue with his authoritarian rule unchallenged. But with his latest action, Rajapaksa has damaged the image of Sri Lanka considerably in the comity of nations. The island nation will now be known for having a judiciary hardly different from a kangaroo court.