In a well-functioning system of governance, the rule of law should be supreme. However, in Sri Lanka, the implementation of the law is often selective and biased, resulting in the public largely losing faith in its efficacy. This loss of faith has been incremental and often symbolised by a body blow from time to time. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekera taking oaths in Parliament can undoubtedly be put on this list of significant events.
The Parliamentarian from Ratnapura was convicted of murder just ahead of the Parliamentary Election last month. He was convicted of being involved in the killing of a supporter of former President Maithripala Sirisena, who incidentally is also seated in the same House, in the run-up to the Presidential election in 2015. However, the verdict did not deter Jayasekera from bagging the second-highest number of preferential votes, and on this basis his fellow party members lobbied to have him attend Parliament.
Having appealed the verdict, there was little remaining in Jayasekera’s path to Parliament, and he took oaths before the Speaker on Tuesday. Sri Lanka now has a convicted murderer as a lawmaker, and irrespective of party politics, it is morally and ethically impossible for any right-minded person to justify such a turn of events. How is this the disciplined and universal implementation of the law that was promised by the SLPP?
The ruling party may feel it is justified in doing whatever it pleases, given the massive mandate it received at the recent elections, but Jayasekera’s swearing-in coming just days after the Government gazetted the 20th Amendment, which gives an eye-watering amount of power to the Executive, should send off alarm bells in the collective minds of the public. The dual actions of the Government only serves to undermine the importance of Parliament, and sends it further down the ever-darkening road of disrespect and dismissal.
The respect and honour of the Parliament is decided and evaluated based on the actions and track records of its members. If the members are below the lowest levels of common decency, then its prospects of being accepted and respected by the public will be correspondingly bleak. But a weakened Parliament appears to be the exact intent of this Government, which through the 20th Amendment has essentially reduced Parliament to an auxiliary institution.
It is imperative that the group of people who the citizens of this country have to depend on to pass laws and protect their rights adhere to those same contours of civilisation. It is precisely because the moral standards of those making the laws needs to be preserved that it is important to consider the track records of people selected and sworn into Parliament. The regular criticisms of corruption levelled against Parliament can only be subdued when its members cannot be manipulated or governed by vested interests.
The rule of law has been regularly disregarded and dismissed in various ways by successive Governments. If Sri Lanka continues to insist on moving down this road, then it will face serious consequences. Giving more discretionary power to one branch of Government while tacitly ignoring the erosion and co-option of others sets an unsavoury and disappointing precedent that does not bode well for the future.