EXEC: doomed? – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
In yesterday’s column, I argued a case for not impeaching the chief executive of the coup that has left our country situation in ruins. At the end of a pitched battle between the forces of unconstitutional ambition on one hand and democratic resistance on the other, the sword of justice struck with integrity to lop off the usurpers’ heads. So I thought the nation-state could now go back to the onerous task of rebuilding the republic.
In a spirit of ‘come, let us build!’ – I proposed that the retributive impulse be shelved, together with the triumphalist rampage that the Legislature could reasonably embark upon. It was with the ship of state in mind – and not for reasons of mercy, clemency or noblesse oblige – that I suggested letting the President off the hook… at least for the present.
Well, I might have been well-intentioned (to judge by the number of those in civil society who agreed that expediency trumps punitive expeditions at the present time), but a tad naïve. For in the aftermath of that weekend reflection, political developments behind the scenes have militated against such a hiatus of justice. In more sobering developments, it appears that while the newfound Government may have to play ball with their fellow practitioners of realpolitik, we the people – remember us, O ousted regime? – would do better to play hard ball.
For one thing the President might still be at pains to sabotage a government that is not to his own liking. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown when the nobles are no longer as obliging as noblesse oblige once obliged them to be. Noble motives are no one’s bailiwick these days… least of all Maithripala Sirisena’s – he lies abominably well; that’s about all. And attributes his devastating faux pas in public and in camera to ‘playing to the gallery’ by his own admission.
There is nothing – save the threat of the Damocles’ sword of impeachment hanging over his head – to stymie pre-emptive strikes by the Head of State against his Cabinet and Government. To a mindset driven by native wit rather than natural justice, it might even seem like the right course of action for a man so wronged. Or haunted by the lure of what could have been. Or the allure of what could be à la lucre courtesy a rising neo-empire’s strategic deep pockets. (Let the discerning reader understand.)
For another, no one – save perhaps Namal Rajapaksa’s social media machine taken at face value – is fooled by Mahinda’s “gracious resignation”. To someone who has laboured long and hard to win, hold on to and abuse power, the stringency of a singular court is certainly not going to be the end of the story. If he looks like he’ll be home for Christmas, it’s only because the former regime (now in more senses than one: a previous government in addition to a failed coup attempt) is playing for time…
And then again, the ex and former regime’s ambitions aside, too much executive power is still concentrated in one man’s grasp. The state press and the nation’s police force lying in the President’s clasp can only cause the duly sworn in green Prime Minister and a blue-in-the-face swearing polity to sleep uneasy at night. Be that writ of mandamus inquiring into the chief executive’s state of mental health be a canard or red herring as it may, there is still the troubling feeling that all these No Confidence Motions have rendered the incumbent Non Compos Mentis.
No Commentary Matters as much as that of the Supreme Court (which a president who ostensibly bowed to its ruling that his term was five not six years post 19A seems to respect). So operationalizing an impeachment motion may be a necessary nuisance that not only raps the chief executive’s knuckles but keeps his soiled hands out of further mischief.
Last but by no means least, the lack of an impeachment for so egregious a crime as constitutional violations by a sitting head of state may set a really bad precedent. This is made even more opprobrious in a milieu where – at least until a trinity of courts stopped the coup short in its tracks – there was a deficit of justice felt in the corridors of power.
With the UNP’s bloodhounds on the trail, the UPFA smarting under their party leader’s betrayals and the Rajapaksa paterfamilias with his eye always on the main chance, it seems just about everyone and every other mother’s son in the JVP might band together to secure that big scalp.
So that in a post-impeachment interim made possible by a broad coalition in Parliament between UNF, SLPP and dissident SLFPers, Ranil gets the presidency he’s craved for so long. And only for as long as it takes the JVP to ensure that the people, Parliament and courts abolish the vile thing.
And if you follow the trajectory I have in mind, everyone (well except the Prez for one) comes out on top. The vector would go from first impeaching the President, which would make the now de jure again Ranil, as Prime Minister, the acting president. In the short space of a month, Parliament would have to elect one of its members to serve the rest of Maithripala’s deservedly abridged term. There is nothing to prevent Mahinda for lending his SLPP battalion to a parliamentary bill that proposes to constitutionally abolish the presidency. Glad the heart of the JVP to find that its 20th Amendment moots precisely such an initiative.
Where the whole locomotive of an impeachment engine could derail is the two-thirds plus a referendum to follow. Horse-trading is tough but not impossible to secure. However, to impeach a sitting president you’d have to get the trifecta of two-thirds; referral to the Supreme Court; and reversal to the House for another two-thirds to ratify. Tough call but not out of the scope of the politics of the possible? Apple of many outraged folks’ eye will be the by-then low-hanging fruit of an out-of-office president being open to prosecution for a litany of wrongdoings while in the seat.
So ecrasez l’infame! Erase the vile thing! Executives from CBK through MR to MS have promised to fall on their own sword to do so – only to have them go back on their words no sooner the purple was in place and the posterior ensconced in the abominable procrustean bed. Erase! Eliminate! Excoriate! End it once and for all! Enough said…
(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)