This Government is drunk with power and feels it can do whatever it feels like doing because it has a two-thirds majority and that is not democracy, asserted United National Party Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim. Despite there being so much opposition in the country over the impeachment process, the Government went ahead with it, which highlights the pure arrogance of the Rajapaksa administration, Hashim pointed out.
According to Hashim, the Opposition is fighting a Government that has little regard for democratic values and rights. “We have to be very strategic in what we do and how we do it on behalf of the people. We can’t perish in the process.” He added that there is a question mark over the acceptability and credibility of new Chief Justice Mohan Pieris.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What do you think about the present situation in the country?
A: There is a crisis between the Legislature and the Judiciary. The values that we built up since independence of upholding the Constitution, protecting the rule of law, and ensuring that separation of powers is exercised properly between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary have now been infringed. It began with the 18th Amendment when certain powers of the Legislature were diluted and powers of the Judiciary were diluted and this is the final result. It looks like there is a typical and very frightening constitutional crisis in the country.
Q: Despite much opposition, the Government went ahead with the impeachment process and has appointed a new Chief Justice. Your comments?
A: Impeachment is a legitimate process which is enshrined within the Constitution. It can be exercised as a tool. But it has to be exercised in the right context. That is where the whole issue is. It is not about the impeachment, but the way in which it was carried out. Despite there being so much opposition in the country by religious leaders, the legal fraternity, intellectuals, and people who had no political motives, the Government went ahead with this process. This shows the pure arrogance of the Rajapaksa administration. They are drunk with power.
The Government has a two-thirds majority so it is not afraid to do what it wants. The sad truth is that this is not a legitimate two-thirds majority because most members crossed over from other parties. They are the ones who have given the two-thirds to the Government. Our contention is that even that has not been done within constitutional provisions. This Government do not want to listen to anybody.
When they made the first mistake, when the process was flawed and when it was pointed out within Parliament and through the Judiciary when there were rulings given that the process was not correct and that it has serious mistakes, the Government just went ahead because it felt that it could do whatever it wanted to because it had a two-thirds majority. That is not democracy.
Q: What is your opinion about the newly-appointed Chief Justice Mohan Pieris?
A: This is not about a person. This is not about who is appointed. What we are trying to say is that any person who is appointed to that position is not appointed in a proper way. There is a Supreme Court ruling saying that the impeachment process is flawed. Therefore Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake’s removal based on the Parliamentary Select Committee is not proper.
Before we could even think of a new Chief Justice, we have to answer the question of whether he is legally bound to be there. That’s the first critical question. The Government has not answered this question. It has not respected the ruling of the Supreme Court.
The second fact is that whoever the Government is going to appoint, the perception of the country would be that the Judiciary is not going to be independent. What we all fought for in this country, the blood that was shed to ensure this country has a value process among society, is now getting damaged. That is a serious problem. Now the whole country knows that the Government is interfering. My feeling is that there is a question mark over the acceptability of the new Chief Justice Mohan Pieris.
Q: Do you accept him as the new Chief Justice?
A: We have taken a stance that the whole impeachment process was flawed and not proper. In that sense we cannot accept the impeachment and therefore deriving from that we cannot accept this new appointment. There are a whole lot of questions that have come out of this process.
Q: There are various allegations against the new Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, especially about his credibility. Do you feel he is suitable to hold this position?
A: There has been a tradition in which the Chief Justices of this country have come through the ranks, they have proved themselves to be people of outstanding character, who have been independent and fearless, who stood for protecting the right of the people of this country. I cannot say that the Chief Justice has come through that process, so that leaves a clear doubt in my mind.
Q: Why did Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Parliamentarian D.M. Swaminathan fail to show their disagreement at the Parliamentary Council? Why did they allow the approving this appointment?
A: It’s a decision the party would have taken for some reason which I am not aware of. But it does not mean that the party has in any way approved the process that has gone on. It does not in any way indicate that the party is happy with what has happened and that the party approves everything that has happened.
Q: If the UNP is not willing to accept the new Chief Justice, what would be your next step?
A: There are two ways of looking at this. One way is that the legal fraternity has a bulk of the responsibility because it is their territory. They need to make decisions on how they are going to accept this. It is they who will be directly affected and be directly involved. But the UNP as the main Opposition, apart from political objectives, has a responsibility towards upholding the Constitution of the country and upholding the people’s rights. Therefore if we feel if this is leading to a situation where the Judiciary is not going to be independent, then we would have to exercise our entire strength to stand against this and to ensure that the country’s value system that we built and the independent Judiciary is protected. That is what the people will expect from us.
Q: As the main Opposition, you failed to make any impact in the struggle to prevent the Government going ahead with removal of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake. Do you agree that the UNP somewhat betrayed this entire struggle and therefore should be partly responsible for the current situation in the country?
A: That allegation is not acceptable. How can you say the UNP is responsible for the current situation in the country? The UNP never approved of this process that the Government went about. We have been pressuring the Government to use the proper channels to do it the correct way. The UNP stood at every point and made sure that we put pressure to make sure that the Government would give equal opportunity to Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake to be heard and for her side of the story to be told. It was at the point when the Government tried to bulldoze its way that the UNP left the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Right through the UNP has been consistent in its stand that the process was flawed and we will not accept this process. Even though there was a big discussion whether we should participate in the impeachment debate or not and whether we should boycott it, we decided to participate only to make ourselves heard. Not because of anything to do with the Parliamentary Select Committee report – that report does not exist technically. We participated in the debate to tell the Government that what it was doing was wrong. We have done our part. Maybe we should be doing more.
Some people believe that we should have been more forceful on the streets and muster people’s action. But that is something that will spontaneously happen when the people feel that it is the time. At the moment we have to educate the ordinary people about the importance of the independence of the Judiciary. Sadly, the majority of the people do not understand the significance of this and how dangerous this could be to them. Our role has not ended; our role has only begun to get more serious. We fought within Parliament, now what we have to do is take the fight to the people.
Q: The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has filed a case against the new Chief Justice before the Bribery Commission. Do you agree that although the UNP claims to be fighting with the people against this process, you have failed to take any action?
A: The JVP follows a different strategy and the UNP follows a different strategy. But in the end, all parties in the Opposition have one main objective: to ensure the independence of the Judiciary and to protect the people’s rights. How we go about it might be different. What we do and what the JVP do might be different but we all have one objective.
I do admit that every move we made might have not yielded the best results. But every move that we have made has been in good faith. Likewise every move made by the JVP might have not achieved the objectives they were looking for at certain times and sometimes they did. We are fighting a Government that has little regard for democratic values and rights and for Opposition rights. Therefore, in such circumstances, you have to be very strategic in what you do and how you do it on behalf of the people. We can’t perish in the process. We need to fight it to the end. That is exactly what we are doing now. What you see us doing now may not be what will happen in a few months. But we are focused on ensuring the protection of the independence of the Judiciary.
Q: Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the Judiciary or the media cannot topple a Government and only a political party has the power to do that. Why is he making such statements when he has failed to form a Government for the last 18 years?
A: If we look at the context of what the Opposition Leader said, he said that some people believe that press statements and friendly media will be one means of toppling a government. Some people believe that if you have the Judiciary behind you, it will help to topple the Government. Obviously what the Leader of the Opposition meant was that it is not those instruments alone that can bring a government down. It is the people who can bring a government down. I too believe in that because people are the ones who have the franchise, the mandate to bring a government down.
What the Leader meant was that the UNP needs to get down to the grassroots and work with the people. At the same time, yes, the UNP has not been able to mobilise the masses. That is something the UNP needs to look at seriously and to be able to represent the aspirations of the majority of the people of this country.
In our past we might have failed but we have failed mostly not due to our own faults. Rather than putting the blame on our leaders for our failures, we have to squarely place the blame on the LTTE because in 1999 when Ranil Wickremesinghe was almost the President of the country, the LTTE injured Chandrika Kumaratunga and tilted the vote with the sympathy swing. In 2005 the LTTE ensured that the people in the north could not go to vote and ensured the UNP’s defeat. The LTTE also assassinated some of the great leaders of the UNP, putting the party in great disarray. In that respect it has been unfortunate for the UNP, which has been a victim of the war, not this Government as it always claims. All put together the UNP has been able to withstand the pressure, especially with this Government blatantly violating all principles and taking people from our party. It is up to our current leaders to translate this into action and into power.
Q: How would you describe the future of Judiciary?
A: We may have our individual opinions and views about the current Chief Justice and his appointment, but the question is how the ordinary man will be able to fight this institution. He is innocent. He does not have huge power and strength. At the end of the day he becomes the victim of the whole process. The ordinary man alone cannot do anything, that must be translated into collective action and that responsibility lies squarely with the Opposition parties and the legal fraternity, the intellectuals, and the religious leaders, who need to take the leadership and give that leadership to the people.