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Lankan constitution and democratic rights

Oct 18, 2010 5:30:19 PM- transcurrents.com

S. G. Punchihewa

"Questioning the law and speaking the truth cause fear of death in our country. There is a large number of institutions of law, and also there are commissions, orders and circulars in abundance. But only justice is scarce. Rather than disappearing corruption, the person who exposes it disappears. Anybody may get injured without an attacker. Any body may disappear without an abductor. Three media institutions were set on fire. The police still investigate and a box matches would be taken into custody."

How powerful is the president?

In 1990s, when the UNP was in power, there were protest campaigns against disappearances and killings. One such incident was that suddenly Richard Soysa, a writer and an human rights activist, disappeared. Later his dead body was found washed ashore at Moratuwa. The protests were prohibited under Emergency Regulations. regardless of prohibition there were meetings and seminars. Among many protesters there were two persons who shouted: “What happened to Richard Soysa?” This question was asked from the then President. The two persons who asked it along with many others were none other than Mahinda Rajapaksha and one of our Friends, Prageeth Eknekligoda. Now it is dramatic irony to ask a similar question, “What happened to Prageeth?” from the present President Rajapaksha.

By the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the limitation regarding the term of office has been removed. Now, if elected he can continue permanently (6 year terms). The elections under the 18th Amendment are to be held not under an independent commission but under the full powers of the President. Because he appoints the members of the commission. The commission conducts the elections. Services of the police are essential to conduct elections. Police chief is appointed by him. Government servants carry on almost all the election duties. But the members of the Public Service Commission are appointed by President himself. Can anyone expect a free and fair election, which never was and never will be.

He appoints the Chief Justice and the Judge of the supreme court, the Attorney General. The power to appoint Ministers is vested in him. Thereby he appointed himself as Minister of Defence and the Minister of Finance. He spends large amounts of money on elections. He decides on which dates elections would be held. The last Provincial Council elections were held separately, not all the election on one day.

Now here are some powers vested in the constitution:

70 (1): The President may, from time to time, by proclamation summon, prorogue and dissolve the Parliament.

70 (1a) provides that the President shall not thereafter dissolve the Parliament until the expiration of a period of one year from the date of such general election.

31 (3) A (a) (1): The President may, at anytime after the expiration of four years from commencement of his current term of office, call upon an election for a further term.

Suppose while exercising all these powers he may abuse power, violate law, make an error, there is no legal remedy for the people, because he has immunity öf the article (35) of the constitution.

The media is under his control. Both state media and private media. State media are directly under his influence, and the private media are in line with government propaganda in fear of loosing their property. Media propaganda, banners, billboards and other devices are used to create an inflated image of the president in the minds of the people. The image of a great ruler is exhibited every day.

When he goes to address a people’s gathering, suddenly he sees a poor woman with a child in her arms. This great man takes this child and raise him up and tease him and have a couple of words with the mother. Media persons are ready to televise this event and from next day onwards. This drama is shown repeatedly.

When people protest against violation of rights, that is dealt with as a threat to “national Security” under ER and PTA. It has always been defined in the language of those who hold power. They are the nationals. Their security is national security. Those who condone this system are ones with those who derive power from it.

There are twelve Parliamentary Committees and two such committees were:
Committee on Public Enterprises
Committee on Public Accounts.

These committees can supervise government expenditures. It was the tradition, to appoint the chairperson to the commettee from the opposition for the checks and balances. Now the ministers are appointed. So any abuse may be revealed.

Parliament had the supervision powers. Those powers are exercised and maintained through the committees, discussions, meetings, questions and debating. Now debates are full of political and personal mud slinging. Questions are ridiculed.

The Nature of Freedom we have

What is the situation in our Country. We have freedom to feed on our won flesh. How to keep our bodies? It is the diseases sustained by the Ministry of health.

What we should think is, what the rulers think. What is the nature if education we gain. It is a course of training for slavery. Law is only some letters in print. Judicial decision is a set of words pronounced by legal robots. Patriotism has become the wrath of racists. What is the outcome of the political practice. It is like a cesspool gathered since independence. Now they are all out at stealing our souls, which is our last treasure.

What is the nature of freedom we live through in the country? Those who have guns can fire freely. Anybody who reveals the culprits will be killed in broad day light. What will do the police thereafter, they hunt for information to prove that the killing has been done by an unidentified person. The court gives a decision that there is no proof of the death of the dead man.

What is the duty of the citizen? It is to forget about what is happening and to believe anything the state media say.

There are the questions that one should not ask:

Who killed so and so?
Who directs the squads of abductors?
Who possess the guns to kill?
How can killings, assaults, fires occur within a high security zone?

Questioning the law and speaking the truth cause fear of death in our country. There is a large number of institutions of law, and also there are commissions, orders and circulars in abundance. But only justice is scarce. Rather than disappearing corruption, the person who exposes it disappears. Anybody may get injured without an attacker. Any body may disappear without an abductor. Three media institutions were set on fire. The police still investigate and a box matches would be taken into custody.

Victory (as they say) in the North is repression in disguise to the whole country. If you speak up about this situation, it will be discredited either as foreign conspiracy or the voice of the tigers. There are only two groups of people in the country. President defines them thus: ”one group is who loves the country and the others are traitors”. To be a lover of the country, either you have to be humble or remain silent. This is the worst of times in which greed for power has become the law of the land. Therefore it will be a dreadful dream to develop sanity from North to South. Only people’s action can change this situation.

This is the oath President hat taken at the commencement of his term of office. He will take the same oath in November for the second term.

I, ... do solemnly declare and affirm: That I will faithfully perform the duties and discharge the functions of the office of .... In accordance with the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the law, and that I will be faithful to the Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will to the best of my ability uphold and defend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Although it is the text, it means differently. The real meaning may be derived by what he has done so far. Except waging war, what he has said is not done, what he has done is against the law.

I, ... do solemnly declare and affirm: That I will not perform the duties and discharge the Presidency.

I do not act in accordance with the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the law, and that I will not be faithful to the Republic of Sri Lanka but I will, to the best of my ability, be faithful to my family.

I will uphold Lawlessness and violate law and defend the rights of robbers.
I promise to continue what I have done so far.

Before coming to power he said that he would abolish the system of Executive Presidency. Instead of doing that, he amassed much more power and became an all powerful president.

Only people’s action can change the situation. May it happen!

(S.G. Punchihewa is a well known writer, poet and human rights activist in Sri Lanka. He was appointed to the National Human Rights Commission by President Rajapaksha in 2005 by a executive order, Mr Punchihewa refused to accept the appointment on the ground that it should have been come through the constitutional council. Today he stands as a one of the few voices who dare to dissent publicly in Sri Lanka. This is the text of one of his recent speeches.)