No constitutional breakdown, says Sri Lankan Minister

Sri Lankan Parliament ignored a Court order quashing a report against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, and began a two-day debate on Thursday on the report, to impeach her.But the legislature, backed by an all powerful executive, debated the report prepared by the Parliament Select Committee (PSC), which had held Ms. Bandaranayake guilty of some of the 14 charges against her.

Asked if this did not signal a constitutional breakdown, Cabinet spokesperson and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said he would not see it that way. His point was that the Court carried its mandate of interpreting the Constitution too far: “I don’t know if you are empowered to amend the Constitution through interpretation,” he said.

A section of lawyers termed this a constitutional deadlock. Lawyers Collective, an organisation that stands for protecting the independence of the judiciary, called Thursday to be observed as a “national day of mourning”. “The Executive and Parliament have jointly decided to proceed with the impeachment, notwithstanding the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal determination holding it to be unconstitutional,” it said in a statement.

Inside the House, at various stages, opposition members, including Vijitha Herath (JVP) and Dayasiri Jayasekara (UNP), raised questions over the legitimacy of the report, but were shouted down by the ruling UPFA members, who form two-thirds of the House. The opposition also raised some procedural issues; subsequently, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa adjourned the House, to seek clarifications.

Reading out the charges against the Chief Justice, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Cabinet Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, moved the motion to impeach Ms. Bandaranayake. Mr. Jayasekara wanted to know if she had been found guilty by the PSC. “If yes, is there a resolution. If she has committed an offence, then the PSC should state that she committed a [particular] offence,” he said. Joseph Michael Perera (UNP) wanted to know why the PSC enquired into only some of the 14 charges. “The mandate given to committee was to investigate 14 charges. The evidence should be included. It is not here. This report before Parliament is a fake report and cannot be accepted.”

The House will vote on the motion on Friday. With a two-thirds majority, the ruling combine, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, has nothing to worry. The Chief Justice can be impeached with a simple majority. Then, the decision of Parliament will be conveyed to the President. The Chief Justice will stand impeached once he makes a formal announcement.

Asked if the President has a time limit to make the announcement, Mr. Rambukwella said there was no such time limit. The President had also announced that he would appoint a committee to look into the proceedings ahead of making an announcement. Asked if such a committee has been constituted, Mr. Rambukwella said the “committee was yet to be officially appointed”.

Courts across Sri Lanka remained shut on Thursday. Pro-impeachment and anti-impeachment rallies were held in Colombo despite heavy rain. Posters appeared across the city condemning “TNA, JVP & Shirani in new Tiger conspiracy of traitors.”

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