This is an era of activism. Radicalisation of institutions is the order of the day! The judiciary is leading the way by taking on the legislature and the executive and its campaign has had a bandwagon effect. Several other institutions are apparently following suit with the noble goal of turning this little country into a five star democracy.
Now, we hear that the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) is planning to move a resolution calling upon all political parties to impeach President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The proposal to be moved at a Special General Meeting of the OPA on April 08, 2008 reads: The OPA calls upon all political parties represented in Parliament to bring in a motion to impeach the President and ask them to put aside sectarian party interests and instead act to uphold the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold and follow.
The OPA is of the view that there has been a willful violation of the Constitution on the part of the President due to the non-establishment of the Constitutional Council (CC) and its right, as a professional outfit, to propose a course of action to deal with an issue of national importance cannot be questioned. However, an impeachment move is bound to have a composite fallout.
The Constitution spells out the grounds on which Parliament can remove the President with the concurrence of the Supreme Court. They are his incapability to discharge the functions of his office by reason of mental or physical infirmity, intentional violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, misconduct or corruption involving the abuse of the powers of his office or any offence under any law involving moral turpitude.
But, the process of removing the President is tortuous. First, the notice of a resolution to impeach him has to be signed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament or it has to be signed by not less than one half of the whole number of Members of Parliament and the Speaker should be satisfied that such allegation or allegations merit inquiry and report by the Supreme Court .
Thereafter, the resolution should be passed by not less than two thirds of the whole number of MPS (including those not present) for it to be referred to the Supreme Court by the Speaker. The President can defend himself in the Supreme Court either by appearing or through a lawyer. If the Supreme Court holds that the President is permanently incapable of functioning in his office or guilty of one or more of the aforesaid offences, Parliament has to ratify the resolution by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of MPs (including those not present) for the President to be removed. This is a tall order, to say the least.
The OPA s move harks back to an attempt to impeach President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1991. It was initiated not by a professional organisation but by a group of dissident MPs of his own government. It had a cataclysmic impact, which triggered a process that eventually plunged the country into a turmoil in which we lost two strong leaders, President Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali in 1993.
President Premadasa not only torpedoed the impeachment motion before it was placed on the Order Paper by forcing most of the UNP MPs who had signed it to withdraw their signatures but also sacked those who had masterminded it Lalith, Gamini and Premachandra. The then Speaker M. H. Mohamed was so shocked that he got himself admitted to hospital hurriedly to avoid presidential wrath which knew no bounds. Having got rid of the dissident triumvirate, President Premadasa tried to appease his parliamentary group. And the number of ministers increased!
The present Opposition will, no doubt, be enamoured of the OPA s resolution. But, it obviously lacks the strength to implement it. The UNP, the only party that can be expected to plunge feet first into initiating an impeachment motion, has only 42 MPs on its side. It has already lost 24 parliamentarians to the government. If it loses a few more MPs, the JVP will stake claim for the post of the Opposition Leader.
The UNP is struggling to overcome serious internal strife and speculation is rife that another batch of UNP MPs will pole-vault to the government side. The kneejerk reaction of President Rajapaksa to the earliest sign of trouble will be to engineer more crossovers and debilitate the UNP further. And he will also try to obviate dissent within his own ranks by appointing more ministers. One shudders to think of that!
The OPA cannot bank on the JVP to impeach the President. True, there are some JVP MPs who will love to see the back of President Rajapaksa for the raw deal they have got from him but if they align themselves with the UNP to achieve that end, their party is likely to suffer a split as most JVP MPs are wary of rocking the boat, given the crucial phase the war has entered. The JVP is also mindful of the fact that the President is empowered to dissolve Parliament at any time and pushing him to that extreme will be counterproductive. Fear of a snap election was one of the reasons why the JVP refrained from shooting down the budget last December.
But, it is only wishful thinking that the disgruntled government MPs will take a blind plunge and risk their political future simply for the sake of an impeachment move. They, being calculating politicians, know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. That was why the UNP s plan to defeat the December budget with their help went awry.
Thus, it could be seen that the OPA has its work cut out as those in Parliament it has pinned hopes on are not equal to the task of ousting the President. They are worried about their own survival.
So, the OPA is in the same predicament as the wise old rat, which had a plan and a bell but was without anyone around to bell the proverbial cat.