One does not have to be a theist to recall and appreciate the words of the great Greek dramatist Euripides, who wrote 2400 years ago: AThose whom God wishes to destroy, he first drives mad. We ourselves think that, if Euripides had lived in recent times, he would have replaced the last four words with Ahe first makes drunk with power.
Almost unlimited power without accountability is what drove Jean-Bedel Bokassa to anoint himself Emperor of the Central African Republic, while enjoying the delectable flavours of human flesh. Idi Amin of Uganda called himself Athe King of Scotland and was responsible for the deaths of more than 300,000 of his fellow citizens. Inter alia, he had his Chief Justice killed and stuffed in the boot of a car and his favorite wife dismembered. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) robbed his country of billions of dollars and left it in such a state that, subsequently, internecine wars have caused the death of over five million people. Like them, there have been many other dictators all over the world (such as Doc Duvalier of Haiti, who practised voodoo and uncounted brutalities) and are remembered with utter disgust for the lawlessness of their regimes and the complete abandon with which they rode rough-shod over the civic and human rights of the people of their countries. They were all hailed as good leaders at the beginning of their political careers but the unchecked power they wielded later made them increasingly corrupt and cruel.
A contribution from the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) was published in three newspapers over the period 23 June to 4 July 2006. It ended with the words: AIt would then be but a small step before some loyalist proposes that Sri Lanka should revert to a monarchical system of government, keeping in mind the blanket immunity that the President is already supposed to enjoy, to do whatever he wishes with our lives, liberty and possessions. It was, therefore, no great surprise to see a recent full-page advertisement in which our First Lady is referred to, in all seriousness, as AThe Queen, from where it would be only a small step to find that AHis Excellency becomes outdated and would have to be replaced with AHis Majesty. The most interesting development that would occur would be the appointment of the ALord High Executioner. Few of us would have any difficulty in guessing that the post would go to a certain crude, high profile media-hater.
Seven years ago, under pressure from the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), Parliament realised that there was an overwhelming need to limit the potential that the 1978 Constitution possesses to encourage our Presidents to become short-sighted dictators. We doubt whether any of our MPs had Idi Amin, Bokassa, Mobutu, Duvalier and others of the same ilk in mind when they voted for the 17th Amendment. All the same, the 17th Amendment, despite a few shortcomings, was passed unanimously by Parliament in 2001. This piece of legislation provides certain essential checks and balances on all arms of the State, particularly the President, to restrain them from acting in a manner that would tend to undermine the independence of the fragile machinery of administration. Whether our politicians like it or not, this Amendment is an integral part of the Constitution, which they have taken a solemn oath to uphold and protect. And that, they must do.
Considering that Parliament has now been rendered largely ineffective by the practice of ministerial positions and privileges being given to those who were willing to abandon shamelessly and dishonestly the political programmes which got them elected originally, we are left with little choice but to call upon our more influential religious leaders of this country, particularly the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, who unquestionably have great, unutilised political clout, to use their position of prestige and authority to help reverse the dreadful trend towards undiluted despotism and the total disregard for public opinion and the public interest that we are witnessing today. CIMOGG calls upon these exalted religious dignitaries, to whom the vast majority of the population looks for moral leadership, to take urgent action to protect this country from wilful violations of the Constitution by the President, and those who covertly and overtly assist in the process. A strong and clear joint statement by the Mahanayakes, to the effect that the Constitution must be obeyed as it is and that it may be amended only in accordance with the provisions contained therein, and that the Rule of Law must be restored, would go a long way to reassure the disempowered people of this country that good sense will prevail against short-term political and personal interests.