The stink is rising in Sri Lanka. Already in the eye of the storm for its human rights abuses during the 2009 war against the Tamil rebels, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government is now facing a fresh battery of charges for its indiscretions, but this time from the country’s judiciary. The recent assault of the secretary of the judicial service commission, apparently by thugs, has brought matters to a head. But even before the incident, the judiciary was seething over the unwarranted intrusion of the executive into its workings. In fact, a press announcement about this unwelcome trend by the secretary is supposed to have provoked the attack. For a country used to the spectre of regular abductions, disappearances and sometimes killing of people who raise a voice against the government, it is not difficult to connect the dots. The two-day strike in the law courts and the combative attitude of members of the judicial fraternity have put tremendous pressure on the government to come clean on the matter. However, instead of backing down, the Rajapaksa government has raised more hackles by accusing the supreme court of procedural flaw in dealing with the Divineguma bill. The court suspects that its objection to this bill, which allows the governor of the northern province to usurp the authority of the provincial councils, is what started off the confrontation. The dismissal of a member of the judiciary close to the ruling family by the judicial service commission could have also set the executive on the judiciary.
The tussle between the two pillars of the democratic structure is an ominous development. But Sri Lanka should have seen it coming when the parliament passed the 18th amendment in 2010 as a post-war gift to the president. Apart from removing the two-term barrier on the Rajapaksa presidency, the amendment gave Mr Rajapaksa untrammelled powers over every State institution, including the judiciary. In the days since then, the ruling clique has further concentrated this power in its hands by rewarding yes-men and punishing dissenters. The ruse of an international conspiracy to defame the country, one which has been raised this time as well, has emerged as another weapon of State control. Only an independent judiciary could have buckled this dangerous trend. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, the judiciary finds itself crippled.