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Premadasa Impeachment, 24 years on, Did history repeat Itself…?

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Since William Latimer, the 4th Baron and the English noble, soldier and diplomat was impeached in 1376 [the earliest recorded], several impeachments of Heads of State, CJs and highest level public servants have taken place in democratic world over the centuries.  Richard Nixon President US, faced an impeachmentIn 1974, compelling him to tender his resignation.


In Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene initiated an impeachment motion against his friend Justice Neville Samarakoon, CJ, appointed directly from the unofficial bar in 1978. In 1991 thirty seven MPs of the governing party, including the two master brains Lalith, Gamini and the opposition MPs placed 127signatures on a document to impeach their President charging him of corruption, insanity and abuse of power. However, President R Premadasa used his executive powers and influence to defeat his defectors and emerged victorious. Either a 2/3 of the membership or 50% signatures with speaker’s approval was a constitutional requirement to place the motion in the order paper. The speaker satisfied that the motion is in conformity with Article 38 (2)-a, and (2) b-ii, of the Constitution accepted the motion and conveyed his decision to the President. The article 70 (1) & (1) c; prohibits the Executive from dissolving Parliament in this situation.


With the non-inclusion of  Gamini Dissanayake and the demotion of  Lalith Athulathmudali, in his new cabinet, President Premadasa’s power base began to fast disappear. Severe cracks appeared in the UNP, the leadership was deeply divided. The Goigama/Buddhist elite in the grand old party, which never really accepted President Premadasa, had been secretly working against him. They did  come out openly against him. HE had hardly any friends in the West. The US and Israel were not happy about the closure of Israel’s Interests Section in the American embassy in Colombo. Twelve nations of the European Community joined in the protest against the expulsion of the UK High Commissioner David Gladstone, for his eye witness comments on blatant violation of election law and  human rights in the South on the day of 1989 General Elections. He antagonized India by chasing away the IPKF from North/East of Sri Lanka. All six E.P.R.L.F. M.P.s signed the impeachment against him.
The main opposition parties including the SLFP and leftist parties wanted him out. Ex Minister, Mr.LalithAthulathmudali, has expressed fear for his life at the hands of ‘extra constitutional goon squads formed to terrorize political opponents.


The background


Since  JR Jayewardene grabbed Executive Presidency, through the back-door, using his two-thirds in 1978,  ‘Goon squads’ controlled by UNP big-wigs were operating openly in towns and suburban area.  The highly rigged referendum in 1982 and the Black July of 1983, called for international attention.  A Netherlands Human Rights Group in December 1983, presented a reported on democracy, Sri Lanka:


"The use of the police or pro-government supporters, to harass, humiliate and intimidate the opposition is not a phenomenon peculiar to this government. The government of Mrs. Bandaranaike was well known for its recourse to these methods. But under the present government this phenomenon has assumed an alarmingly new dimension, in the highly organised and systematic way in which goon squads are made use of for political purposes. These squads are organised in two ways. UNP parliamentarians are known to have a permanent squad of vigilantes in their electoral districts, made up of UNP youth leaguers and well-known local thugs. In addition, vigilante squads drawn from the UNP’s trade union (the JSS) have been organised in each government Corporation. These squads function as para military units exercising pro government discipline and do not hesitate to use violence to achieve their ends."


Posters supporting President Premadasa appeared in Colombo proclaiming that Ex Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and others with him are in league with the LTTE and that two ships ordered and paid for with public funds by him never arrived. Ex Minister Athulathmudali on the other hand alleged that President Premadasa  had supplied arms to the LTTE, and he proposed to save the Sinhala people from both President Premadasa and the LTTE.


Both President Premadasa and Ex Minister Athulathmudali had been seeking to outbid each other in achieving their goal of becoming the head of state on the back of Sinhala/Buddhist extremism.  The impeachment resolution against President Premadasa,  listed allegations that included:


1. Deliberate violation of Constitution
2. Treachery  
3. Bribery and Corruption
4. Murder of Richard de Zoysa, the popular dramatist and senior journalist.
5. Constitutionally  vested powers of ministers and the Parliament, forcefully grabbed for his own benefit.
6. Calling for confidential reports from Ministry Secretaries by passing the honorable Ministers.
7. Illegal acquisition of powers for himself, that is vested on ministers on making appointments, transfers and discontinuation of departmental heads.
8. Supplying the LTTE with arms, building materials and money following secret talks with them; resulting in a massive loss of lives among armed forces.
9. Ignore tender procedures in issuing licenses for two TV stations, including that of Maharaja’s.
10. Distributing state land among family members and cronies. [a 45 acre property owned by Nuwara-Eliya MC was acquired through UDA, to be transferred to Son in Law’s Hu-Jay Company on a 99 year lease.
11. Disposing of state institutions at give-away prices in return for kick-backs under the ‘Peoplisation’ program.
12. Using a replica of the Kandyan Throne at President’s house for his use when meetings with foreign diplomats….
13. Transporting especially made chair and a bed during night’s stay at outstations.
14. Re-scheduling AirLanka flights to suite daughter’s orchids shipments and abuse Executive powers to delay flights that were ready to take-off, by hours until the flower consignments are loaded.
15. Expenditure for,  (a) Annual Gam Udawa, to coincide with his birthday and the anniversary of his taking oaths.(b) Conducting Presidential mobile services,  with money drawn from public funds, with no intimation to parliament; thereby violating the constitution
16.    Sacking, punishing, promoting and demoting of senior public servants at his whim and fancy to create a fear psychosis among the rest and use them in carrying out illegal orders.


The list is too long to be included in full in space constrained newspapers; hence only a third of the charges leveled in the document were given above.

The conspiracy

Since R Premadasa took oaths as EP in 1988, conflicts among the party hierarchy surfaced. Lalith and Gamini were two very popular figures who held a wide support base island-wide. Both of them had been dreaming of Prime Ministership in the new government formed in 1989, but was disappointed when little-known Wijetunga was sworn in as PM. Since then both of them had been in secret discussion with opposition big wigs: especially, Gamini had several rounds of talks with Mrs Sirimavo, the leader of opposition. Quite a few ministers who lost important portfolios at a subsequent reshuffle opted to join the rebellion leaders. There had been others who failed to win junior and state ministry posts too joined the group. The threesome, Lalith Gamini and M H Mohamed had separate copies of the motion for collecting signatures, an operation they carried out with great care;  the names of signatories were not revealed to others who were yet to sign. Until the final couple of weeks, from the opposition only Sirimavo was involved in the conspiracy, who decided to seek her members support only at the final hour.

The plan was to present a No-confidence motion against the government prior to presentation of the Impeachment Motion to the speaker, where both Lalith and Gamini were supposed to defend the government at the debate, but vote with the opposition and defeat the government at the counting; soon the leader of opposition will hand over the impeachment motion to the speaker, who will accept it.


To be continued.
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Last modified on Sunday, 18 January 2015 08:45

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