Take A Leaf From The American Playbook: Indict The Rajapaksas: Accountability, Accountability & Accountability

By Vishwamithra –

“We cannot be mere consumers of good governance, we must be participants; we must be co-creators.” ~ Rohini Nilekani

Forty one (41) pages; thirty seven criminal charges and one other conspirator, three basic elements of the indictment the Federal Grand Jury issued to Donald Trump, former President of the United States of America (USA). One time Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the USA; rightfully elected former President and the current front-runner of the Republican Party for nomination for Presidential Elections scheduled for November 3, 2024. A country of laws instead of mere men and women, America can hold her head high; her Constitution and its fundamental components intact not only in written words but also in action. 

There are more ways than one the indictment of Trump could be viewed. Firstly, it could be interpreted as a sad day for the country and her people, for their Commander-in-Chief is under federal criminal indictment is no trivial matter. Whichever way Trump is trying to make it a joke, it won’t hold any water. Especially when some charges have been made under the Espionage Act, retention of ‘top secret’ or ‘classified’ documents pertaining to national security becomes a serious charge and if proven on the side of the prosecution, finding guilty as charged may not all that be out of the question.

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Nevertheless, Donald Trump aside, as we are not discussing the pros and cons of the case that is now before the Florida jurisdiction in the USA. What is cause for celebration is not the indictment of one of the worst leaders that the world had to live with as he was rightfully elected in terms of the electoral collage system America. Americans and the rest of the world were condemned to witness the Trump Presidency in the last decade, but the fact that holding him accountable before the law is a matter for celebration. Donald Trump remains twice impeached and to date twice indicted. His past business dealings are still being talked about as immoral and unethical; before he became President, despite his numerous failings, he was not indicted nor found guilty by a court of law in America. The cruelest irony that visited him in the most bizarre fashion is that he had to become President of the USA to be indicted before a federal court and the indictment is directly related to the way, shape and form in which he (mis)governed his country.

The substance of governance, core elements of corruption, unforgivable extent of nepotism and glaring incompetence in the overall management of state affairs have all unclothed a system of governance which the people at large would not put up with in the short-run. In a democracy, where the leaders of government are elected periodically, voters hardly wait for the next election to oust the incumbent. In addition to the idiosyncratic conduct of the leaders, the other most important factor that goes into the very nucleus of the decision making process of the people is the prevailing economic condition. Most of the Presidents, Prime Ministers and other members of the Cabinet of Ministers invariably get thrown out. The voter’s vengeance is beyond control and could be ruthless.  

This sociopolitical progress has been proven very persistent in every democracy where elections are the only manner in which government leaders are elected and rejected, whichever the case may be. But what sustains the longevity of a state without a calamitous collapse of society in question is the sustainability of institutional arrangements provided for by each country’s constitution and a strong and unwavering judiciary. In fact, of all three pillars of government, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, the Judiciary becomes the most pivotal and decisive pillar in that whether the Executive of the Legislature goes astray, such deviation and desecration committed by either the Executive or the Legislature could be checked and balanced in favor of justice and fair-play by a strong and intrinsically robust Judiciary. Yet if and when the people’s trust and confidence in the status quo is fractured and found to be demanding alternate measures, the stoicism, wisdom and psychological stature of the leaders come to assume a unique and unquestionable character.    

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The institutional infrastructure and quality of leadership in the two countries we are discussing here are really not comparable. Yet a fundamental similarity is present. That similarity resides in the crisis in Sri Lanka and near-crisis state in America. Whereas in America, the institutional infrastructure is so powerful and built to withstand any and all conceivable dangers, Sri Lanka is decades, if not centuries, behind a powerful and rich economy like the United States of America. 

Donald trump lasted one term- just four years- but is threatening to repeat his remarkable election in 2016. By entering into politics via the Republican Party, Trump has single-handedly manged to drive the it to the right-wing fringes. The dog-whistles he used in order to get elected by hurling every insult possible in respect of the grave immigration issue, concocting a slogan such as ‘make America great again’, he appealed to the base instincts of White America. Promising to build a  wall along the southern border, getting Mexico to pay for it and mishandling of classified documents bordering on treasonous demeanor for a leader of a country, Trump succeeded in condemning the Republican Party and its traditional and well respected conservative leadership into ignominy. Whether the Party would renominate him for President and whether they would elect him again as President is a another issue. After refusing to accept the results of elections, He attempted to cause irreparable damage to America’s democratic institutions by galvanizing his own cohorts to an uprising on January 6, 2021; his efforts were thwarted and the American political and social infrastructure endured that bizarre and despicable attempts.

Therein lies the difference. Sri Lanka simply does not have within itself such strong and steadfast social and political infrastructure that could sustain her democratic ways of life and governance. Furthermore, America is armed with the necessary constitutional infrastructure to withstand a maddeningly corrosive inroad caused by a fellow like Trump. He was not only impeached twice; he was indicted twice too. To criminally indict an former President in a federal court is unthinkable in the Third World. But it did happen in America. Trump being indicted twice speaks volumes for her accountability when confronted by unprecedented events such as Trump’s meddling with classified documents and his propensities to engineer riots and insurrections that fundamentally challenge the very foundation of the American Constitution- democracy.

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When the Rajapaksas were defeated in 2015, the basic pledge that the then Opposition placed before the people was accountability of the Rajapaksas in respect of the plausibly provable allegations of corruption. They ruled for four years from 2015 to 2019; the Rajapaksas became more powerful than ever so much so that a younger brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President by a very decisive margin at the elections.

President’s powers were enhanced by way of the infamous Twentieth Amendment. Gotabaya became a virtual dictator and instead of ruling a country through democratic means, he began governing the country by way of decrees. Every possible bad decision and every possible imprudent policy was introduced and executed. Corruption in the government machinery became much more entrenched and any avenue outside the Rajapaksa family-system was blocked, closed and prohibited.

Today the Rajapaksas are technically not in power; but for all purposes and reality, they still control the government’s switches. Why? Because there is no accountability. Accountability should not be demanded as a matter of extracting revenge. On the contrary, accountability is the most fundamental mechanism available for the average citizen in any civilization. 

The birth and short-lived Aragalaya in 2022 was a direct reaction and response to that breakdown in our civil system. One might argue that it was a protest against the unbearable hardships caused by the economic collapse; the economic collapse certainly accelerated the process but lack of accountability on the part of our rulers was the central cause. How can we right that wrong status? How can we be more comfortable in the enterprise of day-to-day living?

We have the legal and constitutional infrastructure to deal with such exigencies but the will on the part of our leaders is scarce and almost absent. 

Those who pledge a total reversal of the journey that Ceylon as a country and one people trod in the past seventy five years may rise to top of the election ladder. And if that is not likely to happen, all patriotic people must make it sure that it does happen. Temporary and superficial band-aid solutions such as IMF relief and availability of petrol, diesel and cooking gas is not going to be of any lasting measure. 

Once again, the purpose of prosecution of the Rajapaksas and his political cohorts  should not be treated as extracting revenge. If our leaders are to establish any modicum of transparency in governance, if they are to be trusted and taken into confidence by the people, it is incumbent upon all our current rulers to show that that they are credible and trustworthy. The moment the people lose their faith and trust in their leaders, anarchy and all other accompanying repercussions would follow and collective mayhem and chaos would be the ugly result.

It is rather difficult to rebuild that element of trust in our leaders once it is lost. But a genuine and sincere effort will always be welcome, it is a prerequisite in order to set a fresh beginning and it is still not too late. If our leaders are committed to doing the right thing there are only three goal-posts that they need to pursue: Accountability, Accountability, Accountability.

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