Post-Watergate mentality, by which anything left private is taken as presumptive evidence of wrongdoing.
- Charles Krauthammer
As to what the final outcome of the fallout emanating from the 127,000 audio clips of phone conversations recorded by MP Ranjan Ramanayke, is a matter too delicate to cast any prediction. If the top rung of the government thought of them as an invincible weapon cometh the General elections in a few months and the exposures will be detrimental only to the UNP and the foes of the Rajapakshe Dynasty, they were sadly mistaken. Recent release of certain conversations implicating figures such as Maithripala Sirisena, Wijedasa Rajapakshe, Dilith Jayaweera and Nissanka Senadipathy et al., most of whom have been in the inner circle of the President in particular and supported him at the Presidential Elections hints of a sub text.
As to the purpose of leaking selected and sometimes edited recordings above could be the key to the question as to who is writing the script of the entire show. Initially there was some rumour that the MP himself might have tipped off the CID to raid his house so that the CD could be used as justification of his claim that judges and lawyers were rogues and thus escape contempt charges. Thereafter it became obvious that it was not the case as pro-Rajapaksa media institutions in an open and mostly shameless manner kept on playing these recording aimed at figures of the former yahapalana government.
Yet during the last two weeks certain conversations without particularly damaging content to the UNP but insinuating foul play by individuals connected to the present government had startled the ruling elite in no small measure.
Some have predicted that the President himself could be the ultimate target of these releases and picking persons close to him could be a warning and used as twisting his arm, in terms of internal power games that might come in to the surface as the government intends to scrap the 19th amendment, a draft for which was brought by Wijedasa Rajapakshe, a name implicated by recent releases of phone conversations.
Erratic bravado and erotic balderdash
Whatever that may be the damage the tapes had done not only to the institutions such as the Judiciary and Criminal Justice institutions is beyond repair. The erratic bravado as well as erotic balderdash of a actor cum politician known more for his brawn than brain, has dealt a blow not only to those institutions, which have up to now operated as buffer against unbridled power of the executive but to the faith of the public in civility and decency of conduct of public officials. Yet for those who have always scented blood since the Easter Sunday attacks to usher in authoritarian and despotic rule, unhindered by constitutional restraint and judicial interference, it was a reason for a toast, at least initially.
That the audio tapes may expose some of the leaders of the yahapalana regime for what they really are, shameless, scheming and deal making scoundrels behind the sheepskin they wear, does not worry the law abiding citizen a wee bit. Yet what chokes them is that whatever little achievement the alliance managed to eke out from their aimless sojourn in governance, such as the 19A, the Constitutional Council and the independent Commissions are now at the mercy of those who despise democracy, decency and civility.
Brawn, more than Brain
Even an infant, leave alone a parliamentarian, knows the extreme danger of talking to a judicial officer on phone over a case adjudicated by that judge. Yet recording such conversations, firstly in an unethical manner without informing the other party, is political suicide of the highest grade. Sadly, MP Ramanayake had neither the ethical base or the intuitive tact becoming of a politician to see the danger. And now not only he and the UNP but all the good things ( as few and far in between as they were) out of five years of governance of which he was a part has been reduced to tatters.
Judicial independence has been under fire ever since the 1978 Constitution became the law of the land. Judges of the highest calibre such as Neville Samarakoon and Shirani Bandaranayake were at the receiving end of unbridled executive power unleased by that Constitution. Yet Judicial integrity can hardly be guaranteed by Constitutional provisions or legal frameworks alone. Those who man those noble institutions have to maintain, protect and cultivate it with the most treasured prudence and even selfless sacrifice. What the Ranjan tapes reveal is that those at the highest places of public trust lack integrity and could be cowed in to political servitude for individual gain. As to what they risk, not only as individuals in terms of dignity but as a society in terms of structural integrity of noble institutions , they hardly seem to have given tuppence worth.
The wolves in sheepskin
In a way it is good that the nakedness of the ugly interiors of such officials have been exposed and they are in the public glare for what they are without the cloak of institutional privilege now. Yet the flip side of the coin in the current contest in Sri Lankan politics is that rather than such revelations acting as a catalyst for cleansing the judiciary and other institutions from those undeserving and corrupt individuals, they offer a mouthwatering opportunity to those anti-democratic forces who are eager to have authoritarian tribal power wielding as opposed to consensual governance, to carry out a bestial frontal assault on Constitutionalism itself.
In all that gloom that permeates us, there is a faint chance that the tapes could create a friction within the ruling cabal , in terms of what selected tapes are released to the public domain by whoever is now playing God in relation to the entire script. Interestingly, none so far involve some of the most corrupted and loathed figures in the Rajapaksa rule of ten years, most of whom have been at the receiving end of Ranjan’s verbal harangues in public. It is very unlikely that none of the tapes contains his attacks on them with other parties conversing on phone. This gives an indication as to what faction of the ruling party has the key to the hoards of CD s which have been retrieved.
There are indications already that the tapes might contain matter that could be really detrimental to the top members of the government and in the event there being dissent and division in the ranks with regard to scrapping the 19A which is the source of restraint of Presidential Powers and empowerment of the PM, which position is held by his elder sibling, the tapes could be used to hold some to ransom while serving the interests of the others.
Yet the million dollar question is still unanswered: in whose custody are the unedited content of the CDs officially retrieved by the CID and who, therefore, is writing the script of the entire show?