Sri Lanka’s ruling party lawmakers yesterday submitted a motion to impeach the country’s top judge as President Mahinda Rajapakse moved to crush another of his former allies in an escalation of tensions between the government and judiciary.
Days after the foreign minister said Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake had “violated the constitution,” officials confirmed that Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance party had now moved to have her sacked.
“Government MPs have handed over a motion calling for the impeachment of the chief justice,” said Chandima Weerakkody, the deputy speaker of parliament.
While Weerakkody did not give details of the motion, one of Rajapaske’s ministers told a press conference that there had been “disagreements” between the government and chief justice stretching back over a period of time.
“The government group believed that the judiciary is overstepping ... its authority,” Sri Lankan Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.
The move is the latest sign of efforts by the government to tighten its grip on power after crushing the Tamil Tigers in 2009 at the end of a 37-year conflict, as well as its willingness to go after its one-time allies.
Rambukwella said that the speaker of parliament, Chamal Rajapakse, who is the president’s eldest brother, would appoint a panel to go into charges against the chief justice.
The minister said 117 ruling party MPs had signed the impeachment resolution by yesterday morning, including himself.
An impeachment motion only requires a minimum of 113 of the 225 lawmakers for it to succeed. However the process could take months and requires an address to parliament by the president.
“We are working according to the constitution. We are using the process set out in the constitution to remove a judge,” Rambukwella said. “When there are disagreements with the judiciary and the legislature, we need to take action so that we can move forward.”
Bandaranayake, 54, was appointed as the country’s first woman chief justice in May last year and she has another 11 years in office. A former professor of law, she had been handpicked for the top judicial job by Rajapakse’s government last year.