COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The new Sri Lankan government has temporarily reinstated the chief justice whose impeachment two years ago was condemned internationally as an arbitrary political move, the country’s bar association leader said Wednesday.
The government recognised Shirani Bandaranayke as the legitimate chief justice because her sacking by the previous government was deemed illegal but she will resign after being given an honorable farewell, bar association President Upul Jayasuriya said.
Bandaranayake will retire after attending a farewell ceremony on Thursday. Neither Bandaranayake nor the government explained why she is quitting in a day, which allows the government to appoint a new chief justice.
Earlier, lawyers and activists demonstrated near the Supreme Court demanding the sitting Chief Justice Mohan Peiris resign.
Bandaranayake was impeached by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, which accused her of misusing power and amassing wealth. The impeachment was condemned as an act of revenge because she refused to give consent to a government bill.
Rajapaksa appointed his aide Peiris as her successor.
The demonstrators demanding his resignation say he undermined the judiciary’s independence and integrity by being partial to Rajapaksa and cite an investigation into his involvement in an alleged coup plot soon after this month’s presidential election.
Gunaratna Wanninayake, the convener of the activist group Lawyers’ Collective, said Peiris “is not fit to be the chief justice as he has been involved in politics and took part in foreign trips with politicians and visited their homes.”
Besides, his presence at Rajapaksa’s official residence on the day of election “has also raised serious doubts about his independence and it has also damaged his reputation as a judge.”
Police have questioned Peiris over his presence at Rajapaksa’s official residence when results of the January 8 election were being announced. A complaint from the new government alleges Rajapaksa discussed with his guests ways he could illegally stay in power when early voting results indicated he was losing.
Rajapaksa was widely credited for leaving office peacefully after he lost, but the subsequent coup allegation has raised doubts about what really happened. Rajapaksa has denied the allegation.