Sep 14, 2020

BASL Elections | Objective view on issues and principles stand key: Saliya Peiris

One of the frontrunners for the post of President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Saliya Peiris (PC) categorically denied any mudslinging from his supporters and condemned any such actions. Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning.

How do you see the mudslinging taking place in the campaigns for the BASL presidential election?

Where I am concerned, the people who put forward a negative campaign are those who have nothing positive to put forward. I think that sort of campaign is unnecessary and whatever mudslinging there is will be replied to in a proper, respectful manner.

Your supporters too have been accused of the same. How do you respond?

That is not at all correct. Where my supporters are concerned, we have ensured there will be no personal attack on the opposing candidate.

Does it not set a bad precedence?

Of course. This is unprecedented where certain persons on social media and WhatsApp groups are spreading absolute falsehoods. Once again, that is probably because they have nothing positive to show.

Wouldn’t such mudslinging discourage senior lawyers from contesting for the BASL presidency at future elections?

Definitely. Not just that, I think the level of campaigning, manner of distributing and spending at the election, and especially when certain people sling mud, there will be senior lawyers who’ll be discouraged from contesting in the future.

Junior lawyers have alleged that the BASL and its functions are becoming further politicised. Do you agree?

As far as I’m concerned, I believe that the BASL should remain independent. I cannot say that I have seen politicisation, and I have no issue with the present office bearers, but it should remain depoliticised. Whatever personal views one might have should not be brought in and party politics should not be the criteria. One must take an objective view on issues and take a principle stand on issues – that is what is important.

It is also important for the BASL to take a principled position; leadership means you have to take positions on issues and not avoid addressing issues.

Isn’t there a code of conduct or guidelines in the BASL to prevent such mudslinging?

There should be. There should not only be a code of conduct for mudslinging but also for how elections are conducted. It is my view that all candidates must act reasonably and they must not abuse whatever positions they have in the BASL for the purpose of (winning) elections.

If you are elected the President of the BASL, would you introduce reforms to prevent such a scenario in the future?

It would be up to the Bar Council Executive Committee to take these up. Also, there is the Election Advisory Committee that has been appointed by the Bar Council. Hopefully, these will be taken up.

What other reforms or changes do you hope to bring about if elected?

I think the BASL must emphasise the upliftment of the Junior Bar. The work done by the juniors must be meaningful and must address the larger section of juniors. I think the juniors in the profession need guidance and that ought to be ensured.

I also think the BASL must take a principled position on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, which are important aspects of a profession and must be safeguarded by the BASL. We must ensure the rights of the membership are safeguarded.

The BASL should remain an independent organisation, remain strong, and be based on principles, as it’s one of the largest professional bodies. It is very important for a leader to align with his principles and to be guided by those principles.

By Skandha Gunasekara