Sri Lanka civil society organizations oppose constitutional change

Sri Lanka civil society organizations oppose constitutional change

Civil society organization representing several interest groups in Sri Lanka have come out against proposed changes to the constitution as a move that will further destroy democratic values and individual freedom.

Sri Lanka’s organization of professional associations said the constitution change which lifts a two-term limit on the president and has also come under fire for undermining the judiciary and the election office was not promoting good governance.

The change would also effective repeal a previous amendment which aimed to increase the ability of the public service to act justly towards the people and establish rule of law through a constitutional council, critics have said.

” [T]he OPA wishes to state categorically that the proposed Amendment is not in the interest of promoting good governance or in the national interest and requested all concerned to give further consideration to the viability of enacting this constitutional amendment,” the organization said in a statement.

Sri Lanka’s civil rights movement (CRM) said it was “outrageous” that the constitution change was being “rushed through” as being urgent in the public interest for supreme court approval without people having the chance to even discuss the issue.

The CRM said neither the people nor lawyers had time to make considered representations to the Supreme Court.

Transparency International, an anti corruption body said a 17th amendment to the constitution which attempted to make the public service independent (act justly and fairly by the people) has been made virtually redundant.

“With the new Amendment, the Public Service (including the Police) will be open to political exploitation allowing the politicians to interfere with all aspects of the Public Service,” the organization said.

“This, TISL believes, is not in keeping with the democratic values and will affect the independence of the Public Service.”

Chandra Jayaratne a retired business executive who has been speaking on behalf of better governance and civil liberties said the proposed amendments were a setback.

“The public service and police service is totally made subservient to the needs and directions of the political masters and this structure will leave the public served by them without recourse and effective fair and unbiased service and protection,” he said in a statement.

“Post these amendments the democratic expression of franchise by the eligible public will take a nose dive within politically controlled institutions and media sans independence.

“Within the framework structure and processes binding key institutions of public service, law enforcement, justice, rights and freedoms and good governance as proposed, the public will find it impossible to hold key persons and institutions accountable in all these areas.”

Bishop Duleep de Chickera from Colombo’s Anglican Church said “all who value democratic freedom in the country voice their objection to” the constitution change and the changes should not be “rushed through” the parliament.

“It is when the people are properly informed of the pros and cons of constitutional change, and given a chance to participate in this process and make informed decisions, that democracy prevails and our legislators fulfil their obligations,” he said in statement.

“The political freedom that our legislators are endowed with is determined by the democratic rights and aspirations of the people. To disregard these obligations amounts to a misappropriation of the peoples’ trust.”

Last week the business supplement of Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Times conducted a poll among its readers and said 90 percent of the respondents said ‘No’ to the constitutional change aimed at lifting the term limits of the president.

About 8.5 percent approved the change and 1.5 percent were undecided.

“While many respondents gave an emphatic NO, NO, NO answer (many repeating the word twice or thrice for emphasis), the same emphasis (YES, YES) was given among the few who support President Rajapaksa’s plan for a third term, saying there is no other leader in the country,” the newspaper said.

In many elections leaders had promised to “abolish” the presidency not to extend the term limits, the newspaper quoted a reader as saying. Others said that constitutional changes should originate from the people to increase their freedoms and rule of law.

“Constitutional Change is a must to bring the democratic values and features back into the governance system in Sri Lanka,” said another reader.

Another response said there was little understanding in Sri Lanka that a primary purpose of a constitution devised in Western Europe was to restrain the arbitrary power of the state and rulers over people and a constitution must also give absolute guarantees of equality and individual freedom.

“Until the people understand these two basic principles Sri Lanka will only have fascist nationalism by majority vote (also a Western European invention e.g. Germany and Italy) and not true democracy.”

/ The 18th Amendment

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