By Vatican News staff writer
Religious leaders in Sri Lanka, alongside representatives of civil society, have lent their voices in protest against a constitutional amendment that they fear will consolidate power in the president’s hands and undermine the nation’s democracy.
Since its enactment in 1978, Sri Lanka’s constitution has been amended nineteen times. In September, the government set out a proposed twentieth amendment to the constitution.
The 20th amendment, if passed, will grant even more powers to the executive president, including full legal immunity. It will also weaken the parliament, prime minister and ministers, and reduce the independence of the judiciary and other independent bodies.
The Supreme Court’s verdict on the proposed amendment has already been submitted to the president and speaker in parliament. They will announce the decision to parliament on 20 October. So far, at least 38 petitions against the amendment have been submitted to the Supreme Court by individuals and groups.
Bishops’ call for a new constitution
The Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, in a statement on Tuesday, stressed that “the concentration of power in an individual without checks and balances does not augur well for a democratic, socialist republic.”
They noted that “greater clarity is needed if the constitution is to serve the citizenry, thus the 20th amendment should not be proceeded with, in its entirety.” Instead, “a new constitution should be the national priority at the moment.”
“A two-thirds majority of the members of the parliament based on political parties does not necessarily manifest the true conscience of the people,” the Bishops added.
The Bishops also recalled that all elected presidents since 1994 have vowed to abolish the executive presidency and transfer power to the democratically elected president but none “had the political will to do so for reasons not known to the people.”
Opposition to the amendment
Other religious leaders and representatives of civil society have also spoken up against the proposed amendment.
Several other Christian denominations, including the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Baptist, Salvation Army, and Church of South India, among others, requested the government to promote the independence of key institutions and accountable governance, in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The nation’s two main Buddhist monastic orders also – the Amarapura and the Ramanna Nikayas - urged the government in a joint appeal on Monday, to withdraw the 20th amendment, warning that it “rejects the core values of democracy” and will pave the way of authoritarianism.