A Statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
Many sections of the population are deeply alarmed at the possible repercussions the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution will have on our system of democratic governance
If passed by Parliament, the constitutional changes will remove the restriction on the two terms a person can serve as President, which all democratic countries with an Executive Presidency subscribe to. In addition, it will much more than before empower the Government and President to select and appoint persons to serve on the crucial commissions that are meant to safeguard the democratic rights of the people, such as the Elections Commission, Public Services Commission, Judicial Services Commission, National Police Commission, Bribery Commission and so on.
The nature of partisan politics is such that this will no doubt be a step backwards. It will inevitably lead to a further, dangerous politicisation of our national institutions and a speedier, destructive erosion of our already fragile democratic culture.
It is therefore imperative that Parliament rejects this Bill, and that all who value democratic freedom in the country voice their objection to it.
Along with this, Parliament and the people should call for the full activation of the 17th Amendment (passed by consensus between the Government and Opposition Members of Parliament), which ensures the independence of the Commissions referred to. It is only after this amendment is given a chance to impact on our shared national life that we will be able to assess the need for any further democratic constitutional amendments.
If and when such a stage is reached there must be no haste to rush Bills of such serious implications through Parliament, as is being done with the 18th Amendment; and adequate space must be provided for public debate. 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. 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.
May the God of peace and justice hear our cry and bless and nourish our beloved nation.
With peace and blessings to all
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo 2nd September 2010