03 September, 2010
To All Hon. Members of Parliament,
Dear Member of Parliament,
The 18 th Amendment to the Constitution to be debated in parliament
The urgency of this very important issue at hand, compels us to address you through this letter, though briefly.
Let us be very precise on one issue. This is no attempt at changing governments, but one that seeks a change for democracy, the country is in dire need of.
While the conclusion of the war one year ago was interpreted as an opening for democratic life in society, we desired a serious political intervention that would strengthen democratic life in this country.
The abolishing of the Executive Presidency thus remained a basic requirement. This Executive Presidency remains to be abolished even on the consensus that had been reached in the APRC that has
11 political parties in the government alliance including the SLFP and 02 others that were then in the Opposition agreeing.
While there is such broad consensus in abolishing the Executive Presidency, the urgency in bringing this 18 th Amendment to the Constitution to remove all restrictions on the number of presidential terms, we clearly note here, is a total violation of social perceptions.
Also, we wish to stress, the Constitutional provisions included in this amendment to alter the spirit and contents of the 17 th Amendment, passed in agreement with all political parties to depoliticise State institutions and high positions, in allowing them to function independently, is again a step that violates public sentiments, yet again bringing all such positions and public departments into politics, through presidential influence.
It is necessary to stress that all those citizens who cast their vote for you at the general elections in April this year, never anticipated such anti democratic steps to be effected.
We therefore have very justifiable reasons and also facts that necessitates democratic life, in our society.
Removal of restriction on presidential terms
1. All democratic societies with free and fair elections accept that presidential terms should be restricted to two terms, as a democratic necessity. Apart from all other reasoning, common sense would tell that allowing enormous power in the hands of a single person for long, is too dangerous a provision. Even the two term presidency that was established with the 1978 Constitution was experienced as too powerful and dictatorial, during the past decades. Late Madam Sirimavo Bandaranayake, as the leader of the SLFP and the then Opposition, opposed establishing of a presidency and had this to say at the debate in parliament on 04 October 1977, when the Amendment to create the presidency was moved to the 1972 Constitution.
“The effect of this amendment is to place the President above the National State Assembly. Above the law and above the courts, thereby creating a concentration of State power in one person, whoever he might be. This has happened in other countries before, and history is full of examples of the disastrous consequences that came upon such nations that changed their Constitutions by giving one man too much power.
We oppose this Bill firmly and unequivocally. It will set our country on the road to dictatorship and there will be no turning back. This Bill will mark the end of democracy in Sri Lanka, as the late Mr. Dudley Senanayake realized when these same ideas were put to him in the United National Party.”
2. On the flip side of it, a presidency with no term restrictions is enjoyed in politically backward,
undemocratic countries. If any reference for such is necessary, names like Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Yemen, Burkina Faso and Uganda are the best.
3. A restriction on presidential terms brings in a political party approach to governance with democracy, instead of a personal approach, while also providing space for development of party leadership and change.
4. It is the limitation on presidential terms that provided a tangible restriction on this Executive Presidency with enormous powers, established through the 1978 Constitution. With the removal of that restriction, this Executive Presidency plunges into dictatorial rule, as foreseen by Madam Bandaranayake, at its initiation.
Removal of Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions
1. There are ample facts and reasons in public domain on the degeneration of public institutions and services. It is the police department that is often taken for such reference. Police department is referred to as the most corrupt department in this country. The accepted explanation for such degeneration is political interference from provincial level to the very top. It was public perception of having independent public institutions and high offices that compelled all political parties to adopt the 17th Amendment.
2. This social perception was further strengthened during the past few years. Therefore it was expected the 17
th Amendment would be strengthened to provide for better and more independent public services. Instead the amendments in front of you, would further erode independent functioning of these public institutions and high offices through political interference.
3. Bringing these public institutions and high offices under a further strengthened presidency that has no restrictions on its terms, would also erode democratic life of the people in a very serious manner. We do accept that these don't need to be any more explained. We also know, that you are are well aware of this government's behaviour, irrespective of whether you sit in government or opposition benches.
Therefore it is not necessary to note here, how undemocratic it had been. You thus know how seriously the 18th Amendment now with you, would erode democracy in this country. The dictatorial path Madam Bandaranayake foresaw when this presidency was first introduced, would certainly open up, if you decide to vote for this amendment.
You have in front of you now, a social responsibility that can not be compromised with. This responsibility has no political divisions and differences. You are now expected to give worth to your representation in parliament. That defines your decision to vote against the 18 th Amendment in allowing the people to enjoy their due right to a democratic life.
We therefore firmly believe, your conscience would have this day.
Yours in democracy,
Name Profession/Affiliation Signature
1. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC Sgd
2. Srinath Perera, PC Sgd
3. Prof Navaratne Bandara, Peradeniya University Sgd
4. Prof. Kumar David Sgd
5. Prof Ajith Abeysekera University of J'pura Sgd
6. K.W. Janaranjana Lawyer/Journalist Sgd
7. Gamini Viyangoda Writer/Columnist Sgd
8. Kusal Perera Journalist Sgd
9. Dinesh Dodamgoda Legal Consultant Sgd
10. Sudharshana Gunawardne Attorney at law Sgd.
11. Prof. Ranjith Amarasinghe Sgd
12. Lal Wijenayake Senior Attorney at Law Sgd
13. Shiral Lakthilaka Legal Consultant Sgd
14. Prof. Desmond Mallikaracchchi Sgd
15. Dr. Mahim Mendis SL Open University Sgd
16. Dr. Asoka Silva SL Open University Sgd
17. Jayathilake Kammellaweera Novelist Sgd
18. Dr. Theodore Fernando SL Open University Sgd
19. Dr. Shantha Abeysinghe SL Open University Sgd
20. Dr. Rohan Rathnayake SL Open University Sgd
21. Dr. Michael Fernando Former Head,
Fine Arts Dept. Peradeniya Sgd
22. Chandraguptha Thenuwara Creative Artiste Sgd