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Silence of the Land Of Lotus Eaters

In a democracy the constitution should ideally epitomize everything that its people stand for. It is intended to be the document which protects the people from unfettered powers of its Leader while protecting the individual whether he is a political minority or a racial minority. But in a country like Sri Lanka with a unique interpretation to constitutionalism we might as well stop using the façade of democracy as our country codifies unlimited powers to an inevitable despot thus allow the “all knowing” head of the state to do as he pleases for as long as he pleases.

So we Sri Lankans do not complain and have complete faith in our noble leader to make choices for us and as many say the amendment only gives him the opportunity to seek elections if the people are unsatisfied with the leader they surely will be able to show their dissent through their vote. Sadly, in Sri Lanka the only form of the average Sri Lankans involvement in the Political process and how he is governed is reduced to just casting his vote. And as observed time and time again in any form of election in Sri Lanka, our elections have been far from “free and fair.” The election in which leading political party’s openly misuse public funds, ignore the directions of the Election commissioner will surely not be more reliable specially in a situation in which the incumbent is certain of retaining power indefinitely . The credibility of Election results will be further hindered as the new constitutional changes take away the powers of the Election commissioner of issuing guidelines to prevent the misuse of state resource while he may oppress the private media by imposing specific guidelines.

The only glimmer of hope for the de-politicization of the currently politically infested Public service Commission and other institutions was the 17th amendment which ensured a certain form of independence in the Constitutional council. However the proposed Parliamentary council will undoubtly reflect the whims and fancies of the political Party’s as it will purely consist of MP’s. This council is not empowered to make any recommendations merely to make certain ‘observations’ which the President is not inclined to abide by.

Impeachment is the only safeguard available even if the President is despised by all during his infinite reign. But this too is made next to impossible with the constitutional requirement of two third support at various stages for such a motion supported by the Supreme Court.

In a country where incidents of openly violating the Fundamental rights of an officer, publicly bashing of media personnel goes without any recourse it is highly unlikely that the an individual may seek any form of justice where his fundamental rights are violated. If the constitution does not protect the individual, does not serve as a check, or seek to preserve the separation of powers among the different arms of government, one questions the essence of the Sri Lankan constitution.

With such impending dooms apparent for anyone with an atom of a brain to realize it’s shocking that the opposition is silent on these matters. Where is the public debate that should be present before such important constitutional changes?  An unconstitutional bill may receive public outcry and will be severely criticized in a vibrant democracy if the people object to it. In Sri Lanka where judicial review of legislation is non-existent this may never happen, but its saddening to see that even as a constitutional amendment of such public importance is being rushed through we tacitly accept the “wise” decisions made by our representatives.

Is it due to public apathy, ignorance or absolute faith in the current ruling system that we the people sit and watch as the rulers of this country entrench their powers further by manipulation of the constitution, which ironically is the document of the people and not a person.

Anushka is a core group member of Beyond Borders and a lawyer in the making, currently studying in her second year of law. Her opinions are her own.

8/9/10 : The Day to Remember!

8th of September 2010 marks the new era. The end of Sri Lanka as we know it and a new beginning. An era of limitless power and political overhaul. The birth of the 18th amendment with a majority of 141 votes. 161 against a mere 20! Even the numbers don’t seem quite right next to each other!

I speak to friends with animation trying to make sense to be answered back with “I am sorry I didn’t have time to read what is in the 18th amendment!” or “I don’t do politics”.

I wake up to a protest for the 18th Amendment! I wonder whether these people even know what the 18th Amendment entails… Or be these people like in all other protests being packed in and brought to perform their duty. ( the question is rhetoric. Of course we all know the answer to this!)

I yearn to ask these protesters what they scream for, but of course I am no way near them. Surely for my better health.

In the evening there is a meagre crowd holding candles at the peaceful vigil expressing their resentment towards the Amendment. There is more police around it than those who are actually participating. I tell them that there are not many people, to be answered that it is an improvement from the previous experiences. So does that mean we are finally making sense to people??

Ever so faithful “dialog sms news” arrives on the phones of those who have subscribed announcing the result of the vote. 160 for and 20 against! People not much surprised at the outcome. They knew   it was coming. But fail to hide the bafflement at the one digit missing when contrasting the numbers.

Arrival of another sms, announcement of a mistake in the information transmitted. The guy next to me finds it amusing, adds “I am sure some more people would have jumped.” (if you are Sri Lankan you know the meaning of “jumped”. But for the enlightenment of others, it would be a reference to those politicians who change from the opposition to the governing party.)

With all his smirking, he did manage to make sense. After all it was all quite predictable.

At office I hear explosions. My thought: the war being over, where do such sounds emanate?

My boss explains “sound of celebrations”.

I nod, busy cutting paper articles on the Amendment.

I need to keep them, carefully pasted on a scrapbook.

When and if I ever live to have grandchildren, I will show the date on the articles to them and tell, “Look kids! This was the day the Sri Lankans got the best of their stupidity! The day they all marked the beginning of an end!”

Vositha is a legal researcher, law student and ardent Eco-activist working with Project Act, our environmental project. Her views are her own. The original post and more of her writing can be found here.