By Soraya M. Deen –
“Stand up for what is right regardless of who is committing the wrong.” ~ Suzy Kassem
The stakes for democracy are high in Sri Lanka. The newly elected government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is hastily seeking to amend the Constitution by introducing a 20th Amendment granting unchecked, unlimited, and unnecessary power to the President. In the absence of clear and transparent reporting by the media and the lack of open communication by the government; about the true nature, the breadth and scope of the amendment, there is legitimate concern brewing in the country, about the mala fides of this amendment.
Means must justify the end
As President of the country you must have intentions and ideas that you plan or intend to carry out for the development and the betterment of the country. Your directives and spontaneous appearances at government offices to investigate efficiency and your direct promises to the aggrieved that you intend to right every wrong have demonstrated to the people your methods of operation and your good faith. However, a mere expression of good intention does not mean that you are always doing the right thing. In fact, great intentions have tragic consequences, when implemented without careful thought.
In these moments of unprecedented uncertainty, the global pandemic and the burdens of polarization, poverty, hunger and the economic downturn, tension is high in our country.
The goals of the government and the presidency should be to create a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all Lankans” and not a “blueprint to achieve power and impunity for the President.”
And if you are to sincerely do that, you have to first give your best to us. Become a sincere partner with all the citizens, in the progres of our country. Perhaps as the country’s leader you will begin to think differently about us. We are a diverse citizenry of intelligent people capable of understanding the concepts of power, leadership, democracy, freedom, justice and love for motherland.
In a recent statement made by former minister and Member of Parliament Mano Ganesan, (later echoed by some Buddhist clergy as well), Mr. Ganesan referred to the power already vested in the President. He reiterated that the President had no shortage of power that warranted an amendment to the constitution, to confer more power to the President.
The President, Mr. Ganesan said, is the Commander in chief of the tri-forces. His brother is the Prime Minister, another brother is in charge of the finances, his party has the majority in the parliament and several other members of his family were holding high office in his government.
In a normal democracy one would hope that the people will be protected from the excessive power of the leaders. Why is it that you as the President are pretending that your power is fragile and you need more power to protect yourself from the people, when you, in fact, possess absolute power?
Your priorities Mr. President
As President of the country your top priority is to alleviate poverty in Sri Lanka. How much more power would you need to do so, “When you are the Commander in chief of the tri forces. Your brother is the Prime Minister, another brother is in charge of the finances, your party has the majority in the parliament and several other members of your family were holding high office in your government?”
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.
Would you not agree that Sri Lanka needs a robust path to achieve this vision? And I invite you to please tell us why you need a 20th amendment to take our country to prosperity and self sufficiency.
Here are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and and as you can see there is not a need for a 20th amendment to accomplish any of these goals;
GOAL 1: No Poverty– How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of alleviating poverty?
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of zero hunger?
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of promoting good health and well being of the people?
GOAL 4: Quality Education – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of providing quality education?
GOAL 5: Gender Equality – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of promoting gender equality?
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of providing clean water and sanitation?
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of achieving affordable and clean energy?
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward achieving decent work and economic growth?
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to ensure industry, innovation and infrastructure?
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of achieving reduced inequality?
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work towards the goal of promoting sustainable cities and communities?
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to promote responsible consumption and production?
GOAL 13: Climate Action – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to promote climate action?
GOAL 14: Life Below Water – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of preserving and protecting life below water?
GOAL 15: Life on Land – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward the goal of promoting and preserving life on land?
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work towards preserving and upholding peace and justice and strong institutions?
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal – How much power do you need or what power do you lack to work toward building partnerships to achieve these goals?
Gandhi reminds us that there is a higher court than the courts of justice. And that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts..We ask you that your conscience be your compass.
The constitution is not a political prop
Is the 20th amendment truly necessary? Did the mandate given by the voters approve of such a broad sweeping amendment to the constitution that granted power to the President without any checks and balances? Does the provisions of the 20th amendment seek to secure the rights of the President and disregard those rights of the citizens?
Briefly, under the 20th amendment, the President seeks impunity, where no legal action can be taken against him, promotes citizens with dual citizenship to hold parliamentary office, seeks the complete eradication of commissions, dispenses with audits of government institutions, the president seeks to reserves the sole prerogative to appoint and remove judges – severely compromising the independence and integrity of the Judiciary, the president also seeks to reserve the right to appoint and remove any number of ministers…. and the list goes on.
The callous lack of transparency and accountability by those seeking the 20th amendment and the underlying attempt to desecrate our constitution and democracy is shocking and troubling.
What is deafening is not the clamour of the Minister of Justice Mr. Ali Sabry to promote the amendment, but the inordinate silence of the members of the parliament, particularly those of the ruling party.
Not justifiable nor justiciable
The President must be advised that the need for a 20th amendment even from a layman’s court is neither justiciable nor justifiable. In a court of law, justiciability concerns the limits upon legal issues over which a court can exercise its judicial authority. It includes, but is not limited to, the legal concept of standing, which is used to determine if the party bringing the action is a party who can appropriately establish that an actual adversarial issue exists. Let’s assume here the President’s adversarial issue is the claim to a lack of power and the need to consolidate unlimited power!
Essentially, justiciability here would be the granting of unlimited power to the President.
There is no need for such power and therefore in a peoples court the matter is not justiciable.
Is the 20th amendment capable of being justifiable? Can the President show that it can be defended as being just, warranted; defensible? In the people’s court amassing unchecked, unlimited power is not justifiable.
The people know that there are always risks in challenging state power, but people also know that the risk of not challenging excessive power is dangerous and a precursor to abuse and corruption.
*Soraya M. Deen is a lawyer, community organizer and an award winning international activist. She focuses on countering violent extremism and deconstructing Received Theology by educating and empowering women to action. She is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement and Author of SERVE: A Call to Muslims, She is also the President and co-founder of the Interfaith Solidarity Network, one of the largest interfaith organizations in Los Angeles.