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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Lawyers Collective Reminds that Democracy is founded on Elections and condemns Range Bandara’s statement

The Lawyers Collective condemns the statement of UNP General Secretary Range Bandara, made on 30th May 2024, suggesting at a formal press conference at the head office of the United National Party, that by a public referendum the term of this President and this Parliament be extended for two more years in order to “save the nation”. This was followed by vague statements from the President, the leader of the UNP and members of the UNP merely dismissing such statements as the personal views of their own General Secretary.

It is in the context of a democracy deficit that such statements are made. The mass people’s uprising, Aragalaya, of 2022 was a recall of the mandate given to all parliamentarians, particularly the members forming the two-third majority in parliament. The people signaled a complete lack of public confidence in the head of the executive and the government of the day. The current President having taken office in this context is duty bound to uphold democracy and surrender to the sovereignty of the people. One of his key tasks ought to have been to restore legitimacy to these institutions of government without delay. Instead, the President refused to hold local government election in 2023 and is steamrolling a legislative agenda that is repressive and authoritarian with the support of a legislative majority that has lost its legitimacy.

Article 30(2) states that the office of the President shall be for a period of 5 years. Article 62(2) states that the term of any Parliament shall be 5 years. Any change to the Constitution to extend the terms of one or either of these organs of the State requires a constitutional amendment. Such a constitutional amendment would no doubt require a two thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum of the People because it seeks to change the way in which the sovereignty of the people is expressed. It would be an amendment to fundamentally change the basic structure of the constitution.

The danger in the statement made by the UNP General Secretary is the suggestion that any one President or any one Parliament’s term is extended because they are necessary to ‘save the nation’. Such a proposal completely undermines the sovereignty of the people, is made in bad faith and in ignorance or deliberate dismissal of the Constitution. It is a proposal whereby the power of the two thirds majority in parliament, which the people have rejected, is being abused.

The proposed extension also goes against the spirit of our Constitution, expressed in its Preamble which refers to ‘immutable republican principles of representative democracy’ that assure to ‘all peoples freedom, equality, justice, fundamental human rights and the independence of the judiciary as the intangible heritage that guarantees the dignity and well-being of succeeding generations of the People of Sri Lanka’. A question that can be raised is whether a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a 50% plus one majority of the People can make ANY amendment of the Constitution. Is not the amending process governed also by the principle of ‘constitutional morality’?

Democracy is essentially about people endorsing or rejecting the policies of any one President or Parliament. Presidential, Parliamentary and local government elections are fundamental to the People of Sri Lanka giving expression to their grievances, aspirations and their will. All interferences with this expression must be categorically rejected and condemned, and seen for what it is, an authoritarian move to undermine democracy.

On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective

Mr. Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

Mr. Dinal Phillips, President’s Counsel

Mr. Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel

Mr. S.T. Jayanaga, President’s Counsel

Professor Deepika Udagama

Mr. Upul Kumarapperuma, President’s Counsel

Mr. Jagath Kularatne, Attorney-at-Law

Mr. Harshana Nanayakkara, Attorney-at-Law

Mr. Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-Law

Mr. Akalanka Ukwatta, Attorney-at-Law

Mr. Susantha Dodawatta, Attorney-at-Law

Ms. Ermiza Tegal, Attorney-at-Law

Mr. Manoj Nanayakkara, Attorney-at-Law

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