Summary of the speech delivered by the Chairman of the National Movement for a Just Society, former Speaker Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, at the press briefing held on 02 November 2020.
After the Speaker had placed his signature on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution last weekend, the executive presidency of Sri Lanka has transformed into one of the most powerful in the world.
The National Movement for a Just Society does not agree with the 20th Amendment in principle. We would like to reiterate that a President craving for power may assume office in the future and use these sweeping powers to form a dictatorship.
We are fearful of that.
We believe that the incumbent President of Sri Lanka will not use these unlimited powers to destroy democracy in this country. It is our fervent hope to see him act as the Head of State of the entire country.
The reality we have to accept is that the President got these sweeping powers because it was approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. However, we do not intend to comment on the methodology used to obtain the two-thirds majority at this moment.
But as a civil society movement that follows the philosophy of the Venerable Sobitha Thero, they would have been respected by all had the methods and procedures used by them to obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament were conducted in a principled manner.
If that had happened, it would have accorded some consolation for the nationalist forces that had placed their trust in the President.
The ideas expressed by the National Movement for a Just Society here today are put forward with a good conscious and as such, we believe that the government will understand this.
As a country, our focus should be solely on protecting the people from the great crisis facing Sri Lanka today.
We believe that the time has come for the whole country to unite to ensure the safety of all our citizens instead of consolidating the political power gained by the 20th Amendment.
It is no secret to the erudite population of this country that in the last few weeks, the Department of Health, together with the Armed Forces and the Police, have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic all the while the most powerful members of the government were fighting to enact the 20th Amendment.
That is the bitter truth.
In the name of humanity, we would like to implore you to stop this lust for power gained with the passage of the 20th Amendment and instead focus on helping the people who have been devastated by the pandemic.
This can be only achieved if we set our petty political agendas aside.
As an institution, we do not want to embarrass or criticize neither the government nor the president.
None of us have political motives.
Even I am not involved in politics now.
However, we have the self-confidence to point out what is right and what’s not.
As a person who was born before independence and as someone who understood the political culture of this country, we could clearly state how executive powers have been used on various occasions by unqualified people.
At the party convention held in 1995, we proposed to abolish the executive presidency that was created by the 1978 Constitution simply because we understood its implications.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga joined us to bring the 17th Amendment to the Constitution with the participation of the civil society and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) after observing how executive power was abused at the North Western Provincial Council elections in 1999.
She realised that many had not forgotten how some of the provincial councilors for months on end had committed heinous murders, set houses on fire, broken limbs of dissident political opponents, threw stones and grenades at vehicles and stripped women naked.
We need not remind you how people rejected the even more destructive 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015.
Although the 19th Amendment contained universally accepted theories, a deliberate and unjustified propaganda campaign carried out by the media against it created a wrong impression in the country. Some people were deceived by these concocted stories.
It was sad and embarrassing to see religious centres get embroiled in these campaigns.
Many activists and nationalists who were involved in this process, after having realised the truth, now expressed their regrets, proving the theory that people cannot always be deceived by lies.
They include religious leaders, civil society leaders and politicians.
Finally, we hope that His Excellency the President will be able to create a society where justice and the rule of law prevail.
I kindly request you to pay attention to protect the Right to Information Act, the Independent Commissions, the Audit Service Commissions and the Independence of the Judiciary, even if the Constitutional Council is abolished.
Therefore, we feel that if intelligent, patriotic people are appointed, there will be no injustice done to the people with regard to governance in the country.
If society becomes highly politicised, these noble aspirations will not be fulfilled.
I would like to remind the people of Sri Lanka that the National Movement for a Just Society will remain vigilant to preserve democracy and to pass on democratic values to future generations.