Don’t undermine democracy

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  • Civic society members call for a stop to intimidating the judiciary and holding of elections

A group of 84 individuals, civil rights activists, and intellectuals has issued a statement on the political development in the country recently. In particular, they had mentioned the delay in holding the Local Government Elections, which they allege is interfering with the democratic process. They also charge that the President and certain members of the Legislature are trying to “intimidate and interfere with the Independence of the Judiciary”

The statement is as follows:

We note with dismay the attempts being made by the President and some Members of Parliament in the Government to intimidate the Judiciary on the pretext that the Supreme Court has violated the privileges of Members of Parliament.
This allegation was made after the Supreme Court granted Leave to Proceed with a Fundamental Rights application filed against the withholding of funds for the purpose of conducting Local Government elections.
The Court has also made an Interim Order restraining several State functionaries from withholding any funds allocated by the Budget for the year 2023 for the purpose of conducting local elections.

We vehemently condemn these fresh actions by the Government to undermine the democratic process of our country. We also fully endorse the statement issued by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in this matter.
The BASL has warned that any attempt to interfere with the independence of the judiciary is a serious affront to the rule of law, the rights of the people of the country, and democracy.
We further note that these attempts by the ruling party Members of Parliament mark a joint effort by both the Executive and sections of the ruling party in the Legislature to further undermine the legally mandated local Government elections from being held.

It is reprehensible that the government, after the repeated failure of several attempts to force the election commission to abandon the plans to hold the election, has now chosen the judiciary as the target of its attacks.
This shows a dangerous pattern of government behaviour in which no independent institutional space – whether the independent commissions or the judiciary – is tolerated in its attempts to stay in power. It wants to prevent at any cost the people’s voice from being expressed through an election, which is the most effective and peaceful way available to the people in any democratic society to express their political preferences and choices.

What these new developments show is that Sri Lanka’s fragile democracy is under severe attack orchestrated by the President and the ruling party, using both the Executive and legislative powers they wield. Therefore, all Sri Lankan citizens, political parties and civil society and other mass organizations, as well as the international community, need to be alert to the urgent need to protect democratic space at every level. Sri Lanka has a history of ruling parties attacking the independence of the judiciary during the 1970s and 1980s and later as well, aimed at serving the individual and partisan ambitions of those in power. Those have only led to greater political instability, civil unrest and the deepening of the existing political crises. Thus, defending the free space for independent judgement, action, and dissent, free from capricious interference and threats from those who hold political power, has once again become an urgent task on the agenda for protecting democracy in Sri Lanka. We call upon the government and all those responsible for holding the elections to do so without delay or hindrance and thereby uphold and protect democratic governance and the Government in Sri Lanka. We also urge the government to cease its attacks on the judiciary, an institution whose integrity and independence is pivotal to democracy in our country. We stress that the confrontational and arrogant approach currently adopted by this administration is wholly counterproductive. It even negates the interests of the people whose rights and well-being the government is duty-bound to serve with diligence and competence in an accountable manner.
Finally, we demand that the President and the government

-Desist from interfering with the judiciary or the election commission curtailing their independence in a manner that impedes the people’s democratic liberties and rights.
-End misusing political power to harm the country’s democratic institutions and processes for their partisan and personal political interests and ambitions.
-Respect the interim order of the Supreme Court on local elections.
Some of the signatories are:

 Prof. Emeritus Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Colombo, Dr. Devanesan Nesaih,Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel, Dr. Lionel Bopage, Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka, Dr. P. Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Prof. Emeritus Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Colombo, Prof. Emeritus. Siri Hettige, University of Colombo, Prof. Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya, Radhika Coomaraswamy,Rajan Hoole, Rohana Hettiarachchi

Courtesy Daily Mirror

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