Original article can be found hereMay 31, 2012, 9:59 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
UNP Parliamentarian and President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is making an unprecedented move to constitutionally deny political parties an opportunity to field priests, of any religion at parliamentary elections.
It could be the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Rajapakshe said, in a brief interview withThe Island, after handing over a private member’s Bill to that effect to Parliament yesterday, with the consent of UNP and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya had, at Sambhavana, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the chief incumbent of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera, highlighted the need to keep Buddhist monks out of politics, Rajapakshe said. "I have never heard such a ferocious attack on monks playing politics with national issues," he said.
Asked whether his move was intended to undermine the UPFA constituent, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), he emphasized that the practice of accommodating priests of any religion in parliament, through elections or the National List, was detrimental to national unity.
The UNPer said that the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution, if ratified, would come into operation immediately after the dissolution of the current parliament. He expressed confidence that all political parties would sink their differences to amend Article 89 of the Constitution to prevent priests of any religion entering Parliament. Priests of any religion shouldn’t seek political office at any level, he said.
Rajapakshe said that the Buddhist monks, as members of parliament, hadn’t been able to make a positive contribution to changing the country’s political culture or preventing the deterioration of parliamentary standards. MP monks had been treated shabbily both in and outside parliament with some of them attacked in the House itself, the MP said. As political parties were not likely to decide against fielding priests at elections out of their own volition, it was the responsibility of parliament to bring in required Constitutional amendments to keep the clergy out of parliament.
Rajapakshe said he expected his proposal to lead to a healthy debate among political parties and civil society members. Asked whether he was trying to deny a section of society from engaging in politics of his or her choice, the former SLFP MP said that the clergy playing politics with national issues was a major impediment to national reconciliation. Nothing could be as bad as divisions among the clergy of different faiths along party lines, he said, expressing concern that the priests were also involved in intra-party fighting.
JHU National Organizer Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe said that the JHU was opposed to any move to deny JHU the right to field Buddhist monks at future elections at any level. It should be the prerogative of individual political parties to field candidates of their choice, he said. Warnasinghe said his party recognised and advocated the rights of all political parties to field priests at elections.
The JHU parliamentary group comprises Ven. Atureliye Rathana thera and Patali Champika Ranawaka elected at the last poll in April 2010.