Explore the delicate balance between individual freedom and constitutional authority at the heart of Sri Lanka’s vibrant democracy. Learn how the 2020 constitutional bill could reshape the nation and its sovereignty. Discover the importance of safeguarding constitutional values and addressing challenges to ensure a thriving democracy.
By Madhuri Ranasinghe
There is a delicate link between individual freedom and the nation’s constitutional sovereignty at the core of Sri Lanka’s thriving democracy. The destiny of the country is shaped by this complex dynamic that is apparent in the multitudes of legal, social, and governance viewpoints. Keeping these in mind, this article examines the true essence of the constitutional standpoints in relation to personal freedom.
The year 2020 witnessed a significant development in Sri Lanka’s constitutional landscape. A bill titled “An Act to Amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” emerged, heralding the potential for transformative change. Published as a supplement to the Government Gazette on August 28, 2020, the bill marked a crucial step towards altering the constitutional framework. However, this shift has far-reaching implications for the sovereignty of Sri Lanka’s constitution.
Before any legislative change takes effect, Sri Lanka’s judiciary plays a vital role in reviewing proposed bills. This review examines whether the proposed provisions or the bill as a whole may have the “propensity or likelihood to encourage or permit the violation” of constitutional provisions. One key tenet of Sri Lanka’s constitutional doctrine is that sovereignty resides in the people, not in the state or any instrument of the state. This principle underscores the significance of the people’s role in shaping the nation’s destiny.
The Balance Between Personal Freedom and Constitutional Governance
People in representative democracies, like Sri Lanka, have few options for directly exercising their constitutional rights. The Constitution acts as a means through which the people can delegate their authority to the branches of the government. It is essential to understand that the various governmental branches act on behalf of the people and with their interests in mind. This crucial premise guarantees that the people will always be the ultimate sovereign and retain authority over the acts of the government.
As the fundamental legal document through which the sovereign people temporarily delegate their authority to other governmental branches, the Constitution is of utmost significance. Before taking office, each elected and unelected member of these branches must swear an oath to support the Constitution.
Protecting Constitutional Sovereignty
While the Constitution can be amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament, any changes that threaten the sovereignty of the people would necessitate approval through a referendum. This safeguard ensures that fundamental principles of governance and sovereignty remain intact even in times of constitutional change.
The Nexus of Values and Constitutional Governance. The Sri Lankan constitution is not just about legal frameworks; it also upholds vital constitutional values. These values, explicitly recognized in the constitution’s preamble, include representative democracy, freedom, equality, justice, fundamental human rights, and the independence of the judiciary.
Challenges and Controversies
The alterations made to a nation’s Constitution are referred to as constitutional changes and are also known as amendments or revisions. Various circumstances, such as societal advancement, changes in political ideology, or crises that call for law amendments, might be the driving forces behind these changes. While some degree of flexibility is required, a constitution may have deeper problems if modifications are made too frequently.
One of the significant controversies in recent years has been the proposed amendments to the constitution. These amendments, while aimed at addressing specific issues or concerns, have sometimes raised questions about their potential impact on personal freedoms and the balance of power. For instance, discussions surrounding the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015 sparked considerable debate. While it sought to curtail some executive powers, critics argued that it might weaken the presidency excessively, potentially affecting the stability of the government.
Additionally, issues related to ethnic and religious tensions in Sri Lanka have tested the boundaries of personal freedom and constitutional sovereignty. Ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, enjoy equal protection under the law is an ongoing challenge that requires a delicate balancing act.
It is crucial to understand the changing nature of this connection as Sri Lanka continues to negotiate the challenging terrain of individual freedom and constitutional sovereignty. The Constitution, with its guiding principles and protections, offers a framework for settling conflicts and overcoming obstacles. Furthermore, establishing common ground and safeguarding the fundamentals of democracy and human rights depend on open and constructive communication among all parties, including the executive branch, judicial branch, civil society, and people.
Sri Lanka’s democratic system is shaped by the tension between individual freedom and constitutional authority. Maintaining the fundamental values and principles outlined in the Constitution is crucial as the nation navigates constitutional changes and societal transformations. This mutually beneficial partnership is still developing, shaping the future of a country firmly devoted to democratic values and a system of government based on the sovereignty of its citizens.