Sri Lanka’s Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith criticized a new Constitution that has been drafted by the government for ignoring the voice of the people.
“If the Constitution … which was made without asking anyone’s opinion, is implemented, it will be a shame for the country,” said the cardinal last week.
Speaking before an event sponsored by the Negombo United Peoples Organization, the Catholic Church leader said the draft Constitution “does not have any kind of decency.”
“This constitution will not solve the country’s problems. It has been suggested to further strengthen the presidency and reduce human rights,” he said on November 3.
In the same event, Cardinal Ranjith hit at corruption among government officials, saying that “authorities build highways that can carry millions into their pockets as a commission.”
“This is why the poor … should use their precious votes not to choose these people. Otherwise, our country will go further and further into the abyss,” said the prelate.
Last month, Sri Lanka’s parliament voted to curtail the powers of the president, a partial concession to the protest movement that forced the island nation’s former head of state into exile.
An unprecedented economic downturn this year fueled intense public anger, with the government accused of mismanagement and of precipitating drastic food and petrol shortages.
Months of protests culminated in July with a huge crowd storming the official residence of then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country under military escort and issued his resignation from Singapore.
His successor Ranil Wickremesinghe took charge pledging to curb the sweeping powers of his office, which had been expanded by Rajapaksa’s administration.
Parliament voted overwhelmingly to endorse a constitutional amendment that limited presidential control of the police, the judiciary and appointments to the civil service.
“From the people’s point of view, this is a good Bill and that is why we support it,” said former president Maithripala Sirisena, who is currently an opposition legislator.
Opposition parties supported the measure but complained that it did not go far enough, after backing the protest movement’s calls for reducing the presidency to a ceremonial role.
The amendment also restored a ban on dual citizens from contesting national elections after it was repealed by Rajapaksa two years ago.
Rajapaksa’s younger brother Basil, a former finance minister, is a United States citizen and is widely believed to still have presidential aspirations despite public anger over his role in the economic crisis.
Rajapaksa centralized power after taking office in 2019 by removing independent oversight from the police, judiciary and election authorities.
But his administration stumbled when a critical foreign currency shortage left Sri Lanka unable to import vital goods, leading to the country’s worst downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.
The country eventually defaulted on its US$51 billion foreign debt in April and is now finalising an International Monetary Fund bailout.
Rajapaksa has since returned to Sri Lanka and is living under armed protection, despite calls for his arrest and prosecution on a raft of corruption charges. – with a report from AFP