Dhanuka from the University of Peradeniya believes that “the vast majority of the university students (at least at Peradeniya) have little to no understanding of the political significance of the 18th amendment and remain oblivious to the repercussions that it entails.” Dhanuka himself speaks negatively of the amendment, on the basis that it “threatens the bed-rock values of democracy”.
Malaka, the President of the Student’s Union at the University of Peradeniya confirms this view and adds that the reform stifles the “already gagged” voice of university undergraduates even further. Students at the Faculty of Law in Colombo have been especially active in appealing against the reforms proposed by the 18th amendment.
Another fact which these Law students from Colombo as well as some from Kelaniya and Moratuwa find most disturbing is the decision to pass the amendment as an urgent bill. “I’m not so bothered about the amendment itself,” says Janani* from the University of Kelaniya, “but the way it was done.” Upul from Moratuwa believes the constitution needed changing, but that the actual moves made to make it happen were “not appropriate, and not timely.” Both agree on the point that the amendment itself may not be a bad thing for the country, and might have the ability to make positive changes, but that the process of passing the bill was the discomforting factor which raised so many questions, suspicions and fears.
“The majority of our citizens are uneducated on these matters,” a student from the University at Uva Wellassa said. “They’re gullible and easily fooled, thinking only of personal gain and not the future of the nation as a whole.” He takes a firm stand against the reforms based on the same criteria as Janani and Upul, yet despairs of the situation having been any different even if the debate was more open to the public and the decision made with more deliberation.
Gayan* from the University of Jayawardenapura also claims that he is “dead” against the 18th amendment because it is undemocratic. Yet he adds that “on the flip-side, just because a presidential candidate can run more than twice does not mean his leadership will become a dictatorship, as is feared by many. If elections remain fair, then I guess its ok.” But Ranjan* from the University of Moratuwa points to the naivety of this position, citing the fact that it is highly doubtful that the appointment of the Elections Commissioner will not be political, and the implications it may have on subsequent elections. He believes the situation is “dangerous” and simply names Cuba and Costa Rica as examples of one-party dictatorships, sure that the examples will carry the rest of the message. He also, nevertheless, points to a ‘flip-side’ in Uruguay where no president can be re-elected consecutively, although there is no limit to the number of terms a president can hold office. The 18th amendment, Ranjan thinks “assumes a good leader without looking at the possibilities of the worst case scenario”, which he believes should be a major consideration in the case of a constitutional reform.
Saman* from the University of Jayawardenapura on the other hand is quite optimistic about the outcomes of the 18th amendment. He points to the fact that political stability is a necessary prerequisite of economic stability, and then to Japan which rose to economic stardom under a constitutional monarchy. “In Sri Lanka, national policies change every time the government changes,” he complains, adding that the new reforms will bring about political stability and thereby a national scenario more conducive to development.
“Those who claim that this is a family-propaganda forget that they ended a war spanning three decades” he accuses. “It’s a common saying that a president in her/his first term works for the country, and in her/his second for her/himself” he continues, “so maybe since now our presidents don’t have to worry about a time-limit to making personal gains, they will spend more time thinking of national gains as well.” He and Praveen from the University at Uva Wellassa hold the opinion that since the amendment holds the Head of State accountable to the Parliament and since the People now are able to vote for whom they want as many times as they want, the change has the potential to create a more democratic situation than in the past. “I really like the fact that the Head of State is now obliged to attend parliamentary sessions,” Praveen says, adding enthusiastically that “I wish they had to do it more often!” He notes nevertheless that he does not much like the possibility of previously ‘a-political’ appointments now becoming political.
Riophilla from the University of Jaffna also has a positive outlook on the changes and believes they will help “augment the development processes,” already set in motion. Opinions thus continue to vary, and a definite idea of whether the reforms are mostly positive or negative cannot be formed. That the current generation of young adult undergraduates (or at least some number of its members) is aware of the political changes taking place in the country, and is attempting to understand its significance in personal as well as national terms is apparent. The actual effects these changes will have on them is yet to be seen, and the only option available right now is to cross our fingers and hope for the best
*names have been changed