Character certificates from religious leaders to obtain nominations


The current controversy sparked off by Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakse seeking to ban members of the clergy from entering the legislature continues unabated with the JHU, which is the political party most affected by the move, actively canvassing against the proposal. The private member’s bill is unlikely to succeed in view of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s direction to the SLFP parliamentary group not to support the proposal.

As stated in this column previously, this is a non-issue which has been raised by the UNP parliamentarian, for a reason yet unknown and unclear. Be that as it may, what is of greater significance in the current context is to discuss the role that religious leaders can play at this critical stage in Sri Lanka’s history.

It is unlikely that anyone will dispute that religious leaders can make an immense contribution to resolving current challenges faced by the country today. Issues of governance, reconciliation, justice and social ills such as crime and corruption can benefit from the wisdom of religious leaders if strongly articulated and persuasively campaigned. The objectivity with which they can examine these issues will undoubtedly serve the national interest well.

Unfortunately, with the exception of several Buddhist, Catholic and Christian clergy many others choose to take the path of least resistance and maintain a deafening silence on public issues affecting the country at large and sometimes even on matters affecting their own community. The Hindu and Muslim religious leaders in particular have conspicuously refrained from commenting on matters of public and national interest, thereby depriving the country and the public the benefit of their valuable counsel.

Religious leaders who act wisely and judiciously can become a strong moral voice that can prove invaluable in directing the country in the right direction. They could express themselves individually, collectively as one religious group or even as multi-religious groups. If they do so consistently and independently over a period of time the public as well as politicians will begin to respect and consider their views prior to embarking on critical decisions.

There is no doubt that such efforts by religious leaders may also attract criticism -some well-meaning, and others unwarranted. That said, religious leaders who are made of a different mettle must be prepared to stand up to such critics and act in accord with the strength of their convictions, undeterred in the face of brickbats.

In the exercise of an independent voice it may not always be necessary to take stands that bring them in conflict with the powers-that-be. For example, the religious leaders will have no difficulty in throwing their weight behind the Government’s Mathata Thitha programme. But being a programme designed and implemented by political forces may not necessarily mean that it will achieve the goals originally intended because of political considerations that influence decision making. In such instances, religious leaders will be able to make valuable suggestions that improve the effectiveness of the Mathata Thitha programme beyond even what the Government intended.

An instance in which the religious leaders could guide the public would be where they could convey their disapproval of vegetable vendors destroying valuable food and milk producers pouring milk down drains, as a means of expressing their protest with regard to Governmental action.

They could also call for and suggest rigorous measures to ensure the rule of law by calling upon and urging the police and other relevant governmental authorities to take speedy action.

By virtue of their calling as religious leaders, they exercise a great deal of influence over their flock. They can guide and inspire their followers to conclusions that can benefit the country in its journey of nation building. For instance in the current context, they could influence political parties by providing a criterion of qualities that should guide them in the selection of candidates. Following nominations, they could also publicise criterion that the public could utilise in electing candidates.

Yet another course of action that religious leaders could request political parties to follow in the selection of candidates is to require a prospective candidate to produce a character certificate from a religious leader of their area: the character certificate would ideally state that such an individual is a fit-and-proper-person to be considered for nomination. No religious leader is likely to give such a certificate easily and without serious consideration and conviction.

It must be remembered that such a certificate should not be perceived to amount to a recommendation by the respective religious leader, nor be indicative of an endorsement that such person be nominated and or elected. The purpose of the certificate must be only perceived and in fact be such that it conveys that the said-person is an individual of suitable character to be considered for nomination. Such a certificate will help nomination boards of political parties if they are so inclined to keep out unscrupulous and unsuitable elements from entering the electoral fray.

This intervention by religious leaders will ensure that the public also takes responsibility in the choice of their representatives at elections as opposed to merely resorting to fault-finding unsuitable members whom they themselves have played a part in electing. javidyusuf@yahoo.com

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