Buddha Jayanthi 2561 is just concluded and so too today, in the historic city of Kandy will the 11th UN Vesak Day — the first to be held in Sri Lanka since its Christian-born then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar spearheaded Resolution 54/15 at the General Assembly of the world body — have its grand finale. [...]


Laws based on the Buddha Dharma


Buddha Jayanthi 2561 is just concluded and so too today, in the historic city of Kandy will the 11th UN Vesak Day — the first to be held in Sri Lanka since its Christian-born then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar spearheaded Resolution 54/15 at the General Assembly of the world body — have its grand finale.

It was apt that it was the Indian Prime Minister and the Nepali President who were invited as chief guests for the celebrations this week. India and Nepal though predominantly Hindu secular states, their hallowed lands deeply entrenched in Buddhism sanctified by the touch of the feet of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later Gautama the Buddha and their national ethos inextricably intertwined with his life, times and teachings in the 6th century BC.

It was Emperor Ashoka who re-introduced Buddhism to this vast sub-continent. While the Buddha had disciples, Ashoka controlled vast provinces and the Emperor’s edicts had to be followed. Like the Buddha, he also traversed the land on his moral mission. He was careful not to completely change the old culture of Brahmanical Hindus and introduced the Buddhist Dharma as the basis for social justice.

All of Asia — spanning from present-day Afghanistan to Japan imbibed this Dharmishta Rule based on Buddhist values. About this time, Constantine, the Roman Emperor espoused the relatively new religion of Christianity in Europe. Both Ashoka and Constantine transformed imperial states into sacred states.

As Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe explained this week on a TV programme, Europe began to enact different sets of laws based on what Aristotle, Plato and the like-minded philosophers propounded. With the colonisation of Asia by European states, these laws found their way to the conquered world displacing the indigenous laws based on the Dharma.

Today, despite de-colonisation, the West dominates the Rule of Law based on European concepts through International Covenants and the United Nations, many of which still have their origins in Buddhist principles as Judge Christy Weeramantry has succinctly written of.
It is, therefore, relevant that a UN Day of Vesak should review these historical facts and move Asia at least, towards laws that are more homogeneous to the way of life of Asia’s peoples.

Premier Narendra Modi spoke expansively on the subject of Buddhist values on Friday, here in Colombo though he drifted towards economic and trade issues with Sri Lanka which raised fears that he was engaging in ‘soft diplomacy’, the trend in fashioning foreign policy nowadays.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a Buddhist as Law Minister drew up India’s Constitution in 1947, and the newly independent nation wishing to project the Ashokan image of non-violence and peaceful co-existence with its neighbours adopted the Ashokan Dharma column as the Great Seal of the Union.

It is to be seen if the current Modi dispensation in India, breaks away from its recent historical misadventures by abandoning those Ashokan principles and returns to the ‘moral grandeur of its past’, providing the vocal leadership for the region which India’s great poet Rabindranath Tagore once referred to. And what if he fails? Tagore himself said of India; “If in this thy great heart fails, bring me thy failure”.

The 24-hour Modi visit passed without a glitch as a nation bitter with the memories of recent events watched in the hope of a brighter future, as Sri Lanka welcomes the Nepali President to draw the final curtain on the UN International Vesak Day celebrations today.

Merits of the blank ballot
Much as one might like the thought of the Ashokan principles based on the Dharma guiding the destinies of our people, we live in the present and our laws remain largely European based. The recent French Presidential election concluded last Sunday drew worldwide attention for more reasons than one, and may have a few lessons for us.

Sri Lanka’s Constitution is framed largely on the French model of an Executive Presidency, a subject that is hotly in issue at the moment. France goes to the polls again next month to elect a new Parliament, which the President will have to work with.

While France seems to think its model works, Sri Lankans are less convinced of its efficacy here ever since it was first introduced – almost four decades ago, in 1978.

While France’s new President ostensibly won a huge 65-35 percent majority over his rival in the final count, he received only 24 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, forcing a second and final round. (This has not happened in Sri Lanka so far.) One of the widely analysed facets of the final round of polling in France last Sunday has been that 25 percent of the voters absented themselves from voting and another 8.8 percent put blank ballot papers in the ballot box totalling one-third of the French electorate that either did not vote or cast a ‘blank ballot’.

A blank ballot is also a French novelty, but Sri Lanka did not adopt that mechanism in its Constitution in 1978 or Election Laws nor in any of the Amendments thereto.

At a time when Sri Lanka’s Constitution and its Election Laws are under scrutiny with a view to either amending them, or introducing new ones, this progressive French example that gives the voter a greater opportunity of expressing his or her view at an election merits consideration.
In Sri Lanka, there is a category of ‘spoilt votes’. This can be both, votes cast where the voter unintentionally marks a choice wrongfully, or those who go to the booth and scribble some gibberish deliberately spoiling their vote as a protest. In the end one does not know how many were intentionally, or unintentionally spoiled.

The French ‘blank ballot’ is an opportunity given to a voter the choice to intentionally express what would amount to a rejection of the candidates he or she is presented with by political parties. Often, it can be Hobson’s Choice for voters, and this is a conscious decision afforded to the voter to reject the candidates on offer, which is reflected in the final count.

With a world-wide trend of voters rejecting traditional politics and politicians, those drafting changes to the Sri Lankan Constitution and its Election Laws might want to mull over this provision in France and replicate it here. The ‘blank ballot’ option gives a clearer indication of the pulse of the people. Whether the political leadership of this country would have what it takes and want to chance introducing such legislation here is, however, very unlikely.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.