A member of the President’s Counsel submitted earlier this week a Private Member’s Bill to parliament that, if passed, would prevent religious leaders of any faith from becoming members of parliament and local government bodies.
The bill, put forward by opposition lawmaker Wijedasa Rajapakse, would amend the constitution and create a clear separation between politics and religion in Sri Lanka.
“It would help to maintain and preserve religious dignity for every religion in the country and would end religious disharmony,” he said. “I expect to have a healthy debate among political parties and civil society members.”
Religious leaders playing politics on national issues has been a major impediment to national reconciliation following the government’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, said Rajapakse.
He added that Buddhist monks have not made a positive contribution to parliament and were often treated poorly by its other members.
Buddhist monk Ven Omalpe Sobitha Thero, leader of Jathika Hela Urumaya, said that his Buddhist political party would remain opposed to any move to deny monks the right to run in future elections.
“Buddhist monk representation in the parliament has never harmed interreligious harmony in this country,” he said, arguing that the majority of the electorate saw lay parliamentarians as responsible for corruption, bribery and even drug abuse.
The JHU had campaigned against these malpractices, he added.
Human Rights activist Father Nandana Manatunga said he felt his duty was to educate people, making sure they were making the right choices in life, which he considered a separate activity from politics.
“Party politics is for laymen, and there are things that we have to do as the clergy,” the priest said. “We are responsible for criticizing any misdeeds in the country as and when they happen.”