|Saturday, 6 April 2002|
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Enthroning the conscience
The bringing of constitutional amendments to provide for a conscience vote in parliament, could be considered one of the most profoundly significant initiatives in the legislative history of this country. As matters stand, a legislator cannot vote on any issues of national significance, in accordance with her or his conscience, without risking losing her or his seat in parliament; so great a control does the party exercise over the member of parliament.
On the basis of the latter arrangement, the quality ambiguously referred to as "party discipline" is maintained, but the MPs concerned are put through the agony and humiliation of voting against the voice of their conscience. Thus are the promptings of one's conscience brutally suppressed.
While the anti-democratic nature of such party practices should be obvious, what is less perceived is the grave moral harm these forms of control bring about. A country's moral conscience is strangulated and prevented to the extent to which its law-makers are compelled to vote and speak against their consciences and moral promptings. After all, evil prospers when good men remain or are forced to remain silent.
In Sri Lanka's case, political expediency and short-term political gain have, on numerous occasions, proved of greater importance to political parties represented in parliament than the national interest. These tendencies have prevented a national consensus from emerging on issues of the highest magnitude. If legislators are given the opportunity of voting on the basis of their consciences, such distortions in the body politic could be avoided.
It should be clear that the next few weeks would prove important from the country's point of view. Steps have steadily been taken for resolving the ethnic conflict by political means. It is the heart-cry of the people that this problem which has cost us so dearly, be resolved by peaceful means as quickly as possible. The last thing that the public would want is a government and an opposition which are on a confrontational course on bringing peace.
Confrontational politics on this issue was made possible in the past because of the lack of a conscience vote. Law-makers were compelled by party whips to blindly follow the party-line. Consequently, the national question remained unresolved.
The allowing of a conscience vote is likely to prevent this from happening this time round, where the peace effort is believed to be receiving the support of a considerable section of the opposition. The contemplated constitutional amendments couldn't be more timely.
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