The democracy deficits within

22 September 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Politics is about power. Rhetoric is frill. Objection on grounds of morality, unconstitutionality, illegality etc., with chest-beating to accompany the uttering of terms such as good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency, amounts to ‘necessary drivel’.  


Indeed over-uttering has a way of not just devaluing the relevant notion but even of prompting cynicism. In the worst case scenario it can even come to mean the exact opposite. ‘Good Governance’ is a case in point; the term has already become a joke and is in danger of being a synonym, paradoxically, for incompetence, same-old-same-old and the celebration of terrorists and terrorism.   


That said, even the most ardent critics of the ‘yahapalana’ regime and even the greatest cynics of yahapalana-intent must acknowledge that some things in this country have changed for the better. Bad on development, atrocious on reconciliation, poor in making action match rhetoric over corruption and abuse of power, the yahapalana regime nevertheless has walked a few steps along the road to democratization. Slow, yes; unsteady, yes; unconvinced/unconvincing, yes; selective, yes; falling short of expectations by a mile, yes; and yet the steps are real.   


There’s no 20th Amendment (electoral reform) and local government elections have been postponed for purposes of political expediency, but we did get the (imperfect) 19th Amendment. The FCID is, according to legal experts, illegal and yet there’s space for those haulled up for interrogation to come out and lambaste the process and the institution. Suspected wrongdoers of the previous regime have been lined up for questioning, but they have also had the option of appealing and obtaining relief on occasion. Yahapalanists suspected of worse misdeeds are kept safe but then again slowly but surely a culture of apprehension is spreading among politicians. A good sign, certainly.   


One might dismiss these signs as being typical of the early-days of the honeymoon following electoral victory, but with the 19th and the Right to Information Act in place the Government has certainly done away with safeguards previously available for errant politicians.   


All this and more was to happen in 100 days from January 8, 2015. Almost 600 days have passed. Democratization is slow and the speed or rather its lack cannot be blamed on politicians alone. Intent and drive notwithstanding, a country with an anti-democratic political culture and one where the mandated righters of wrongs are themselves ignorant, incapable and corrupt, a few good people or rather a bunch of bad people who are occasionally good can only do so much.  


In other words, we should look at the bright side and breathe deep (while we can).   
The Democracy Project, if you will, has at its helm politicians and political parties that are high on rhetoric and low on implementation; they are incompetent for the most part, good intention notwithstanding. Therein is the danger for the yahapalana project; the danger from within that is. Without, of course, there’s the joint opposition standing in the wings and ready to gather discontent. That’s a political issue about power and has little to do with good or bad governance, especially since the yahapalana discourse is a) largely foreign to the voters and b) the voters are pretty well educated about politics and politicians – they know what they can get and what they will not.   


Dealing with the ‘outside threat’ (less to yahapalanaya than to yahapalanists) will have to be about bread and butter issues, development, keeping inflation under control etc., etc. The length travelled on the road to democracy is not exactly a winning slogan. Unfortunately, one might add. Ironically though, if the ‘bade-prashnaya’ or the issue of the stomach (as metaphor for the tangible material minimum) is not resolved the political rug could very well be pulled from under the Democracy Project. The same people that voted for a more democratic regime will quickly ask for a strong (read, tyrannical) leader. That tyrant-in-waiting, could be resident in the joint opposition or in the UNP or the SLFP, let us not forget.   


This is why the architects and drivers of the Democracy Project would do well to do a reality check on things closer to home; in short, their own parties. When dissent (for whatever reason) rises and yahapalana rhetoric becomes hollow it would be silly to say ‘Mahinda put us in this mess!’ and even more silly to get the rank and file to talk yahapalana-lingo. The reason is simple: the major political parties are democratic only in name. In constitution, operation and culture they are anything but!   
It is time that the SLFP and UNP seriously subject themselves to the reforms they advocate for the country, not just to salute the adage ‘charity begins at home’ but for purposes of political expediency.

They can go slower on the party road than they have on the nation-road in the quest for democracy but things can change and when they do they can change pretty fast. When ‘the enemy’ is not only outside the doors of the party headquarters but is sitting pretty inside, edifices so necessary to sustain a reform project that is inherently weak can crumble.   


Neither the SLFP nor the UNP can effectively argue that the parties are places where democracy reigns. A secret vote on the matter will result in the edification and thereafter the disillusionment of optimists. No one is saying ‘physician heal thyself’ or ‘practise what you preach’. Not yet. It could come to that but it need not. Indeed, if it does come to that, it may be already too late.   


Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Blog: malindawords.blogspot.com. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene  

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