Today is the United Nations’ International Day of Democracy and the theme for the year is appropriate for most of the world – ‘Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World’. Obviously the United States President Donald Trump - with his impulsive and dangerously unpredictable if not idiotic decisions, is one of the main causes for this.
The UN says this event is an opportunity to look for ways to invigorate democracy and seek answers to the systemic challenges it faces. This includes tackling economic and political inequalities, making democracies more inclusive by bringing the young and marginalized into the political system, and making democracies more innovative and responsive to emerging challenges such as migration and climate change. Again though the UN does not say it Donald Trump appears to be the main threat to the free world order - as exposed in the best selling book of famous journalist Bob Woodward.
With this year’s 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Day of Democracy is also an opportunity to highlight the values of freedom and respect for human rights as essential elements of democracy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (article 21.3), has inspired constitution-making around the world and contributed to global acceptance of democratic values and principles. Democracy, in turn, provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development addresses democracy in Sustainable Development Goal 16, recognizing the indivisible links between peaceful societies and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.
UN Secretary General António Guterres in a message says working for a future that leaves no one behind requires us to consider essential, pressing questions. For example, what impact will migration or climate change have on democracy in the next generation? How do we best harness the potential of new technologies while avoiding the dangers? How do we build better governance so that democracy delivers better lives and fully meets the public’s aspirations? Mr. Guterres has called on the world to join forces for the future of democracy. He needs to address these questions mainly to Mr. Trump. In Sri Lanka there was wide-spread hope that the January 8, 2015 presidential election would be a turning point towards the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and effective measures to bring about a just, peaceful and all inclusive society. Some three years and nine months later, there are differing views on how far we have progressed in achieving these noble objectives.
Democracy has been restored to a large extent with checks and balances among the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the free media. These are widely accepted as the four pillars of democracy. After the August 2015 parliamentary election, the two main parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – decided to form a coalition government. A three year memorandum of understanding was signed after the August 2015 parliamentary election. The coalition still continues despite regular divisions and disputes, which generally take place when two parties come together though they have different socio economic viewpoints.
On the positive side an independent, all party Constitutional Council was setup to confirm appointments to high places and oversee the work of the independent Public Services Commission, the Police Commission, the Judicial Services Commission, the National Elections Commission, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), and the Human Rights Commission.
The new government had pledged to investigate allegations that the former Rajapaksa regime’s leaders, top officials and their lackeys had plundered billions of dollars in public funds and deposited the money in secret foreign bank accounts. But it took about three and a half years for the government to implement legislation to setup special Permanent High Courts, which are conducting trials-at-bar into such corruption allegations. Hearings will be held daily in the morning and afternoon while it is hoped that the cases could be concluded within a few months. Two such cases - one involving the former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa - have already been taken up and more are to follow with the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) having gathered substantial evidence in about 100 cases.
As for sustainable, eco-friendly and all inclusive development, the government is implementing three major projects - Gamperaliya or village reawakening, Enterprise Sri Lanka and the Grama Shakthi projects. Government leaders say they hope to provide about a million jobs mainly to village youth, who are creative, innovative or enterprising. They are being given big, interest free bank loans to start enterprises with their targets including the export market. We hope the vision of the just, peaceful and all inclusive society could be reached in this way with politicians sincerely, selflessly and sacrificially serving the people.