Government of limited power need not be anaemic government. Assurance that rights are secure tends to diminish fear and jealousy of strong government, and by making us feel safe to live under it makes for its better support.
- Robert H. Jackson
Any government is under the obligation to govern its citizens; in fact it is the main duty of a government. A government which is either unable or unwilling to govern is like a fisherman who refuses or is unable to fish. The fact that there are fish all around and the man is equipped with a fishing rod does not automatically make him a fisher. That is how the present government of this republic can be perceived; unwilling and unable to govern.
The State apparatus is what bestows the teeth to a given government to rule; the executive and legislative powers of State are at the disposal of a government to make its writ run across the land. The writ of the government must run and be submitted to.
Writ of the State must run
There were extensive periods of time in post-independent Sri Lanka when the State, in the form of the government in power, struggled to ensure its rule ran across the entire land. During the JVP insurrection in 1971, swathes of land came under rebel control to the extent that they occupied police stations, ran cooperatives, petrol sheds and so forth, basically running a de facto government, though short-lived. A quite similar situation arose during the second insurrection in 1988-90 where the JVP, re-running a de facto rule, paralyzed the rule of the elected government. The same inability to run the writ in the North and the East was the norm right throughout the ethnic conflict spanning almost three decades, with the LTTE running a virtual State with their police, Central Bank, legal system, land, naval and air forces.
But now with no such obstruction by opposing military hardware or enforced rebel rule, the writ of the State should run to each and every inch of the landmass within its territory. Yet, there seems to be an anarchy that is almost tangible; one wonders whether the country is under a government at all. On the one hand, the conflict of policy inherent to the two main constituents of the unity government creates confusion as to what the State policy is. The liquor ban issue on women is an ideal example of this dualness of government policy in action.
On the other hand, the inability of the government to ensure submission to its will, its subjects; especially various bodies that represent professionals, businessmen, employees and religious institutions.
A government held hostage
The Buddhist clergy, under self-acclaimed misnomer ‘Maha Sangha,’ seems to be bullying the government as to how Constitutions are to be drafted; in that sense, they are dictating the government on which nature the future State should be. The medical practitioners through their now infamous GMOA seem to be single-handedly deciding as to how medical education should be shaped, overriding decisions of the government and imposing its will on the policy-making right of a regime that enjoys the legislative mandate of the people. The private bus owners, three wheeler drivers, railway workers, university students’ organisations and every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to be acting with impunity thereby giving the impression they are mandated to govern.
The notion of democracy does not entail an obligation on the government to give in to the whims and fancies of all sections of the society which it governs. Of course, democratic governance requires the consent of the people when making and implementing policies. In policy-making, the input of all stakeholders is not only a must, but a guarantee that such measures will bear fruit. But once a policy is drafted and legislated, it becomes the decree of the State. To undermine, reverse, belittle or sneer at such directive is denial of the sovereignty of the people who have installed that particular government in the first place through their ballot.
A mockery of governing
Leave alone far-reaching and crucial areas such as Constitutional amendments or devolution of power -- which we all agree needs the consent of the overwhelming majority -- but mundane things such as fixing a bus fare, getting the holidays in the calendar including religious holidays and deciding how school uniforms are to be distributed are matters that should happen smoothly in the ordinary course of business of a government, isn’t it? How many times did the government have to turn back, sometimes overnight, on its decrees, making a mockery of the powers of governance?
According to the theory of social contract, citizens hand over a part of their free will to the State with the undisputed power to rule; to make life safe, enjoyable and fruitful; things that each and every citizen alone is unable to accomplish. Hence, they have willingly imparted part of their freedom and autonomy as citizens, surrendering to the government, so the latter, in turn, with the mandate so granted and sovereign as a result, can rule. The Marxist theory of the State, in a broader sense, is that it is merely an apparatus to protect the interests of the property-owning ruling classes, keeping the toiling masses at bay. Whichever way you look at it, the act of governance involves ruling, using force sometimes and ensuring policies that are implemented for the benefit of the entire society (or at least of those whom it represents).
Time running out
The mandate received on January 8, 2015 was to implement good governance; it was not a mandate for ‘any’ kind of governance but ‘good’ governance. Out of that term the ‘good’ adjective lost a lot of credence very early on. One now wonders, if even the ‘governance’ part is hollow of substance. Let alone good governance, there does not seem to be any governance at all, going by the farce like scenarios the rulers run into almost every other week.
After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the Communist Party had a hard time convincing the Russian peasant population of the benefits of collective farming instead of fragmentised, single-plot farming. The farmers clung on to their small plots of land which have come down from their ancestors. The dictatorship of the proletariat had to use force to get the peasantry into collective farms, giving up their small plots. The result was an agricultural boom that held the communist State in good stead even during World War II. So was it with so many progressive reforms resisted initially by various groups.
Time is running out for the ‘ruling’coalition with less than one and a half years left in office at best. It has an obligation to ‘govern’ in the first place and govern ‘good.’ The January 8 mandate does not allow it to govern badly; the social contract it has with its voters does not allow it to abrogate governance in the first place.
Governance sometimes needs resolute and firm steps; and requires political will.