ur political history since Independence had been studded with numerous events such as communal riots, two insurgencies, a prolonged ethnic war, emergency rule, and allegations of violations of human rights, massive scale frauds and corruption.
Politicians, national, provincial and local, have been openly despising and breaking the rule of law.
They use political power to suppress their own commissions and omissions for personal benefit. The culture of impunity, which had existed for decades, does not seem to be straightforwardly reversible or negated. If so, could we now ensure a government “Of the people, by the people and for the people”?
In a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic heterogeneous country, our elected representatives should now critically and futuristically ascertain how they should contribute for strengthening the democratic political order and cultural polity to ensure political stability in the country for the benefit of the nation.
Could they do that? In ancient India, the Lichchav is gathered and decided on policy based on consensus. In Athens thereafter they had practised democratic rule with an Assembly as big as 5,000 to 6,000 delegates.
In modern democracies, unlike in the past, the elected representatives, including ours, have been provided with generous salaries by way of allowances, rights, privileges, perks and benefits (And even handsome pensions after a period of five years) in order to take suitable political decisions to formulate laws and attend to governance of the State.
If so, why are we lagging behind?
Our Constitution lays down certain basic requirements set out below, which must be respected and honoured by politicians and authorities:
- Guarantee of basic Human Rights to every individual
- Separation of powers among the institutions of the State; Government (Executive Power), Parliament (Legislative Power), and Courts of Law (Judicative power)
- Freedom of Expression
- Religious Liberty.
Diane Ravitch, Scholar, Author and a former high ranking U.S Official had written “when a representative democracy operates in accordance with a Constitution that limits the powers of the Government and guarantees Fundamental Rights to all citizens, this form of Government is a Constitutional democracy.
“In such a society, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the institutionalisation of law”
The question now arises what happens “When a representative democracy does not operate within the provisions of a Constitution that limits powers”?
In our country, we have most often contravened the provisions in the law, including the Constitution. It has been proved that the present Government too has gone way ahead beyond the provisions of the Constitution in regard to the Ministerial positions.
The appointment of three more ministers is a repetition of what the former regime did. Shouldn’t the present leadership realise the former regime was defeated because they were top heavy and they only looked after their political buddies, after having axed the welfare of the citizens having won the devastating war?
It is unfortunate the poor masses do not understand the implications of a top heavy Government?
Is ours a Constitutional democracy? A democracy is more than a set of Constitutional rules and procedures that determines how a Government should function.
In a democracy, government is just another institution co-existing in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, civil societies, religious organisations and other institutions tasked with specific functions in a democratic country.
"The appointment of three more ministers is a repetition of what the former regime did. Shouldn’t the present leadership realise the former regime was defeated because they were top heavy and they only looked after their political buddies, after having axed the welfare of the citizens having won the devastating war?"
It could also be seen that various types of organisations exist and operate in a democratic society, where they serve the citizens and the country through mediation and many other ways in order to sort out issues and to strengthen the citizens to exercise their rights and responsibilities in a democracy.
After having won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, the present Government, under the present leadership too, we could now see the same tragedy being repeated.
Is the present leadership too trying to pamper politicians at massive costs to the citizens?
Do they have to disregard the promises made to the people at the last Presidential and Parliamentary Elections?
We need to ascertain as to how we could re-establish the most essential elements for a stable political order for Sri Lanka.
Shouldn’t it be by doing justice to the masses? Will the masses approve what is being done?
We also must remember if ours is a well-functioning democracy, features embodied in the Constitution and other laws should promote the rule of law and everyone including politicians must behave in accordance with the agreed laws, rules and regulations.
And no one should be permitted to be above the law. If so, how could we still find Ministers acting as if they are a law unto themselves?
This proves that the conditions needed for a democracy to function well are highly demanding!
Is it the same that continues under the Unity Government too where Courts, Police and other institutions could easily be swayed by influential politicians and high ranking officials abusing their authority by favouring the bigwigs for private gain?
Does this mean the rule of law is wonky even now having enacted the 19th Amendment to create independent Commissions?
It must not be forgotten that there are several burning factors, such as lawlessness, culture of impunity, bribery, corruption and inability to improve public sector performance that make the country nearly ungovernable and showing signs of total deterioration when it comes to establishing good governance and rule of law.
"If the politicians think that they could continually and contemptuously press their demands for perks, benefits and that the law should not apply to them, their hopes and aspirations could shatter once again because the ballot is yet more powerful than even the bullet!"
Several Senior Cabinet Ministers, including Arjuna Ranatunga and Champika Ranawaka, in the present government who campaigned strongly for good governance and principled politics have thrown themselves openly for criticism.
John Amaratunga had made contradictory statements in regard to the destruction of jogging tracks in Wattala.
High integrity and transparency must necessarily relate to good governance campaigners in the performance of their daily activities too. Are we simply displaying the name boards only? Because there are other ministers who have cleared acres and acres of jungle lands too!
If the politicians think that they could continually and contemptuously press their demands for perks, benefits and that the law should not apply to them, their hopes and aspirations could shatter once again because the ballot is yet more powerful than even the bullet!
Remember, most of our politicos during the past several decades drew the monthly rental allowance of Rs. 100,000 although they possessed houses in Colombo!
The Unity Government also appears to have ignored the burning issues. Are they also going to keep their eyes and ears closed? There are allegations of corruption taking place even presently. Let me quote what Ronald Reagan had said
“Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first”.
"Who knows whether there will be more and more crossovers? Morris Abraham, former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. had said “repression most certainly guarantees economic failure”."
If our politicians lack the qualities needed, this Government too would fail to deliver!
The former regime never thought it could be defeated. Does Unity government too think the constituents are dumb idiots? They are not!
Shouldn’t they remember that the present government has already created serious doubts in the minds of the citizens?
In my view, the present leadership must immediately take steps to further strengthen, as promised, the pillars of rock-solid democratic rule in a democratic country while respecting the
(1) Sovereignty of the people
(2) Government based upon the consent of the governed
(3) Minority rights
(4) Guarantee of basic human rights
(5) Equality before the Law
(6) Due process of Law
(7) Observing and respecting Constitutional requirements and limits on governance
(8) Social, economic, religious and political pluralism
(9) Meaningful and effective devolution of power credibly
(10) Setting an example by strengthening and establishing good governance at all levels without paying lip service.
These have been reiterated in our Constitution and have been explicitly and implicitly mentioned in numerous Manifestoes of the main political parties too. We must now stress and emphasise the need for equality and social welfare as the core of the government’s economic policy – not the need to repressively increase ministerial positions in Parliament which has now increased to 92 (Cabinet Ministers, State Ministers and Deputy Ministers) from 225 member legislature. Constitutionally, in terms of the 19th Amendment this cannot exceed 70 and the Parliament has to determine if it is a National Government, when in fact ours is a Unity Government of convenience. The increase of ministers is a gross violation of the Constitution!
"After having won the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, the present Government, under the present leadership too, we could now see the same tragedy being repeated. "
Who knows whether there will be more and more crossovers? Morris Abraham, former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. had said “repression most certainly guarantees economic failure”.
However, citizens can hold politicians accountable for their actions and for policy out-comes, both through elections and through checks and balances on the abuse of power. Periodic elections provide the basic means through which citizens can hold politicians` feet to the fire. What could be the outcome of forthcoming local government elections? GUESS?
Accordingly, a democracy means both a promise and a challenge. We must therefore work together irrespective of our caste, creed or religion to ensure that our contribution is committedly made to fulfil the aspirations of the people, while exercising our own rights to stress upon the political leadership to ensure greater opportunities in economic, cultural, social, political and even our own intellectual well-being as citizens.
In a democracy, we should also do whatever we can with commitment, without taking up arms, to win our own political, economic, social, cultural benefits including internationally respected norms such as human rights, rule of law and establishing good governance for the benefit of the future generations.
We should not leave it in the hands of politicians alone thinking they will do justice to us. They will want to look after themselves and their party men for their own survival. They have proved many a time that the party comes first for them and not the country. Dale Amon had said “Politicians, are by nature, liars”. Isn’t it true?
The late Joseph Brodsky, Russian-born poet and Nobel Prize Winner wrote “A free man, when he fails, blames no body”. Nevertheless, if it is in a democracy, if it is the case, the citizens should finally take the responsibility for the fate of their society where they have chosen to live. In the end, we therefore get the government we deserve.
Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution had however told Indian Lokh Sabha on 25th November, 1949
“The Constitution I offered may be good or bad, it will depend on how the men in office use it” which means “However, good a Constitution may be, if the executors fail to deliver, it may prove to be a bad one, and if the executors are good enough, however bad the Constitution may be, it will definitely prove to be good”. If so shouldn’t our leadership address their minds to accomplish the unfinished business? Are they really capable of doing it?