10 December, 2019

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Are We A Fake Democracy? 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

One of the most misused words is “Democracy”.

In popular understanding this means that an institution, including a nation, is governed by a group, selected by the exercise of the free will of the members, expressed by an electoral process, and by a secret ballot. They in turn are expected to project the views of what their constituents are judged to favour. If these two criteria are not met, the claim to be a democracy has failed.

The first is by the violation of free choice in the selection of candidates, which is now done by the Party leadership. The second is by the exercise of the “Party Whip”. Nominations are now determined by the party leadership and not by the voters. It is therefore nonsensical to blame the voters for the poor quality of Parliamentarians. The voters really have no free choice but to vote for the “least worst”. The selections by the party leadership are often on the basis of criteria that have nothing to do with suitability, but much to do with usefulness to the party coffers or to do their dirty work. Consequently, there is a lack of education qualifications and more importantly, of good conduct. The suggestion often, that minimal qualifications should be required to be an MP is only of limited value. Many instances exist of persons with little formal schooling who have been outstanding successes, while some with the highest academic achievements have been dismal failures politically. Thus, mere academic success is insufficient for entry into Parliament.

The second, is the function of the Party Whip, which requires an MP to follow party directions in voting. Thus, he does not exercise his free will or conscience in using his franchise. It is only a secret ballot or conscience vote that allows the desired freedom of choice. It is ironic that a secret ballot is recognized as a requirement at electoral level, while free will is denied in the very institution through which his franchise is expressed! It is said that convention denies a free vote only for the election of the Speaker. This is a logic that is impossible to understand. If this applies, what is the purpose of expensive Parliamentary debate? Then scholastic achievements become irrelevant! It cannot be that Democracy and freedom of choice, does not exist in the highest body symbolic of Democracy. These two limitations cry out for reform.

These two requirements being unmet, raises many issues. The failure to comply with the two basic requirements to support the foundations of democracy, must mean that our democracy is a fake. It should be well within the ability of Parliament to rectify this anomalous situation.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Of course, and a failed state as well. The whole world knows.

    • 0
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      Whole world knows but Sri Lankans have stuck their head in the sand and don’t realize it.

  • 3
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    We have Elections coming soon. We the terribly troubled voters in the country should bring in the criteria to contest elections.
    We need to disqualify most of the current lot of politicians.
    There is no REAL democracy if the RIGHTS of minorities are denied and suppressed.
    Let’s pass the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

    • 1
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      The 2-Party or multi-Party system of government is coming under question in many countries. In India – where most voters are under-educated the 1-man-1-vote system is proving to be farcical. In Sri Lanka, it is no better. The fact that we have literacy over 90% does not make
      the citizen a better voter – in terms of voting in good, useful Govts.
      When that great Harvard historian, the Japanese-American Prof. Francis Fukuyama wrote his seminal “End of History” he figured this democratic system will be the last in the world’s governance. The current confusion in the UK, USA and France makes it clear we need a better system of governance in the world where there is a balance between the needs of the average citizen and how best the system could be made to meet this need.

      Kettikaran

  • 1
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    A good insight. Our parliamentary process is a joke and tragicomedy. Above all the national dress they wear along with the ‘salwar’ symbolic of projecting the Sri Lankan parliament as a house of comedy.

  • 2
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    According to Sri Lanka constitution Article 3 and 4 states people of Sri Lanka sovereign and inalienable and people exercise franchise to elect members of parliament and president. You would argue this is heart of democracy. But if people consistently chosen wrong people to do the job- Is democracy right for people and for the country? During franchise (when electing members to parliament and as president) has people given right information about candidates’ history, candidates maturity, capability and skills for the job. Then what is the level of the education, knowledge of people to think objectively what country needs and how country needs to develop and assess that against candidates’ ability. If people know level of skills, history, capability of candidates through right information will there be different results. I think there is a mismatch between, 1-weak Sri Lanka constitution on choosing candidates for the job (weak on not having minimum qualification for a member of parliament or president, weak on not defining enough information for people during election about candidates so that people can judge candidates’ ability and weak on not focusing enough on development of the country given that article 27 is just directive principles and not mandatory) 2-fair access to information for people about candidates and 3-knowledge of people on their own for a good strategy to develop Sri Lanka. Combination of these three factors suggest that the “word” democracy is either not suitable for Sri Lanka or not in exit in Sri Lanka and I am not sure which of these is true! What do you all think?

  • 1
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    One will not find ideal democracy anywhere and in this sense all democracies are fake of various shades.
    The lighter shades will have ‘Law & Order’ firmly in place.
    Upatissa Pethiyagoda has an excellent discussion on “Are We A Fake Democracy?”
    The answer is “Yes”.

    ‘Law & Order’ is for all practical purposes is not there. The ‘Culture’ of corruption/nepotism prevails.
    Minorities are treated differently.
    This puts us in the Fake & Black category.

  • 0
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    There is an intriguing aspect to this :
    1} Under the proportional representation method the voter first votes for the party and then the candidate indicating that the party and its policies are expected to be followed by the candidate/s who win therfore any deviation from this is considered anti democratic as the people voted him/her to toe the party line. He/ she would have to conduct a trasparent excercise to find out from whom who voted for him/her if a deviation is acceptable – Not Practical so have to toe the party line
    2}Under the FPP ..is say Candidate A contests from part 1 and wins,, it does not mean that candidate A will win contesting as an independent { very rarely} so again he /she wins beacuse of the party he.she is affiliated to hence its only democratic that he/she carrried out what he.she was voted to do…..

  • 0
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    I inadvertently omitted a salient point. When a candidate is defeated at the polls, he may well happily enter Parliament through the “Nominated list”. Where does the “sovereignty” of the people (which is declared to be “inalienable”) figure in this? The Constitution proclaims this loftily, but practice suggests a total rejection, of this perhaps well-intentioned principle. This is yet another issue which is cynically distorted. The intention of this category – of harnessing the expertise of citizens who do not wish to join in the hustings, is mockingly violated. If provision is made for a “Senate”, it will be no different.

    • 2
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      Sir, you are working on an assumption that who people choose to represent them is the correct people to develop good balanced country and that true democracy (whatever it is) is good for the development of Sri Lanka! But historically, generally people, themselves really don’t have a good knowledge or not making an informed decision (there is bias in media, politicians continuously give false information etc). I think there is a causal-effect in here- that is we need to educate people from age 0 including improving current education system fit for purpose and then people can analyse the system and start choosing the right people for the job and get rid of those who ruin our country.

    • 0
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      Dr. Pethiyagoda, I disliked some of the ideas published by you prior to this. But this is critical, how can we have democracy in a country where the we are told at Bana preachings that at his Prinibbana, Lord Buddha requested God Saman to protect Vijaya that rapacious man who was banished from his mother country, who I am told – since I did not live at that time- that he killed his wife and the two children . and that the present generation of Sinhalese are descendants of that thug. What democracy can you expect from such people.I believe that i am a descendant of the Rakhasas and Yakkas marriage.

  • 0
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    Is that an issue to ponder upon or to be debated on? Bensen

  • 0
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    Dear Sir

    I know how fake our democracy was in Vaddukottai and the entire North having challenged the thugs of ITAK/TULF now the TNA then.

    I know how fake the democracy was ever since Independence having lived with caste system up North.

    Know how fake democracy was when they GOSL did not care to clean up these undemocratic elements masquerade as liberators.

    The fact TNA leader ask the world what happed to the missing (400 000 – 290 000) says it all in out shell. They have ensured at gun point they be elected since 1970 and the elected do not know what happed to their constituents??? WHAT ELSE THEY MAY KNOW UN SHOULD ASK THEM IN THE UPCOMING INVESTIGATIONS REGARDS TO ALL THE MISSING IN JAFFNA SINCE 1970. TN State Government to answer the same questions too.

    • 0
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      ” The fact TNA leader ask the world what happed to the missing (400 000 – 290 000) says it all in out shell”.

      Could you explain us what is that saying? ” says it all in out shell ” I am little bit a loss of understanding.

      Do you have any idea what he Sampanthar was talking?

      Couldn’t you have written this on Sampanthar’s thread?

      Don’t be a stupid to write a comment without what the author wants to say.

  • 0
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    Bro

    ‘Says it all in a nut shell’

    Thank your all other comments too.

  • 0
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    Where are our contributor nuts – Champa.lt Col Perera,

  • 1
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    Democracy – my foot. In a country where labour union leaders support negligence leading to death of patients which incidents the government through fear of the powerful over look, what democracy?

    What democracy, when courts takes years to adjucate, where lawyers manipulate extension to the cost of the litigant, what emocracy when the Minister of Justice enjoy a 24 hrs snooze at the expense of the tax payer, what democracy where Ministers offer as solution to problem which project to dispose of Trillions of tax payer’s money instead of opning up 100 yds of a public road.

    We are like the cattle in a drive in the wild west. Control the leading bull, the rest will follow to their death.,

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