Colombo Telegraph

Challenge Of Making The Democracy Win Rather Than Defeating The Autocracy

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Civil society has done a positive role in the presidential elections in 2015 and the result was a revolutionary point of the democracy in Sri Lanka. By using the amended constitution of Sri Lanka and the feelings of people after the victory of the civil war, then government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa proceeded in the path of an autocracy. It was with the blessings of the people somewhat similar to the early era of Hitler in Germany.

There was an illegal attempt to preserve the power by the outgoing president. However due to the opposing views of the leading government officers at that time and due to the intervention of Ranil Wickremesinghe who went to Temple Trees to discuss the change of power, the attempt was abandoned. At that time the presidential candidate who won the election was hiding at a coconut plantation in Kurunegala. That symbolized the status of the democracy prevailed at that time.

When the Press questioned about providing a helicopter to the outgoing president to move away, without answering the question Wickremesinghe said we got the presidency. This was an evidence that there was a deal at that point. Gene Sharp states as follows in his book, From Dictatorship to Democracy – A conceptual framework for democracy.

“In those types of conflicts, the only proper role of negotiations may occur at the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage to an international airport.”

Sri Lanka secured independence without shedding blood. Unlike in Indian freedom struggle we have not adapted a mass struggle or political defiance movement against the rulers at that time. However apart from the wars waged by the Sinhala kings against Portuguese and Dutch rulers there were a series of uprisings against the Dutch rulers during the latter part of their rule and against the British rulers up to 1948 in which year the last major rebellion was marked. In 20th century we got independence by negotiation. Therefore, we did not have a chance to mobilize all people with different ethnicities and religions in a common resistance struggle. Although we did not shed blood at that time, we had to shed blood at prolonged unwanted period thereafter.

We got democracy together with the independence. We have enjoyed it prior to that under the British rule to a limited extent. At the point we virtually lost democracy it was preserved ironically by democratic means at an election. We have never launched a mass struggle for it. Gene Sharp in his landmark book points out that during the non-violent struggle against dictatorships by strengthening democracy within the movement strugglers can reduce the possibility of emerging fresh dictatorship at the end of the struggle. Therefore, we are fed-up of the prevalent democratic style which was thrust upon us. Government officers also work when they get orders such as from Ranasinghe Premadasa or Mahinda Rajapaksa.

After the independence Sri Lanka was virtually ruled by few families. There is an unwritten agreement among them not to dig into the corruption of the rule of each other. There are few exceptions to this. During this regime murders also added to those corruptions. The efficiency of the able officers of the Sri Lanka Police was blunted. Even though the corruption was put under the carpet as a compromise if a solution could have been found for the unresolved ethnic issue and governing structure, then it was a deal. It is not enough to get the presidency as a part of the deal. That was won. Murders cannot be a part of any deal.  

The next presidential election comes in this background. The next president does not have powers as this president. The next president cannot keep ministries under him. The current president does not have the same powers as the previous president. The present president shows that he is having certain power by acting illegally and by the inaction by the government against it. If prime minister can muster the majority of the parliament and if there would not be jumpers among the members of parliament, the power will be concentrated around the prime minister.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa came forward as the candidate of the SLPP. So far there is no concrete evidence of renunciation of his US citizenship. He was selected not by the party but by the family. Even if there was a vote of the party hierarchy  he would have been elected as the candidate. That it how it operates. The question is his conduct and military background. It appears to be that he would continue this behavior. This discipline is liked by the people who are not disciplined such as crabs enjoying in the pot. 

Sajith Premadasa says he will contest although his party did not approve it yet. Many in his party think that he would be a winning candidate. His vision is narrow as the vision of his opponent candidate. Since the vision of the people is also narrow one of these candidates can be elected as the president. However, according the constitution prime minister should have the vision for the country. The role of the president can be played by either Gotabaya or Sajith.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s question, it appears to be that is the party leadership. Maithripala Sirisena is getting ready to be in the dustbin since he placed party leadership above the presidency. If a candidate of UNP or SLFP wins the presidential election, he will be the leader of the party he represented. The constitutions of these feudalistic parties also should have changed along with the changes to the constitution by which the powers of the president were reduced.

JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake is contesting this time after a long lapse. There are talks that SLFP also might put forward a candidate. They are divided in opinion same as UNP. There is an attempt to present an apolitical person to contest. In addition,  there is a movement to make nota vote in the ballot paper to mark the protest to the rotten existing system. Therefore, this presidential election will not be a contest between two parties like 2015. It will be a contest among many parties and there would be a possibility of counting the second preference vote. Hence the civil society is confused. It gets confused further since the people also take wrong decisions on and off. Brexit was such a decision taken by the British people.

In 2015 the situation was simple and narrow. Hence the selection was easy and straight forward. Now the situation is complicated, and the selection is wide. When the problem is complicated the correct answer should be innovative. Therefore, civil society has an opportunity to arrive at an innovative answer.

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