18 June, 2018

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Crisis Of Parliamentary Democracy & Need For A Credible Reformist Movement

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

There are numerous media reports about the failure of good governance or Yahapalanaya since the new government came into power in early 2015. There seems to be not only a growing disenchantment with the existing system of governance and associated political culture but also a lack of choices to use by the public next time around. How did we come to this untenable situation and what should be the way forward?

Before the Presidential system of governance was introduced in 1978 and it started to corrode the parliamentary system of governance that people were familiar with, the voters who were not happy with one party opted for the other party at general elections. This was referred to as Tattumaruwa. Nonetheless, there was a choice then.  After the elections, one set of politicians took seats in the opposition and a new lot in the government benches. After the new system came into being, sometimes with a two thirds majority in the parliament, there was a trend for smaller parties to emerge.  Some of them were splinter groups from the mainstream parties. Examples such as Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, the party led by Lalith Athulatmudali come to mind. This trend continued during the war years.  Even the JVP was split and the party led by Wimal Weerawansa came into being. Today Gammanpila leads a party called Pivithuru Hela Urumaya distiniguishing itself from Hela Urumaya led by Patali Champika Ranawaka. Even in the case of Tamil and Muslim parties similar splinter groups and parties have emerged. Even the Ceylon Workers Congress led by Thondaman is no spared. This trend can be defined as a process of FRGMENTATION in the political party system in Sri Lanka. However, parallel to this process there is another process.  It can be defined as FUSION.

BY fusion I mean the forming of coalitions before the general and Presidential elections where smaller parties come together with a mainstream party such as the UNP or the SLFP.  Such coalitions issue election manifestos. Speakers on stages and in the TV discussions repeat the promises listed in such documents. However, once a government is formed at the initial stages,  some minor parties join the government even if they did not support the particular coalition before the election. In return their leaders get ministerial appointments. Such change of support for a different coalition can go against the principles, values and promises these leaders make before the elections.  Nonetheless, they rationalise such moves on the ground of pragmatism.  

During the war years, those belonging to UNP and other parties joined the Rajapaksa government. After the 2015 elections, a national government was formed by the UNP and SLFP together with smaller parties. JVP remains outside this arrangement. What this changing practice of coalition formation or fusion has done is to reduce the choices voters have ag election times.  They are no longer able to assume that their vote for the UNP, SLFP or indeed a minor party will mean the same after the elections in a political culture where members are able to cross over so easily or even those who lose elections can come to parliament on the National List. Voters are not able to elect someone who is not tarnished by charges of corruption, neglect, broken promises and so on. No wonder the people today have lost faith in the parliamentary cum Presidential systems. This situation reflects a crisis in the parliamentary system of governance as we have known it. People are at a loss to understand what to do next?

The irony of the matter is that those people including civil society leaders with a fair understanding of this situation are not thinking beyond the box. They ae only looking for alternatives (which are hard to find) within the existing parliamentary system and a multitude of parties however much discredited they are? They seem to look for a different alignment of major and minor parties at future elections as the solution when it is clearly not. They are not merging their criticisms and alternative ideas and possibilities with other likeminded forces, groups, and individuals to forge a grand alliance so that their reformist movement or collective becomes a force to be reckoned with.  Instead, they are using whatever the platforms available to advance isolated critique of the existing system by citing examples of failure and corruption etc.  How can one find a solution to a problem that has emerged due to corruption, broken promises etc. from the same process that led to such practices?

The answer lies, as in other cases of success elsewhere in the world, from articulating the challenges people face in clear language, identifying a strategy including a political one, forging alliances with likeminded groups and individuals, media etc., and pushing forward as a collective reformist movement. If necessary, a ten-point plan can be developed in order to bring a shared understanding of the goals and mission of such a movement. My view is that such a movement has to emerge from the civil society organisations acutely concerned with corruption, mal governance, foreign debt, elitism, effects of partisan politics, extravagance of politicians, and the lack of resources and programs for rural and poor upliftment, and heavy emphasis placed on imports in place of developing national economy (production, manufacturing and marketing).  If they can identify  established politicians with a clean record, their support should be obtained as is  the support of other leaders in the society such as religious leaders, academics, professionals, teachers, and journalists. 

Such a course of action is not without its difficulties. However, rather than focusing on the difficulties, what we need to focus on is the collective strength that can emerge from the engagement with various layers of society to seek support. In this instance, I note the campaign being conducted by Mr. Nagananda Kodituwakku. His main aim seems to be reforms in the legal sector. However, winning Presidential or general elections cannot be a reality unless he forges alliances with other civic organisations and leaders including trade unions that are interested in a reform agenda for the country. As politics has become a tradition or a cult among the masses who can be convinced to vote this or that way after intoxicating them with jargon full humour, humiliation, personal attacks etc, and showing only those in the opposition side are weak or cannot be relied, breaking into the mindset of the suffering masses to support an alternative vision is not an easy task for the newcomers. An effective communication strategy is a must to address this challenge.

Forging alliances between civil society organisations and political parties just before the elections, like other minor parties do, is not an effective method to achieve fundamental social and political reform. If it was possible, by now the government should have taken steps to abolish the Presidential system. Organising and promoting a reformist movement should be a long-term strategy. Such a movement has to identify and articulate the key problems facing the country, conceptualise the potential solutions backed by research, and develop a strategy to achieve the required changes. For example, before aiming at a grand victory at the Presidential or parliamentary elections in the first go, such a movement can identify about 20-30 marginal electorates that can be won over and field strong candidates. If even a small number of candidates can be sent to parliament this way, it is a first step.  A small target strategy is better than a grand strategy bound for failure in the face of fierce competition one can expect from established parties.

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Latest comments

  • 14
    0

    Dear Mr. Gamage
    Yes Game on!
    You have indeed hit the nail on the head. Your observations and analysis is quite accurate.
    As you have correctly stated, that most politicians if not all have become very corrupt and are in fact playing with the minds of the voters. At the end of the day Sri Lanka has become a ground for crafty politicians who play with peoples sentiments, in a bid to cling on to power at any cost.
    People end up divided whilst the politicians gang up and enjoy all the perks and privilages at the deteiment of delivering the promises.
    Your article I believe should be a blueprint on which the voters start to reason and come up with the necessary logic in an to attempt end or counteract the status quo in our system and oppose vehemently the current state of play.
    We need to as you say, look beyond the box and come up with the necessary strategy to circumvent the glitches in the system and come up with a system of election where by once the votes have been cast it is final. There should be little or no room to allow for national lists or cross carpetting after the elections.
    To this end maybe we should start with a very limited number of parties to start with in the first place. Maybe that will stop this horse trading pratice after the elections.
    Secondly the public must be less divided on ethnic and religious sentiments and start looking for what will benefit then, rationally, and stop siding with swindlers and fighting for what will favour politicians cum criminals.
    We need to define the role of a politician and that of the voter. Is the voters relevance ended with the announcement of the election results?
    I think not. We have the right to hold people we have choosen to deliver. They should be made to answer for defaulting one way or another. Politics is not a game of commanship.

  • 1
    5

    Your article, As Kumar David does, As Dayan Jayathilake does, is to support your vesion of politics. It is not to help the majority of people irrespective of religion, ethnicity and the economic status. IT may be you want to be a Sri lankan. but what you discuss seems to be very much the protestant opinions. Many talk about abolishing the Executive PResidency. I think that is just riding the wave and not being thouightful. The parliament is the LAW MAKERS or the Executives. IT is not the PResident that makes LAWS. IF so w how come the PResident becomes executive. Who in the world brought this opinion into mind of people. Besides, how Ranil handled CBK (I heard Ranil goverened the country the way he wanted) and Maithripala Sirisena (Maithripala Is under Ranil the PM) , How 19th amendment was formulated to corner Maithripala and How Mahinda Rajapske handled.the war ( he had to buy MPS to make the 2/rd). why NGOs were silent when JVP brought the 20th. What I say, Cancel the PM position and hand over the PArliament leadership to a Capable and honest Speaker and not to people like Karu Jayasooriya who could not become a Brigadier because of corrption I heard. AG should draft laws, the PArliament should discuss it. Otherwise, PM or the speaker, in my case, should not be given the authority or monopoly or VITO POWER over deciding it. YOu di dnot write so many three wheller parties from LSSP, probably you are one of those. Are they ever going to set up a govt. See how Nationalist List MPs are caught in the bond scam. Nimal siripala, John Senevirathne, Rishad Bathiuddin, Rauf Hakeem, Sumanthiran, Daya siri Jayasekara ands the list is very long. YOu did not talk about why JHU is a Bastard party when Tamils only and Muslims only parties are contributing to Ethnic animosity.

  • 3
    7

    There is no escape for Sri lanka until the extreme politiciazation is eliminated. Tamil and Muslim ethnic grievnes are BS as they both are in every govt. One group says we have grievences. another group is milking the system. Secondly, the no of Ministers to help every supporter should be stopped. LAws should be respected. this time Ranil had appointed IGP and the AG. I sqaw Ranil is infront of Ranil talking. I saw CJ attending some ceremonay to which PResident attended. I say all those people are comprised in their value system,. that should be stopped. thirdly, Appointing ministry sEcretary cum account as a Rrlative or friend of the corresponding minister should be stopped. I think even right now PAskaralingam, one well know crook, is working for Ranil’s ministry. But, there is system and no one is eliminating them. Remember Ranil calified and did not asnwer question. He did not know Arjun Mahendran leaving. why hoos PM is valid. Ranil is a first class theif.

  • 3
    1

    Siri, For a reformist agenda to be successful it has to reach beyond the coffee shop liberals, the “asai bayai” JVP supporters, the Pundits, the academics and the theorists. It has to reach the grassroots (to use a cliche) of the urban and rural poor and the lower middle classes, where the votes are. Unfortunately, we don’t have an education system that foster political engagement, unlike our forefathers generations before and just after independence. We need to first cultivate political engagement via civic education before we can elect a Macron (not that I think he is a Panacea, surely not Trudeau).

    • 3
      0

      A core group of concerned people and organisations who love the country have to come together and saw the seeds of a democratic, popular, reformist/revival movement to arrest the downward slide and give voters a credible alternative. Big things start small. Perhaps CT readers can be part of this core group that initiate such a movement. If the core is well founded, articulate,committed, it can appeal to the rest. But this should not be a top-down strategy. It should involve at the end Wannihamis, gamaralas, guruwarayas, potheguras,ralahamis,soothsayers, pol kadannas, paduru viyannas, gadol kapannas, hamuduruwos, the kola kadannas and so on.

      Reforms are necessary not only in politics and governance but all areas that are corrupted not only by money but also by consumerism, ethnic hate, import culture, dhanapathiyata-balavathata vandina habit, and puhu desapalanaya. In the 19th century, there is a religious revival movement led by people like Anagarika Dharmapala. We need a modern day Dharmapala to lead this reform movement. it could very well be Nagananda but he needs to come down from his ivory tower and talk to real people.

  • 3
    0

    Disqualify all the Politicians and get new unblemished Sri Lankans to contest in 2020

    • 1
      0

      Naman; First things First!
      Establish an Accepted. Minimum Standard of Education, for those Aspiring to be Politicians!

  • 1
    4

    There are many countries where the PM and parliament system is working. but that is not suitable for Sri lanka. the reason. IT won’t work until the laws are respected and thieves are prosecuted. IT can not work as NGO politics, Ethnic politics and foreign embassy influence is high in Sri lanka. USA says since 1948 we had good relationships with you, Even before that american church was in Sri lanka. India is the same. Europe and UKA re the same. Sri lankan PArty constitutions are not democratic. they support only the Father’s property, it should be inherited by the son or the daughter or the relative. that should be corrected. LAstly why do we three levels of politicians and 9000 or more of them. Where in the world that is present. check how the system is in other countries. this govt wants to sell every govt institution. On the other hand, they feill ever one of those with their party members. So, how can those be profitable. Seondly management is always politicians friend or the relative.

    • 3
      0

      9000 politicians and they keep adding,,e.g.political appointments to embassies.

      These politicians in turn appoint their relatives and friends to personal staff, coordinating secretaries, etc. and then influence in the appointment of people to government jobs. What a joke? What a mess?

      Four levels of government,ie. Presidential, Executive cabinet(enlarged) , Provincial, Local.

    • 0
      0

      Jim and Dr. Gamage: there is only one solution_ Throw the whole lot into a cesspit.There is nothing to be gained by rotating this lot.The whole lot is corrupt..Read Ruwan Wijewardena report re the UNP.

      The last leader to allow his/her party MP to be prosecuted for murder was Mrs.B. The last leader to disenfranchise corrupt politicians was a combine SWRD + Dudley.
      Since 1977, no member of the governing party’s parliamentarian had been prosecuted even the man who committed murder at Tangalle was defended.

      We must go outside the corrupt lot.It will cause a lot of problems with an inexperienced lot. However remember what Narasingha Roa, who said : that India will have a stable govt after a few rounds of instability. It happened that way.

      We have the base and the assets to survive. We can make ourselves self sufficient in food. If at all imports will be minimal. Sugar will have to be imported.

      We can if the govt is clean find substitutes for petrol within.. The facility to distill is found in Sri lanka. With a bit some expense on research we can get rid of Coal and petroleum bases for electricity generation. Wind and Solar is good but I do not think that they even combined can meet even 5% of the requirement.

      If all the urine let out can be harvested we will have an additional source for power generation.( It had been tried out by a group of school girls in Nigeria – efficiency one liter of Urine can provide power for six hours.On the average a healthy man can provide himself with electricity through twelve hours.

      We are not beggars because we lack resources. We are beggars because some people, politicians, administrators, industry heads ( State) are corrupt and on the make.Objections – show me an exception!

  • 2
    0

    an arab spring is necessary.out onto the streets everybody.Korea and brazil also did it that way.

  • 7
    1

    And another thing Siri, the moment you box a large percentage of the electorate and label them as the “Masses” you have lost any hope of democratically electing a reformist. Remember, SWRD gave that box power..”Pancha Maha Balawegaya”, if your reformist is to win that reformist need the backing of the “Pancha Maha Balawegaya”: they still exist except now they use Facebook.

    • 4
      0

      True. They have to be de-intoxicated and re-intoxicated with the right message and path for true independence and liberty. Remember Marx said religion is the opium of the masses but today religion and politics have become the opium. The reformists have to devise a strategy to salvage masses(diversified as you say) from both. This cannot be done by press conferences, issuing media releases. Perhaps social media can be effective but the core message have to be clear and leaders and foot soldiers alike mount a grass roots campaign in the districts.

  • 5
    0

    Yes, I do agree mostly on the diagnosis. Not only the executive system (mostly due to the executive presidency) but also the legislature/parliament has degenerated (due to the present PR etc). Perhaps money and bribes/corruption, neoliberalism being behind all these. Therefore, just abolition of the presidential system is not the answer. A comprehensive reform movement is necessary. Institutional reforms touching on party system, elections, parliamentary procedures, ministries, public service, legal profession, police and also universities, education etc are also necessary without just focusing on constitutional reforms. Of course, Siri is correctly hinting about social reforms as well.
    However, I am not completely sure about advocating a bottom up, ‘civil society’ movement to take over the tasks. There are limitations to all these. For example, I am now living abroad and cannot put my words into action. What might be feasible to visualize or advocate is a combination of a ‘people’s movement for socio-political reforms’ and the promotion of feasible progressive political combinations to further the achievements of the country in terms of democracy, freedoms and corruption investigations.
    There are also limitations in using the term ‘civil society.’ It has become a misnomer for NGOs. A reform movement has to be based on the people and their aspirations without limiting to the civil society elite.

    • 0
      0

      Your point about NGOs and civil society mix is well taken Laksiri. Civil Society includes non governmental organisations functioning in the society. Whether they receive foreign funding or not should not be a matter to use to discredit them. Rather it is how they use such money and under what conditions such funds are given -that should be the criteria.

      A reform movement can be a mixture of top down and bottom up process. Does not have to be a completely bottom up process, even though it is ideal.

      The society and its institutions are rotten to the core. Since gaining independence, there has not been any serious examination of the situation and the way forward except by the organisation led by Rev. Sobhita plus a few academics here and there. JVP has identified some of the ills but it engages in coalition politics after the elections -without being a coalition partner.To their credit, they do grass roots work but their appeal seems to be limited to working(?) and lower middle classes. Upper middle class dominates politics and political decision making. Middle class is divided(along ethnic, religious, language, party lines) though it is a potent category.Closer to election times, they get swayed by the election propaganda and small perks and go with the wind.A reformist movement can appeal to their sense of insecurity and desires including for a secure, prosperous, meritocratic,corruption free Lanka.

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lankan politics is “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”.

  • 1
    1

    Please the Deities in Delhi.
    That is what is it is all about.
    Dr Ranil and his Buddy Mallika are well on their way there ,with the the Juicy Offerings in the Pooja Basket, ETCA.
    Either way our great majority of the Inhabitant population are f******.
    Unless they have received Aloysious’s Santhosams, or work in one of Aloysious enterprises or work in Dr Ranil’s mate’s Hoax wagon assembly Lines.

  • 2
    0

    Sorry guys my comment on the “Troika” ended up here..

  • 2
    0

    Breaking news is, some one has said, Sujeewa Senasinghe had got another Rs 30 million and devided that among some. Who wants to believe dividing among politicians. I heard he has at least two house snow and one house he renovated and it costs over Rs 100 million now.

  • 1
    0

    Brilliant and Thanks Dr. G!

    I think that if the JVP fails to abolish the Presidency via the 20th Amendment, AKD or Sunil H. should run for Prez in 2020 and then abolish it– with support of post-civil society groups.
    Today Civil Society NGOs in Colombo are colonized by their foreign donors, and so too is the Fake knowledge, analysis and reconciliation they produce..

  • 2
    0

    It’s a beautiful, haunting , hard to face but good to realize article. Many thanks for this.

  • 5
    0

    Thanks for your sound analysis, Dr Gamage; the comments also make sense – even that by Jim Softy who doesn’t seem to have a spell check operating when he submits comments.
    .
    This analysis by Grusha Andrews reaches similar conclusions:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/kleptocracy-to-kakistocracy/comment-page-1/#comment-2191683
    .
    He doesn’t name a saviour. I agree that Nagananda Kodituwakku could be the man we need to make the changes, and then fade in to the background. Many others seem to think on similar lines. For example, there is this 2 hour Youtube discussion in Sinhalese:
    .
    http://www.derana.lk/Aluth-Parlimenthuwa-TV-Derana&vid=20772&page=1
    .
    It is significant that they don’t mention Nagananda as a person around whose campaign we could rally. As you say, Dr Gamage, he must quickly start forging an alliance with other groups who are working towards the same end.
    .
    Although you advocate the very long term strategy of sending some sound people in to Parliament, the fact is that there will be a Presidential Election whose result will matter. This may be the first time that nobody reaches 50%+1 in the first round (unless it’s a Rajapaksa). Very few vote for more than one candidate. What happens if three candidates emerge with something like 35, 30, 10, and a number of others get some votes? Clearly only the guys with 35% and 30% only will remain in the race, and the next PREFERENCES of the others will be counted. With very few marking a SECOND or third PREFERENCE, will the guy who gets ahead after counting all preferences be elected?
    .
    We should start thinking about that NOW!

    The Rajapaksas have a huge automatic block vote. That they will never listen to us after being elected is by now an established fact. Even our ability to voice opinions will be taken away.

    • 1
      0

      Good points Sinhala man..,

      An individual is easy to be attacked(I mean rhetorically and physically). If the individual has a Council of learned, experienced, dedicated people around him/her and a mass movement for reform across the country, it is not easy to attack by opponents and destroy. I think in Nepal, when the country was faced with a chaotic situation, they established a similar Council of elders to move the election process forward. The leaders of such a movement have to select who comes in very carefully as the society is full of opportunists, ants, and white ants. The core group around the leader selected from a cross section of the society-more like an advisory council, and sub committees in charge of different dimensions of the organisation,implementation of an action plan and the campaign should be the backbone of the reformist movement. Then there has to be provincial and district committees that steer the message through to the village level and recruit support well in advance of the election dates.i.e. one year.

  • 2
    1

    Gamage just missed the ‘Australian of the Year’ award, frustrated man expresses his frustration through this article. That’s understandable Mr Gamage, may be next year

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 1
    0

    Voting and elections is only the body of Democracy. The soul is in treating the citizens as equals, protecting all citizens and acting as sentinel of human rights violations.
    We have a democracy without soul. Is there much point talking ‘Crisis of Parliament Democracy’?

    • 0
      0

      Thanks, K. Pillai,
      .
      As you so often do, you raise the level of our discussion.

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