7 June, 2023


Democracy, Nomocracy & The Oligarchy

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

“The kind of president (and Prime Minister) we need has little to do with ideology and more to do with a willingness to wield power to moral ends.” ― George Friedman, The Next Decade: What the World Will Look Like.  (Addition in parenthesis is mine).

Democracy is a system of government by the people typically through elected representatives.  According to political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

In Sri Lanka, the Constitution states that the legislative power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the People and by the People at a Referendum. (See Article 4 (a)).

To this extent, Sri Lanka is a practising democratic nation.

The Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law, including lawmakers themselves. In Latin Lex, Rex (The Law is the King) as Samuel Rutherford (1644) would have it.  Our Constitution states:

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law”. (12 (1)).

In this sense, it stands in contrast to an autocracy, dictatorship, or oligarchy where the rulers are held above the law. A government based upon the rule of law is called Nomocracy.

Oligarchy on the other hand is a model where power rests and is wielded by a minority or a small number of people. This can be a form of control by a noble class, a family or religious authority.

Article 3 of the Constitution reads, “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”.

The Constitution further states that the Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed through the legislative power of the People exercised by Parliament, the executive power exercised by the President elected by the People and the judiciary. (vide. Article 4).

These are universally accepted as solid principles of democracy and governing pillars of modern civilised society.   It is very clear from the above that at least constitutionally, there is no place in this country for a small number of people, whoever they are, to have control, influence, direct or command in an oligarchic fashion the affairs of the State.

Responsibility Of The Government

Lack of democracy leads to autocracy. Absence of the Rule of Law encourages impunity and oligarchic interference is recipe for uncertainty and anarchy. The government has a hallowed responsibility towards all its citizens to ensure their safety and protection.  If the government has been instituted based on the sacred principles enunciated in the Constitution, then it has a legal and moral duty to ensure that democratic norms are protected, the rule of law is established and all forms of undemocratic oligarchic influences are dismissed without fear or favour. The government should not indulge in what is a famous cliché, “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours”.

The current government exists because the majority had consented to its rule. This consent was given by the majority of the people on the broad consensus and understanding of what is now often parroted, prostituted and hackneyed as good governance. The oligarchic minority, be they religious or family, have to agree with the views of the majority and abide by this mandate. This minority must then respect and assent to the actions of the government which is carrying forward the wishes of the majority. It is immoral, unethical and ignoble for this oligarchic minority sometimes in the garb of religion and self-appointed saviours of the nation, to use their influence and create impediments to the smooth functioning of the government. 

Tanha And Dhukka

Such doings are nothing but sabotage. This is far from being patriotic. This is not how the saviours of a nation would conduct themselves. In contrast, this class of demeanour stinks of selfishness, opportunism, greed all of which according to Buddha are tanha (craving or clinging) and are causes for dukkha (suffering).  In the course of causing hindrances of sorts these folks sometimes depend on uttering falsehood, fabricate stories, exaggerate, threaten violence, criticise every move purely for sake of undermining the stability of this government and the security of the nation.  Take the example of the likes of Rip Van Winkle, upon whom it dawns to make a pronouncement that there is no need for a new constitution. What were they doing all these days from the day this government came to power?


It is a fact that the government has been a miserable failure in establishing one of the significant doctrines of any democratic rule – The Rule of Law. The extent of miserability is so obvious that one need not elucidate any proof of it. The drama enacted recently by the police, law enforcement and courts and the other variegated serial episodes makes the common man sick of the continuing state of affairs.  If Lex is Rex, then the law applies equally to everyone irrespective of whether the person is a politician or belongs to the clergy or is an elite of the society. To witness otherwise is indignant, disgusting and scandalous. The rule of law in this country is destined to decay further unless the government adopts sufficient corrective mechanisms for restoring it.

Display Statesmanship

Politicians are expected to display statesmanship in the face of a challenge, a crisis or a threat to democratic principles. It would not be considered Statesmanship if in those circumstances one rides the wave or turns a blind eye to it or even compromise. It is Statesmanship to face it with courage and do what is good for the nation within the framework of democratic principles. What is greatly lacking is the display of statesmanship on the part of the Prime Minister and the President. It is understandable that the complexity is not as simple as A, B, C.  Nevertheless, statesmanship lies not in haggling or in negotiating with wheeler dealers but in executing that which is right and beneficial to the country. Each of them have been endowed with conscience and it is demanded from them that each act according to it. Act well your part, there all the honour lies. 

Dr. J. Rufus Fears an Academic, Scholar and University of Oklahoma professor states, “A Statesman, is not a tyrant; He is the free leader of a free people and he must possess four critical qualities:

  1. A bedrock of principles
  2. A moral compass
  3. A vision
  4. The ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision”.

Lack of statesmanship indicates weakness. This leads to indecisiveness and ambivalence. Such negativities make a person vulnerable. His vulnerability will be the cause to strengthen an otherwise weak competitor, embolden the Rip Van Winkles and several other cantankerous actors lying in the periphery for an opportunity.

Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister it is high time that you get your acts together before it is too late. Let the nation see some Statesmanship in both of you. Make Sri Lanka a proud nation.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Gosh, Usuf!!

    In which planet do you live?

    There is the Theory of Politics, and then there is the Practice of Politics.

    They are poles apart, and we all know that Practice is the ground reality, where dog eats dog!

    Sri Lanka is no exception, though the degree of malpractice, oppression and corruption may vary from nation to nation.

    Please wake up from your idealistic dream, and smell the hot coffee.

    Nothing will change in this Miracle Isle!

  • 2

    MAss Usuf: Is it true, that muslims believe things other than those written in quran. but, they are not allowed to discuss those in open becuase that contradicts the islamic beliefs. Another points, are there muslim communities that believe that there are more than one Allah ?

  • 1

    Mass L. Usuf in “Democracy, Nomocracy & The Oligarchy” is showing his angst through extreme idealism. Unfortunately oligarchy is what happens in all systems from the Chinese model through to world’s biggest democracy India.
    The head oligarch often is friendless and surrounds him/herself with immediate relatives – as is evident in Trump’s struggle.
    Democracy is sliding into democratic-oligarchy and in its worst form, the oligarch ditches nomocracy and resorts to wealth accumulation. Does this ring a bell Mass L Usuf?

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