By R.M.B Senanayake –
The President has said he is no dictator since he is holding so many elections. But elections alone even if they are free and fair (which they are not when State resources are used to garner votes and there is no level playing field for the Opposition) do not mean the system is a liberal democracy.Elections have also ceased to be meaningful since those elected from the Opposition are inveigled to join the ranks of the ruling party. Do these MPs have a mandate from their voters to cross over to the ruling party.Whom do they represent after they cross over?
Democracy originally meant direct decision making by the people assembled together as in Athens City State. But even there the people did not include women and slaves. The modern version of democracy is what prevails in the USA, UK and Western Europe. In the Soviet Union and the former Communist countries there were regular elections but nobody considered them democracies except the Communist parties of those countries? But Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany via a free election. So democracy can be manipulated to a dictatorship as Hitler did. Mugabe holds elections but governs autocratically. So are the other dictators in the world. They hold rigged elections to claim legitimacy for their rule.
Pope Pius XII lived during the 1930s when the Nazis held power in Germany and waged the Second World War. He wrote “With the Corruption of Democracy, Liberty Becomes Tyranny and Equality Degenerates into Mechanical Leveling. “Against this picture of the democratic ideal of liberty and equality in a people’s government by honest and far-seeing men, what a spectacle is that of a democratic state left to the whims of the masses! This is a degenerate form of democracy where liberty has no place and there is only rule in their name by their elected representatives of the people who are pursuing their selfish interests rather than the interests of the people. They seek to perpetuate themselves in power and brook no opposition from the people or any other group in society. Authoritarian and sectarian policies are pursued ruthlessly ousting or outmaneuvering rivals and using underhand methods to impose the rulers will over all segments of society”.
So the people are defined as those belonging to one religion or community and brother is set against brother while the government becomes increasingly sectarian as in Syria or Iraq today. The only way to make the people obey the State is to acknowledge that it is a just and fair body. This is done through the Rule of Law implemented through an independent Judiciary. Remove these and the state is no longer a democracy.
Many people even among the educated think that democracy means majority rule. Democracy is valued in the West not because decisions are taken by majority vote but because it ensures freedoms such as the freedom of expression, of association etc and also the practice of the rule of law. This bundle of freedoms has nothing intrinsically to do with democracy and the two have not always gone together. Hitler was elected by a majority of Germans but he went on to suppress freedoms.
Navi Pillay warned that we are heading for authoritarianism where a dictator acts arbitrarily. Just as Democracy cannot be equated to elections nor can it be equate to the will of the ruler- be he a President or a King. The arbitrary rule of those who exercise power must be subject to checks and balances and the Rule of Law if an elected government is to be considered a democracy. We were considered as a flawed democracy in the Economist Index of democracy. I think it now considers that we are not a democracy at all. It was flawed because the checks and balances were removed by the 18th Amendment. It is not even a democracy now for there is no Rule of Law but instead the arbitrary exercise of power by the President. There is no better example of such arbitrary exercise of power than the impeachment of the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland used to say” off with his head” when somebody displeased her.
Democracy in its rudimentary form began in England when King John was forced by the barons to give up the exercise of arbitrary power and rule according to the law. We have seen a reverse from the Rule of Law to the rule of an all powerful person or persons. Those who displeased the ruler in a dictatorship disappeared as under Stalin or Hitler. So has Ekneligoda. Some like Lasantha Wickrematunge have paid with their lives.