These are much discussed and debated topics presently in Sri Lanka and in international forums. The discourse is highly polarized. Some have argued that the system of international relations operating in a globalized world have bound all states into abiding norms and conventions regarding the conduct of governance. No State can claim sovereignty to stand above these international norms and laws. They argue that State sovereignty is subordinate to the sovereignty of international laws, conventions and norms prescribed by them. Then, there are those who argue that States and governments which enjoy a popular mandate obtained through regular elections have sovereignty above any international law. Both these arguments present problems. What if the application of these international laws are not implemented fairly. What if they themselves become instruments for the powerful to dominate the weak? What if the international regime of humanitarian and human rights is itself dominated and manipulated by powerful States that have decisive influence over them? I believe that this argument has indisputable merit, since experience and practice has amply demonstrated this reality to be true. On the other hand, what if elected governments continue to violate these international laws and there are no internal mechanisms or institutions to prevent them, or to hold the regimes accountable? This is a genuine dilemma, one in which we, as Sri Lankans seem to be caught in a vise. I think we should look at these propositions more critically. I will argue that what is more important is not the form, but the content of these concepts and their concrete practices located in their living, practical application. Beneath the appearance of things lie their essential reality. If all that appears is true, then why would we need critical reasoning and philosophical- scientific inquiry? As Alice learnt in Wonderland, “Things are not as they seem, and words and concepts do not refer to what they deem”.
The Fetishism of Elections:
Do regular elections confer absolute sovereignty to States to violate any and all international humanitarian and human rights laws? We would do well to probe this thesis critically. It is argued that regular elections are the best- if not the sole- barometer of democracy and the best criteria to evaluate the enthronement of popular sovereignty. Some argue that an elected government enjoys inviolable national sovereignty above every other consideration because it embodies the sovereign will of the people, the people’s mandate. This argument claims inviolable jurisdiction for such regimes over internal matters. With regard to Sri Lanka, they argue that violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, if any, are internal matters that are to be adjudicated by internal institutions and mechanisms. However, the problem remains if such democratic institutions delegated with domestic accountability have long since been demolished. What is the case if there is no possibility for an independent mechanism to investigate and establish accountability, even though there may have been regular elections?
Elections, by themselves, are not a sufficient criteria for gauging democratic norms and practices. Does an elected government enjoy unfettered freedom to violate international humanitarian and human rights laws, and the conventions entered to protect them? After all, both Hitler and Mussolini came to power through ‘free and fair’ elections! For example, the US is held up as the world’s foremost functioning democracy, girded by regular free and fair elections, ruled by a written Constitution that guarantees the separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. This is what appears to be the case. However, in the US, political power is concentrated by a class of Capitalist corporate magnates, who monopolize economic power through combinations of financial and industrial corporate empires – a class of Finance Capitalists. This ruling class exercises decisive influence over decision-making at the highest levels of the State, both in terms of foreign and domestic policy. This ‘democratic’ State was able to lie through its teeth to the American people, cajole the UN, present manufactured ‘evidence’ to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, as the justification for unleashing a war of genocidal aggression and invading the sovereign State of Iraq, ending up in setting up a puppet regime and controlling all of its oil. This same supremely ‘democratic’ State has adopted the draconian ‘Patriotic Act” and set up the Department of Homeland Security” which have virtually transformed the US into a police State. This very same ‘democratic’ State is responsible for the most gruesome war crimes, including genocidal crimes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mass massacres of civilians in Viet Nam, Fallujah and the villages of Afghanistan and elsewhere, engaging in the most bestial, degrading forms of torture as in Abu Graib and Guantanamo, and the practice of water-boarding and rendering, which have now received legislative sanction. This not to mention the racist hunting and killing of Afro-Americans, and generalized police brutality inside the US.
As the “Occupy Wall St” protests have asserted, this ruling class represents only 1% of the people, which engages in systematically robbing the 99%. In the US, this class of multi-billionaire finance capitalists have engaged in parasitic financial speculations that have wrought disaster and ruin to tens of millions of US citizens and pushed the economy to a spiral of devastating crisis, which has repercussions on the entire global economy. Yet, the US state has acted to preserve and protect this ruling class by offering trillions of dollars as a bail out, to keep the system from sinking, while piling even more hardship and ruin on the working masses and middle classes.
The Capitalist system in the US and elsewhere is based on a system of representative democracy legitimated by regular elections. However, these elections prove to be merely a legitimizing exercise where the people are led to endorse the prevailing, dominant status quo, and the system of robbery and exploitation that enslaves them. The masses of people may cast their vote believing that they are exercising their freedom of choice. But, if they have to choose between either two or more political parties that represent that same status quo, then they do not have a choice, but to vote that status quo into power, in every successive election. If this range of political parties represent the same ruling Capitalist agenda, with some tactical and secondary differences, as with the Democratic and Republican parties, then, indeed the people are trapped into selecting this or that political party that that serves in robbing and enslaving them. So much for fetishistic mythology of bourgeois parliamentary elections!
Elections and Parliamentary Democracy in Sri Lanka:
Now, let us bring this scenario home to Sri Lanka. The political field in Sri Lanka is dominated by two major Capitalist political parties- the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). All other parties can only function as coalition partners or in various alliances with these two dominant Capitalist parties, or occupy some lonely seats in the Opposition. Both these bourgeois parties represent a dominant Comprador Capitalist ruling class, which is dependent on foreign Capital for their economic survival. They function as neo-colonial agents of world imperialism, tied up with regional hegemonic/expansionist states. Both these major political parties have together set up a highly centralized, unitary, hegemonic-chauvinist State based on foisting the politics of Sinhala supremacy. Indeed, they have competed for the mantle of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy and engaged in intensifying, systematic and gross violation and violent suppression of the national-democratic rights of the Tamil people. They have joined in deceiving and dividing, and in violent repression of the people, including the Sinhala Buddhist oppressed masses. Both these parties are guilty of mass massacres, abductions, enforced disappearances, inhuman torture and extra-legal killings. Both have shared power in enforcing a feudal-colonial Comprador Capitalist Dictatorship over the masses, which has resulted in increasing and intensifying poverty, indebtedness, degradation and misery for the vast majority of the toiling masses.
So, what then is the real choice for the people? In Sri Lanka, as in all other Capitalist States, elections have functioned to legitimate the State and a political-economic-social order that has kept them bound in chains of ignorance and illusion and perpetual slavery. I argue that there has rarely been a free and fair election in Sri Lanka, where there have been no abuse of State power, intimidation and use of violence. In fact, it is the case that in general, elections have been regularly and routinely marred with such gross violations. It has been alleged that even Prabhakaran ( the fascist?) had been bribed to ensure the victory of Mahinda Rajapakse at the Presidential elections. (As in a classic James Bond movie, Sripathi Sooriyaaratchi died in a fatal road accident) It has been seriously alleged that this election was won by massive electronic rigging of results, where even the supremely spineless Elections Commissioner could not announce the results without cringing in abject shame and fear. (I wonder where he is now. Reposing in safety and luxury, in some far off climes?)The whole of the election game has been designed to rob the people of their sovereignty, where elected representatives have routinely crossed over at will, bribed or cajoled by the ruling party. What then, is so sacrosanct about bourgeois parliamentary elections that function to divide and deceive the masses into legitimating their own ignorance and slavery? How can elections alone certify the sovereignty of the people?
Parliamentary Democracy as a Cover for Dictatorship:
Even in bourgeois politics, people’s sovereignty is not vested in elections alone. They are vested in Constitutional rights and specific institutional arrangements. In Sri Lanka, constitutional rights have been usurped by resorting to rigged referendums and by the adoption of undemocratic legislation by bribed majorities, or by the resort to the tactic of brining in crucial laws that violate popular sovereignty as urgent bills. The recent example is the passage of the 18th Amendment as an urgent bill, with the sanction of the Supreme Court, which, with a stroke of the gilded pen, took away constitutional restrictions of term limits of the Executive Presidency. The same anti-democratic procedure was followed with the ‘Appropriations Bill”, which virtually provided arbitrary powers to the State ( the Regime) to appropriate properties and assets which could be declared to be ‘unprofitable’. In the same manner, Land rights throughout the North-East are to be decided by a simple bureaucratic committee appointed by the State (Regime), through gazette notification. These are forms of outright legalized robbery.
Then again, how are we to reconcile piling evidence of abductions, enforced disappearances, extra-legal killings and inhuman torture, along with alleged war crimes and horrible atrocities that have been carried out with Presidential impunity that remain unaccounted, with that of people’s sovereignty? The attempt to diffuse and derail the whole issue of impunity and accountability by focusing on this or that incident, such as the killing of five Tamil students in execution style in front of so many eye witnesses and the massacre of 17 humanitarian workers, or to claim that there may have been some cases of atrocities committed by errant armed forces, will simply not wash. These are criminal attempts to cover up for the wholesale, systematic and intensifying violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, by craven apologists of the Regime. Do the Tamil people in the North and East enjoy sovereignty when they are subjected to military rule, their lands appropriated, their livelihoods destroyed, their loved ones disappeared and unaccounted, their nationhood denied, robbed of dignity and freedom? Do the people enjoy their sovereignty when the free media is suppressed and terrorized, when their peaceful protests are threatened by armed goons of the Regime, when student protests are met with riot police and tear gas, student unions banned and faculties closed down, and activists arrested and hounded?
The Dilemma Revisited:
Surely, we cannot allow foreign powers to invade our sovereignty in order to advance their own strategic agendas, on the basis of investigating human rights violations- particularly when they are the worst offenders in the world. . But we can do so only if we are committed to establish truth and justice through our own internal mechanisms. But knowing full well that there is absolutely no democratic freedom to establish truth and justice internally, knowing full well that those who demand such internal accountability are hounded, abducted and killed as traitors, to defend a regime that is accountable for gross and systematic- and continuing – violations in the guise of defending national sovereignty, is tantamount to being an accomplice in such crimes.
So, how do we resolve the dilemma? We cannot capitulate to any international regime which allows foreign powers to interfere and exploit issues of violations, simply to advance their strategic interests. On the other hand, we cannot rely on a regime that violates human rights as a matter of policy and necessity, nor capitulate to its agenda for perpetuating dynastic dictatorship. Shall we suffer the dilemma in mute silence, with a sense of karmic fatality. Shall we abide by the dictum “ to hell with freedom, as long as I am happy and comfortable”? Shall we cover up for all abuses and violations and defend the regime, since it is our sacred patriotic duty? Shall we keep silent, since to raise or resist would be to invite abduction, torture and death? These are issues of conscience, and everyone is free to decide.
The Path of Resistance and Revolution:
But for some of us, there is but one choice. It is better to die standing on your feet in the struggle for freedom than to live on your knees as slaves. This is the highest form of sacrifice if we are to realize our worth as human beings. Such people are driven by a vision and a dream. A vision and a dream born in the womb of Nature, born of the dialectic of history. We can easily think of far better ways to organize our society, to govern ourselves and protect our unity, independence and integrity as a country, and achieve freedom and prosperity for each and all citizens, as opposed to being slaves to reality and subjects of a criminal despotism. We can dream of an alternative path of development that shall rely on unleashing the infinite creative power of our people based on a culture of sharing the Earth and caring for each other as one indivisible human community, and together stand tall and proud among the community of nations of the world, second to none. The people shall rise as one tidal wave of conscious revolution, enlightened by a liberating philosophy, guided by a scientific outlook and method, armed with a theory, strategy, program and plan to transform the world and themselves, and conquer their freedom. Truth shall pierce the shield of falsehood. The oppressed shall rid themselves of their oppressors and the conditions of their oppression and inherit the Earth. All tin-pot despots shall be dethroned and all emperors disrobed and brought before the tribunal of history. That day shall dawn as surely as the sun must rise and blaze the horizons of freedom. Then the era of dictatorship and tyranny shall be long forgotten as we celebrate our diversity and rejoice in the splendor of the universe, in joyous ceremony. Then, there will be no need nor place for bloody despots, pompous pundits, petrified sycophants, nor craven careerists.
The writer is the Secretary: Ceylon Communist Party ( Maoist)