14 August, 2022


Maithripala, Ranil & The Democratic Aspirations Of The People

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

One of the main reasons why the people in Sri Lanka decided to topple Mahinda Rajapaksa regime on January 8 was its excessively authoritarian character in governance. Hence, people expected more democratic governance from the new regime. What we understand by ‘democratic change’ may be problematic as democracy is, as Wendy Brown says, “among the most contested and promiscuous term in our modern political vocabulary” (Undoing the Demos). She further writes: “In the political imaginary, ‘democracy’ stands for everything from free elections to free markets, from protests against dictators to law and order, from the centrality of rights to the stability of states, from the voice of the assembled multitude to the protection of individuality and the wrong of dicta imposed by crowds.”

It is true that at macro level the new regime was able to implement long overdue constitutional reforms reducing the power of the executive presidency (19th Amendment) and changing the electoral system (proposed 20th Amendment). These two amendments, albeit half-baked in nature, may have positive implications in macro-democratic environment in the country that was paralyzed by the enactment of the second republic constitution of 1978. Nonetheless, the question remains as to what extent these macro-democratic reforms would change the general environment of governance. Has the way in which politicians, judiciary, police and the bureaucracy operate in real practice changed as a result of these reforms? If I put it another words: Can we see a beginning of a process of inversing the ‘real’ world practice of nearly 4 decades? Of course, it is too early to forecast what would actually happen in the future. But my submission in this article is that the current trends signify not a reversal of the process but a continuation of the past process.

Ranil MaithriProf Carlo Fonseka, in a recent article in The Island, has shown that the way in which President acted in the appointment of the Prime Minister and the removal of Chief Justice was undemocratic and contrary to the existing rules and procedures. One may argue that the appointment of the Prime Minister is constitutional as the constitution does not explicitly say that a person who has the majority in the Parliament be appointed as the Prime Minister. Although the 19th Amendment was enacted by the Parliament, it appears that the way in which the President operates today is not qualitatively different from the way in which the previous presidents had operated. The executive presidential system, although gives enormous and unchecked power to the elected President, she or he is bound to get the support of the Parliament as it has the power to pass financial bills. Only short-term confrontations can occur, either the President wins or the Parliament wins. What we have seen in the recent past, especially under President Mahinda Rajapaksha, is that the President used both and carrot and stick in taming the power of the Parliament for which the party mechanism was not adequate. Party mechanism of the two main parties were designed following the executive presidential system. So President and the president/leader of the party to which s/he belongs have become the same person. Like Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current President, Maithreepala Sirisena is trying to maintain his hold on power by throwing many types of bread crumbs to either silence the opposition or to win their support. The recent appointments of minister from the SLFP and the appointment of SLFP stalwarts, Rathnasiri Wickramanayaka and DM Jayaratne as Senior Presidential advisors also demonstrates anti-democratic continuation of presidential system that legalize the system of bribes. Similarly, like Mahinda Rajapaksa, he has been trying to crush pro- MR elements within the SLFP by using his party presidency.

One may argue that although the steps taken by Maithripala Sirisena seems non-democratic by themselves, in the context of previous strong authoritarian rule its reversal may not be possible with using the same high-hand tactics. So the usual logic ‘end justifies mean’ can be deployed to legitimize the non-democratic actions painting them as conjunctural. Although it entails some amount of truth, it is possible for it to be a dangerous proposition. Does the President stand for democracy? Two statements ha has recently made put a strong question mark on his understanding of democracy. The first statement was made at the ceremony that announced the decision of making all the personal belonging to civil armed force permanent. At this meeting, he proposed that all young people should be given a compulsory military training in order create a disciplined society. Following president JR Jayewardene, he praised Lee Kwan Yu of Singapore not because his achievement in the economic front (as JRJ did), but because of his action to disciplined the nation. This is much more that the steps taken by the previous government to give military training to school principals and induction to university students by military persons. The second was his proposal to extend capital punishment to more offenses.

It is important to note that it was not only the actions of President that show the continuation of non-democratic tendencies. The prime Minister and some cabinet ministers have been engaging in old undemocratic practices. The best example of the way in which the government encountered student protests and other peoples’ protests. Two student leaders were white vanned; some were arrested; students protests were faced by the so-called minimum force. We have witnessed the same in Wellampitiya, Jaffna and many other places. Some people may argue that these protests were to provoke the government so that it is forced to take repressive measures. This is an absurd argument. Democracy is tested when people are given the right to protest. If all are hunky dory, protests are not needed, and even a few ‘provokers’ call for a protest, other will neglect the call. The Open University has increased its fees by 120% last year. The continuous student protests were ignored. The particular area should have system to handle its waste not to make it a problem of others. When compared with the previous government, the present government is not improvement. It appears that the police and judiciary once again is applying the same work procedure following the government’s line as it did under previous regime.

The same trend can be seen in judicial action. Arrests and keeping them in custody are a serious affair. The power to arrest is a major source of corruption and taking revenge. Many arrest in the recent past gives the impression that those decisions were not taken only on legal grounds. Here the warning given by Indian Supreme Courts seems to more appropriate.

In the Joginder Kumar v/s State of Uttar Pradesh case (air 1994, SC 1349), the Supreme Court observed: “No arrest can be made because it is lawful for the police officer to do so. The existence of the power to arrest is one thing. The justification for the exercise of it is quite another. The police officer must be able to justify the arrest apart from his power to do so. Arrest and detention in police lock-up of a person can cause incalculable harm to the reputation and self-esteem of a person. No arrest can be made in a routine manner on a mere allegation of commission of an offence made against a person. It would be prudent for a police officer in the interest of protection of the constitutional rights of a citizen, and perhaps in his own interest, that no arrest should be made without reasonable satisfaction through some investigation as to the genuineness and bona fides of a complaint and a reasonable belief, both as to the person’s complicity, and as to the need to effect arrest.

“Denying a person his liberty is a serious matter. The recommendations of the National Police Commission (NPC) merely reflect the constitutional concomitants of the fundamental right to personal liberty and freedom. A person is not liable to arrest merely on the suspicion of complicity in an offence. There must be some reasonable justification in the opinion of the officer effecting the arrest that such arrest is necessary and justified. Except in heinous offences, an arrest must be avoided if a police officer issuing notice to person to attend the Station House and not to leave the Station without permission would do.”

“If, from information received or otherwise, an officer in charge of a police station has reason to suspect the commission of an offence which he is empowered under section 156 to investigate, he shall forthwith…proceed in person, or shall depute one of his subordinate officers not being below such rank as the state government may, by general or special order, prescribe in this behalf, to proceed, to the spot, to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case, and, if necessary, to take measures for the discovery and arrest of the offender.” Note that the words “and, if necessary” have been deliberately used, indicating that the law does not authorize the police to arrest in every criminal case. But the reality is that the moment an FIR for a cognizable offence is lodged, policemen rush to arrest and often demand money for not doing so.

How do we explain the continuation of non-democratic practice although people expect a “change” on January 8, 2015? Of course this phenomenon may not be attributed to a single course. In fact, the country was not given on January 8 a new set of political leaders; it was the same group with the same ‘habitus’ are controlling the government and the state. Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe defended the system as it existed prior to January 8. The track records of the new ministers were not better compared with the ministers of the previous government. The second reason is totally “uncritical nature” of the civil society. Even some has attempted to portray student protests and Inter University Student federation as “provokers”. This is tantamount to legitimization of repressive action by the government.

This brings us to an issue of fundamental nature. Is there a basic contradiction between political conjunctures and democratic process? In some context, political conjunctures may justify imposing limits to democratic process if the unabated democracy itself becomes hindrance to expected and accepted goals. Nonetheless, any justification on this ground should raise the issue what defines the political conjuncture. Some civil society people may argue that the political conjuncture is defined today by increasing Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. However, this argument does not hold water stronger version of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism can be seen within the government. My reading of the situation have made me feel that the democratic change is being blocked by the political conjuncture of neo-liberalism that this government intends to follow more vigorously.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Replacing a set of rascals with another set of rascals will not change anything.

    Regime change is a mirage

    • 6

      Sumanasiri Liyanage –

      “Replacing a set of rascals with another set of rascals will not change anything. “

      The new Rascals not even punishing the Old, Liars, Crooks, Robbers and Criminals.

      They are still at large.

      Remember, some time ago, they were rascals together.

  • 11

    The problem is that we are living between two worlds; one that is dead and the other that is struggling to be born. So, inevitably there will be shades of both, the old and the new, for some time. Let us all hope that it will be so for only some time!

    Sengodan. M

  • 4

    When JR enacted the previous constitution, he thought the future presidents would be the same as him. He did not expect a leader who will violate all norms. If a leader is genuine, you do not need laws and conventions. MR has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he held the family first and the country second in governing the country. He should now retire because one success (war) does not make him a permanent heir to the throne as it were. He must accept defeat and retire.
    With the new 19 and 20, the people must make sure that a good set of peopel are elected to the parliament; people who have the country at heart and not people who rob the country’s assets.
    We must elect decent and honest people who will do good and not rob the country’s assets. Once the laws are tightened, entering parliament will not be a gold mine. To ensure that, the new government must prosecute some big wigs of the past regime so that people will learn that the law is above everything.

    • 0

      Rajapakse has had his Two Terms and there is nothing more he can do again for the
      Sinhala Buddhist than isolate Sri Lanka from the worod community. Is that what Sri Lankans want: Listen what is said in London re MR:-


  • 3


  • 0

    By assuming MS that actual political behavior in the post-election promised of democracy would not incorporate the people demands of changes of reasonable act in line with policy manifesto by President Of Sri lanka.

    MS makes the negative choice of democratic institution ,that much more complicated, since we are told before election.
    What to expect in the political pattern of his individual behavior ,the democratic institution are set in place out of ‘rule of law’ and ‘good governances’ by MS, UNP-Ranil & CBK junta regime.

    The political question that remains, which MS junta politics authority & power, however is that consistent and coherent democracy of parliament political model in Sri lanka?

    How MS model of politics which that translate into guidance about the judgments of ‘rule of law’ and justice in our country in which we live under current democracy?

    We will focus does indeed make sense of MS,CBK & UNP-Ranil-political junta, if the intention is outline how to achieve the perfectly democratic social arrangement with the additional manner of realization of injustice today.

    And this is exactly where realistic reading of ‘good governances’ of behavioral norms and irregularities become unwanted choice of Parliamentary leads to unjust cause by MS leadership.

    We have aware of the negative influence of unchecked power both President & Parliament-minority party of UNP , because institutions balance is very important for democratic society has been undermined by UNP Short period of governances by -Ranil .W..s Junta rule.

    We want exercise countervailing power in democracy that protected the vested interest of people rights of good governances in democratic value in our society.
    Ours capitalist democracy and its political order also provides an unusual and illuminating account of how the success of democratic society of Sri lanka.

    MS, UNP-Ranil & CBK and their executive political power move is rather distance from rule of democracy, that is badly wrong in last 150 days exercise more unrestrained power than Republic constitution 19A, would seem to be indented, by and large democracy have been hypothecate by Junta rule.

    MS led regime give fundamental place that is to the necessary democratic institutions has developed and enrich over more than century and rules within practices of democracy.

    Clearly ,debates and discussions are now not that effective under the MS junta regime.

    MS regime ignoring the possibly adverse effects on democracy of people beyond the our Island from the action of governance and choice in our country institutions of democracy voices of the affected other people’s land. Sri lanka’s democracy become laughing stock in world community.

  • 0

    Two past presidents changed the Sri Lanka today, they are JR and MR. Others just enjoyed the stay as president. Sri Lanka needs real leaders to survive in the Global bulling operated by some powerful countries. Most of these bullies are in the West.

  • 0

    Lets face it Sri Lanka is a lawless society and is a pseudo democracy. All this about the 19th and 20th amendment is to fool the people and is a eyewash to cover up the real objectives of a set of corrupt politicians. Since 1978 the main amendments have been to safe guard the rulers. Take the 13th amendment, It is used to appoint thugs and criminals to subjugate the people. The number of rapes by provincial councillors are increasing daily. Another one celebrated a century. A rapist and a murderer shows himself of with the President. The case is going on because of the murdered was a Britisher . Are the Sri Lankan’s offered that privilege? The civil society is hardly active subjugated by white vans and obstruction of Justice. In this obstruction the Lawyers who are the guardians of the law are part of the evil of the political class. Unfortunately they fill up parliament.
    The direct and indirect violence perpetrated on the masses by a corrupt political class has brought the country to a stand still. This article is characteristic of the do nothing elite. It is time the civil society more vehemently called for justice in this country and make politicians accountable. Can you imagine no politician since Marrikar in 1958 has been sent to jail for bribery but the bribe taking politicians are a well known entity amongst society. The country must free itself from the corrupt politicians . God Save Sri Lanka!

  • 0

    I get the impression that the author has a lukewarm perception on authoritarianism while little cynical about what is meant by democracy. This is clear from the first paragraph. This is a mistake on the part of many left wing advocates. Prof. Carlo also suffers from this disease.

    It is true that mere macro level changes, partial still, cannot bring overall changes towards democratization, particularly at the micro level. It is also true that after a democratic change, there are all possibilities of the ‘old regime’ or old habits/practices reemerging. However, the characterizing of them as ‘continuation’ is not correct. Doing so is a hopeless perception of democratic change and particularly a complete underestimation of societal (civil society?) movements that brought a significant change at the presidential elections. I bet that the author did not anticipate or favored that change.

    However, I would largely (not totally) agree with the author if I were to explain some of the reemergence or continuations of the past or the past regime. I have no objection of the personalities mentioned, both Wickremasinghe and Sirisena, as part of the past regimes. The emerging lethargy of the civil society actors is also apparent. The major cause however is the still unreformed and difficult to reform state apparatus. This is the challenge. We have to depend on what is available in the first instance. In this case Sirisena is different to Rajapaksa and Wickremasinghe is different to (DM) Jayaratne.

    The author has just jumped on an intricate theoretical argument without explaining much in the very last short paragraph as if taken from a text book! To unravel it, it may be true that the present regime’s dependence on neo-liberalism might be counterproductive to democratic process in the country. However, it is too early to judge except the obvious hold of the UNP. However to deny that the major challenge for democracy and democratization in Sri Lanka emerges from ‘Sinhala nationalist extremism’ is an easy recipe to capitulate to that movement. I have always seen that tendency on the part of the author. It is possible that anti neo-liberal rhetoric is a cover for that tendency!

  • 0

    January 8th. change appears to be like changing the pillow to over come a headache.What happened to the promises made regarding those involved in Narcotics,Thuggery & Bribery?
    At the forthcoming elections, MS & Ranil will give nominations to most of the drug dealers.
    The only way to save this country now is to back SF and the JVP at the next general election.

  • 0

    Will the “Gun Fight at Yahapalanaya” now be between unelected Ranil and Elected Sira?

    If Jr Minister Ajith Perera is correct jt will be sooner than later.

    Ajith Perera reckons it is cake walk . I mean not the Gun Fight

    But grabbing the Government.

    Mr Perera is so cocksure that he is willing to offer Minister jobs to SLFP even after Ranil becomes legit with a landslide majority.

    Mahendran , Galleon and Baththudeen must have done a tremendous job for our inhabitants to fall over each other and tick Ranil’s box at the Ballot..

  • 0

    “Maithripala, Ranil & The Democratic Aspirations Of The People”

    Is this another Western conspiracy ???
    Thousands of allied troops and hundreds of thousands of blameless Iraqis are killed, although plenty of companies and individuals benefit from the US dollars that were shipped out, literally, by the ton. More recently, Iraq, now in a far worse state than it ever was under any dictator.
    Fifa is a giant corruption machine and it now looks like every World Cup in the last three decades, even the ones we were cool about, like South Africa, could have been fixes.

    look at the EU and pick anything from its rarely signed-off accounts to the giant sham that let Greece join the Euro in the first place.


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