5 March, 2024


Misgovernment; Has The Government Lost Its Legitimacy To Rule?

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

This is the reply Google gave me to the question: “What gives the government the right to rule?

“In political philosophy, the phrase consent of the governed refers to the idea that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is justified and lawful only when consented to by the people or society over which that political power is exercised.”

The incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came into power in November 2019 on the controversial but, strategic platform of racism and ethno-nationalism. The slave mentality of the majority community which pampered Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Dutugemunu fantasy and the sycophants who surrounded the Rajapaksa brothers made it easy for them to execute this strategy. The disease of a feudalistic mindset is that it makes people to revel in ignorance and it inhibits people from thinking rationally.

The Rajapaksas must be admired for knowing well that mobilising the monks to their side will ensure the enslavement, by indoctrination, of a vast majority of the Sinhalese community. These unbuddhistic monks succeeded in their endeavour. Of course, bringing shame to Buddhism by the propagation of hate, suspicion and hostility towards the minorities. The fools who abandoned reasoning and allowed themselves to be fooled, traded their wisdom to servility. They came to be derogatorily called the ‘heta nama lakshaya’, the sixty-nine lakhs – the number of votes that he polled. Here, one may primarily question, the legitimacy and morality of attaining power by unethical and immoral ‘democratic’ means.

Economic Imperatives

Political philosophy aside, economic imperatives would seek to ensure financial stability of a country in order to move forward with the conferred legitimacy. There is, therefore, a close nexus technically between legitimacy to rule and the economic stability of a nation. The abyss in which the economy finds itself today does not hold much hope for the citizens of this country.

According to the World Bank “a stable financial system is capable of efficiently allocating resources, assessing and managing financial risks, … A stable system will absorb the shocks primarily via self-corrective mechanisms, preventing adverse events from having a disruptive effect on the real economy or on other financial systems. Major instability can lead to bank runs, hyperinflation, or a stock market crash. It can severely shake confidence in the financial and economic system.”

With the mismanagement of the economy written on the wall, Covid-19 exacerbated the crisis by hitting the construction, transport, manufacturing, tourism and other industries. This cascaded into declining economic performance at a macro level. Consequently, it directly impacted on the employment prospects and earnings across different groups of workers. Those with lower levels of education, in low-paid jobs, on fixed-term contracts, self-employed and private sector employees experienced job or earnings losses during the pandemic period, further stressing economic activity. The unequal distribution of the economic shock worsened the misery of the rural and urban folks. The poor became poorer and the middle-class urbanites became poor.

The government looked hopelessly incompetent in either arresting the deteriorating economic performance or having a Covid-19 recovery plan to kick start the economy. The worst act in the script of misgovernance is servicing the debts out of the already scarce foreign exchange reserves. Today, there is almost no money in the country and, naturally, imports have been cut. The rupee was suddenly devalued sharply escalating prices across the board. The country, at present, has been plunged into an extremely volatile situation. The moral legitimacy of the government to continue to rule over the people has now turned out to be a valid concern of the citizens.

Terminate The Social Contract

This connects with the idea of Social Contract where legitimacy is granted by the people to the government to govern over them. This is a contractual agreement between the citizens and the government. In this agreement the individual citizen surrenders some of his freedoms and agree to abide by the authority of the government in exchange for protection, welfare, social order etc.

The question asked is, “what is the remedy in the event of a breach of this agreement by the government?” The answer to this is found in the analogy of a simple fixed term employment contract. If a person enters into a five-year employment contract and is later found to be incompetent, the employee has the option of resigning his job or the employer has the option of terminating the contract. No sane employer will want to continue with an incapable employee until the end of the five-year contract period.

The present situation in the country which does not require any description or explanation is a gross breach of the social contract agreement. One important fact that should not be forgotten is that the citizens through their taxes are sustaining the government. Given the circumstance, what does the citizen have to do? The people, including the now cursed ‘heta nama lakshaya’ deeply feel the need to stop the continuation of this breach which would be detrimental to the country and its citizenry. We are witnessing a growing trend where citizens are voluntarily gathering to line up in the streets expressing their displeasure at this breach of contract by the government. The people are now wanting to terminate the agreement.

Extreme Poverty

It is interesting to learn, what are the utilitarian rules of morality? “Whenever you are in a situation and have alternatives, you calculate the utility to be produced by adopting a course of action (rule) which would produce the greatest utility in the long run if it were followed every time that situation arose.” The lack of vision, proper planning and the inability to strategically mitigate the adverse effects of the failing economy repeats the question of the legitimacy to continue to rule.

This is evidenced by the World Bank report on Sri Lanka Poverty Assessment (2021) which notes that with jobs and earnings lost, poverty increased significantly, and over 500,000 people are estimated to have fallen into poverty due to the crisis. Extreme poverty (as measured by the $1.90 (Rs. 400) earnings a day poverty line) doubled from estimated 2019 levels. This implies not only that there are more poor people, but also that the poor have fallen deeper into poverty. The number of poor using the $3.20 (Rs. 650) earnings a day poverty line is projected to increase from about 1.95 million in 2019 to 2.5 million in 2020. One can imagine the worsening increase in this estimate as of today. What can the citizens do with a government which is unable to provide the basics for them except for saying, “Please leave. We have lost confidence in you and, therefore, revoking our consent. You have no moral or legitimate authority to govern over us anymore.”

Moral Authority

In political science, a government’s political authority is legitimised through the consent of the public, not coercion. This consent is demonstrated by the popular acceptance and recognition by the people of the authority of the government.

Not long ago, there was a public outcry calling for the resignation of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He was told by the Canadian public that he has lost the moral right to govern and should resign because of his involvement in the SNC Lavalin affair. The scandal; Simply put, the Prime Minister or someone in his office had tried to pressure the Attorney General to step in and resolve the corruption and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. in an effort to spare the Montreal-based engineering giant from criminal prosecution?

Patricia Hughes, the Founding Executive of the Law Commission of Ontario, and the former Dean of the University of Calgary law school was asked the question, “what is the ‘moral authority to govern’ — and how does a government lose it?”

Very clearly explaining the spirit of this authority she said, “Moral authority to govern is a question of perception. It comes down to whether the government is observing the norms, values and fundamental principles, that we have said govern our society. So, when a government seems to be acting against those norms, people question whether they still have the moral authority.”

If we consider this as a benchmark, will it be fair and reasonable to assert that this government has lost the legitimacy and moral authority to continue governing this country?

*The author is an Attorney at Law and can be reached via email: ctcolumn@yahoo.com

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Latest comments

  • 4

    It was concentrating creating Societal tensions have metastasized into a dangerous. This polarization has become so intense that many people no longer trust anyone. Introduction for Hyper conflict that divides communities—and even families. Unless people can bridge these divisions and forge a new path forward now There is more power in unity than division. The government ignored this now unable to provide the basics.

    • 4

      Mr. USuf, right on, desperate times need thinking out of the Box- especially as the Euro-American Global financial and security order is collapsing fast with the Ukraine conflict?!!
      Today Sri Lanka which was bombed on Easter Sunday 2019 in Saudi Funded CIA- ISIS staged attacks is begging from the Saudi FM and selling strategic lands and ports to US allies like Saudi and India!

      First and foremost, Sri Lanka needs to dump the US dollar and De-DOLLARIZE, like El Salvador, rather than devalue the Lankan rupee to beggar the people, and enable US to asset strip the country, following “advice” of the IMF and its fake experts.
      The islands Food and Energy Security have been compromized and Lands and Power plants are being sold off to US and Indian Front companies of BlackRock Hedge Fund, like Adanai.

      Second, Sri Lanka need to look East and needs to stop following the “Experts” and Debt-trap Development “Advice” of the Washington Consensus (IMF, WB and OECD-DAC) and Western Fake Aid Debt trap Donors that have dictated colonial development policies and prevented TRANSFER OF TECHNOLOGY to enable the country to use its massive Ocean and mineral resources.

      • 4

        Basil is a US citizen and high school drop out but Finance Minister of this Banana Republic. So too his brother accused by the US deep state of war crimes works for it!
        Western Aid and experts have ensured a form of Colonialism to the corrupt colonized politicians of the island. This is why the country is a Banana Republic manufacturing underwear for Europeans, begging for GSP handouts running behind white tourists,..

        Almost since independence in 1948 so called aid donors have prevented INDUSTRIALIZATION and also trapped and COLONIZED the Lankan business community which is solely lacking in innovation.
        Sri Lanka should be using its Graphite and Rare Earth Minerals to industiralize and manufacture solar panels and Graphene oxide and having export oriented industrialized fishing industry, and taxing Under Sea Data (UDC) Cable Companies and a RICH NATION, but is a beggar nation due to fake independence, Euro-American Colonialism, foreign aid EXPERTS and dependency complex and of course Local political corruption …

  • 7

    I will not be surprised by end of term Rajapaksas may get 6.9 million retards under poverty. Prosperous and splendor indeed. Dan sephada

  • 5

    ”……observing the norms, values and fundamental principles, that we have said govern our society…” Says it all.

    Simple question, does any of our leaders are aware of values & fundamental principals? So, what can be said about ‘moral authority’ which our politicians & their cronies seem to have not even heard of?
    Governing a country is an honour, not a legacy or lucrative employment.

  • 5

    I’m sharing this comment as received on social media recently 1) we became unhealthy eating restaurants and fast foods, thanks to Sir for reintroducing home foods using firewood again 2) we became sedentary, living unhealthy life style , thanks to Sir for taking away fuel and make us walk use cycle and be healthy again 3) we became asocial with our smart phones and laptops and thanks to Sir for restricting electricity so that people spend time with their near and dear ,have meals together without electricity 4) we became unhealthy, diabetic ,obese and hypertensive and thanks to Sir for taking away sugar, milk powder and others out of essentials, cutting meals, less calories and restricted diet 5) we became obese , unhealthy by over eating and thanks to Sir for restricting quantity and teach us again to live with bare minimum 6) we lived in our own world with minimum social interaction and thanks to Sir, now that we spend quite a lot of time talking to strangers while standing in lines 6) we used chemically contaminated milk powder and thanks to Sir for making us drink plain tea without sugar 7) of course how can we forget, thanks to sir for introducing organic farming

    • 5

      Here is one more as received . I am raged and mad, when people complain of Sir. There is plenty Kassipu, Arraku, kudu/cannabis, massage parlors, prosti***es available today, and yet, you guys keep whining about milk powder, rice blah blah ???

    • 4

      continued 8) we consumed harmful western medicines like Panadol, thanks to Sir for restricting all and making us depend again on home remedies 9) It is not just a promise or a dream anymore, thank you Sir for taking us back to B.C 150 years, making DutaGemun’s golden period a reality. 10) From faithful fans of Sir.

  • 3

    “Has The Government Lost Its Legitimacy To Rule?”
    Is this even a question?

  • 1

    The Social Contract referred to is unlike any ordinary contract. So it must be asked, is it a contract at all?

    In our normal day to day dealings a contract must be signed. Is the Social Contract signed by the individuals in the population?

    Would any judge of any court accept as legitimate a document unsigned such as this Social Contract?

    Did those who did not vote and those who voted against this government agree to be governed?

    Perhaps some voted for this government in order to escape the previous government, i.e. they voted to exit, rather than enter. Do these people consent to the current government in a legitimate manner?

    If the answer to the above is no, Then the so-called “Social Contract” is not a contract at all. It is merely force, or coercion, imposed upon a people by a political class who seek to find ways to legitimate their exercising of power.

  • 1

    The writer must also suggest an alternative, after his long-winded spiel about legitimate right to rule etc..Is the answer another run of Sajaber or the NPP etc..? I would suggest that the system that rewards crime must be dismantled, and self-interest no longer determines who the people vote for..they should learn that common interest is by far the only way in which a desperate poor country can succeed…so, usher in a group that works for common interest and campaigns on that behalf, rather than offer promotions, jobs, subsidies, transfers, school admission for a kid etc..

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