By Mass L. Usuf –
This is not about which party, which symbol or which person. This is about Democracy, Sovereignty of the People and the Parliament, Rule of Law, Independence of the Judiciary and Governance.
Was Plato prophetic when he famously said, “O, men of Athens, if I was engaged in politics, I would have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself?” Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher had the desire to be in active politics but the death sentence passed on his teacher Socrates by the then ‘so called’ Athenian democracy disappointed him.
Having closely followed the trial of Socrates, Plato lost faith in democracy and he started to question everything related to state and social life. He began to understand what is nepotism and corruption within the State. Most importantly he realised that it was difficult to take part in public life and retain one’s integrity. In this sadness he wrote the famous lines: “The troubles of mankind will never ease until either true genuine philosophers attain political power or the rulers of states by some dispensation of providence become genuine philosophers”. (Plato, Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII).
Sophistry Of The 20th
Strangely and frighteningly are we revisiting this epoch in ancient history? Aristotle in his Politics distinguished the forms of ruling as by One (meaning the Monarch), by the Few (meaning the Oligarchy, Aristocracy) and by the Many (Democracy). Are we in the period of reverse transition from being a democracy regressing towards an Oligarchy and, finally, to a modern Monarchy via the sophistry of the Twentieth amendment?
Neighbouring India is making efforts to keep pace within the context of modern progressive democracies. The Indian Supreme Court in relation to oversight responsibilities of government organs was keen to expand into divergent interests. Part of the scrutiny and monitoring procedures to include even the ‘non-performance’ or ‘omission to act’. The Supreme Court of India said in this regard. “… traditionally the checks and balances dimension were only associated with governmental excesses and violations. But in today’s world of positive rights and justifiable social and economic entitlements, hybrid administrative bodies, private functionaries discharging public functions, we have to perform the oversight function with more urgency and enlarge the field of checks and balances to include governmental inaction. (Dr. Ashwini Kumar vs Union of India Ministry of Home (619, para 83) (2019).
Resist or Surrender?
The judicial willingness of the Indian judges to expand the embrace of modern constitutional jurisprudence to greater transparency, accountability and dispersal of power is a positive development. Lessons for us to learn. In contrast, the 20th amendment bill is aimed at constricting the monitoring mechanisms and the inbuilt checks and balances. What is the role of our politicians in keeping with this change vis a vis the 20th amendment? Will they resist or surrender?
Think sincerely about the impact your (politicians) decision will have not only for today but for the future generations. Think seriously about your own future as politicians. Will you like to submit your ‘self’ or be an independent person having your own say? The politicians have two options to choose from. Firstly, the progressive approach. Secondly, the retrogressive path.
Role of Supreme Court
It was crystal clear from the very first day the 20th amendment bill was made public that no force could stop its passage. Moving the Supreme Court will have limited effect since the Supreme court can only determine if some clause has to be passed by a 2/3rd majority or by a referendum. It does not have the power to order the non-passage of the bill in Parliament. It shall state whether the Bill or any provision thereof is inconsistent with the Constitution. For details see Article 123 of the Constitution.
Lesson To Our Politicians
In a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru once wrote: “Ordinary politicians have no principles to stand by and their work is governed by day-to-day opportunism.” The time is opportune to do an interesting analysis of the psychological disposition and the correlated individual differences among the Members of Parliament. Our representatives, especially, those in government consists of those who are intelligent and intellectual but their demeanor does not always reflect on these qualities. There are those, most of them some would say, who have low levels of self-esteem in the presence of the oligarchy. The class in which there is a dime a dozen are those who are either easily persuadable or volitionally submissive. Then, of course, the peripherals who are in a constant state of anxiety, fear and uncertainty of their fragile and selfish political future. They would avoid anything that would harm them in any way.
There are people who are conscientious but not so conscientious. Those who are scrupulous but malleable. There are also principled persons but pliant. How many conduct themselves guided by or, in conformity to one’s own conscience, self-dignity and with integrity is anyone’s guess?
Lessons from Plato to our politicians. Plato confesses to his intense feeling of shame of the times he found himself in. People had abandoned the true principles of government and were reluctant to return to the right track. He called those who succumbed to unconscientious behaviour as cowards and those who refused to follow the wrong path as brave men. Can those who voted at the last elections rely on their representatives to decide using their conscience when it comes to voting for the 20th amendment bill? Will they be among the cowards or the brave like the people who Plato identified during his period?
Prudent politicians with a minimum of social conscience, self-integrity and morality should be able to see and judge the value of the 20th amendment to the country and its future. It is worth to remind ourselves of what Montesquieu said in ‘The Spirit of the Laws’, “Every man interested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far it will go.”
Philosopher or Machiavelli?
While Plato spoke of a ‘Philosopher King’ who is just, moral and equitable, the 16th-century Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli had different ideas. For Machiavelli a head of state ought to do good if he can, but must be prepared to commit evil if he must. It is recognized that Machiavelli was the only political thinker who advocated ‘a politics guided exclusively by considerations of expediency, which uses all means, fair or foul, iron or poison, for achieving its ends – while serving the country also using the fatherland in the service of the self-aggrandizement of the politician or statesman or one’s party’. Strauss (1987:297).
Therefore, for Machiavelli qualities such as integrity and intellectualism are considerations far below in the list of expediencies. It is said that in the absence of these qualities and, with the deficiencies in morality and ethics, a world dominated by violence and crisis will be created.
If there are shortcomings in the 19th amendment, it is suggested to make changes to ensure its administration, implementation and co-ordination efficient. The integrity on limitations in the 19th amendment is not to be rewritten in a manner which will lose its purpose and compromise the sovereign intent. Therefore, it is a matter of principled politics (a rare commodity but need to be said) that has to be engaged in for the greater benefit of the country and its people.