By Varatharaja Perumal –
Engrave The Qualities Of Advanced Civilization As The Basic Structure Of The Constitution
Only the provision of voting rights to the people, existence of multi-parties and occasional conduct of elections to different political posts do not indicate that true democracy prevails in its full meaning. In fact, the democratic civilization has, through the history of political developments, accumulated wider constituents and components.
The experiences and experiments that Sri Lanka has so far undergone prove that it is essential for the Sri Lankan Constitution to have provisions of basic structures inalienably enshrined in it. Constitutional democracy in industrialized European and American Countries do not need to have such provisions in their Constitutions because democracies in those countries are evolved compatibly to the historical development of their political economy. But that is not the case in countries, which were under European colonialism ruled for over two – three centuries.
The capitalism, which we as people of the third world countries experience now, is not a historical evolution of our own mode of political economy that prevailed during the Middle-Ages. Instead, the colonial powers destroyed our political economic system and the status, which prevailed then and in its place the capitalism was imposed for the benefits of such powers. The capitalism which was forced on us to adopt was not the capitalism of the independent nations but perhaps the dependent and distorted / appropriated capitalism, in order to obtain primary products and raw materials as much as possible at cheaper costs and also to control monopolistically, the markets for their manufactures. In such capitalism, exploiters were completely European and all skills and labour of our nationals and resources were exploited and carried away. It took 200 years for the middle class and 300 years for the industrial class to emerge in our countries. In the case of Sri Lanka – due to the non-availability of basic minerals and metals for industrial development and the lack of agricultural inputs to the modern industrial sectors, except Tea industries – national industrial capitalists did not come up until the colonial rule existed and only the collaborated middle class emerged out of services and trading activities. So the Sri Lankan nationalism against the British Raj was largely a result of socio-political awareness among the educated middle class and universal enfranchisement of 1931 and it was definitely due to the effect of the Indian independent struggle.
The Constitutional governance and the rule of law of the colonial powers accompanied from time to time with reforms were also to preserve and protect the prosperity of the colonial capitalists and their strategic interests.
The democracy that was imparted to us by the colonial powers was not the true replication of the Western Democracy, which prevailed then in their respective countries but the distorted and diluted duplication of their models. Intention of bestowing such democracy and subsequent reforms was not to satisfy the aspirations of our people but to accommodate the local elites bred by the colonialists to take part in their colonial administration so that such elites would cooperate and collaborate with them to continue their exploitative process and their oppressive regimes smoothly.
Taking into consideration the experiences of various nations, advanced principles of State formations, good governance and historical development of democratic norms and values, the Independent Sri Lanka should have been built up as a united democratic nation by establishing an appropriate political system provided with space and forums for adequate participation of the national minorities in the legislative makings and in the governance, while also ensuring adequate security and safety to their physical and socio-economic bases and interests. Accordingly, a compatible constitution should have been drafted and adopted as to recognize ethnic divergence, religious variants, regional disparities and castes in socio-economic relations.
Since the Universal enfranchisement of 1931, the electoral political ground began to breed the contradictory politics among the nationalities in Sri Lanka. Once the Sinhala ruling sections, by using the demographic majority, achieved and took to their hands, the sovereignty of the united independent Sri Lanka rather than uniting the people of Sri Lanka, they, by applying their hegemonic attitude, deliberately and systematically propelled the Lankan political economy to perennially subsist with the majority versus minority conflicts and civil wars. Their aim and objective was neither to satisfy the socio-economic aspirations of the Sinhala people nor to preserve and protect the peaceful integrity of the country. They used in their propagation on different factors and acted as different characters at varied times so that they could gain and retain the power of the State through a short cut method and plunder the public resources. Basically they have been adopting twin “divide and rule” strategy – one is to build and continue to strengthen the pan-Sinhala State, which is easy to be managed and controlled by promoting the Sinhala patriotic sentiments mixed with mythical prides and anti-Tamil phobia and the second is to expand the threats to the socio-economic lives of the minorities and reduce the space and forums to their legitimate representations so that the minorities shall permanently mistrust and hate the Sinhalese as a whole and subsist in isolation with negative and resistant attitude towards the State and the rulers.
Consequently, Sri Lanka had to face two short term civil wars that erupted due to the contradictory factors, which functioned within the Sinhalese that made the country cost around 100,000 Sinhala youths and hundreds of leaders including Comrade Vijaya Kumarathunga and Comrade Panditha of Communist party. The ethnic conflicts – based – civil war persisted for about thirty years and resulted in the deaths of about 200,000 Tamil civilians including thousands of Tamil leaders, intellectuals, administrators, teachers and journalists, the list starting from the great Tamil leaders like Mr. Amirthalingam and Comrade Pathmanaba. Thousands of Sinhalese civilians, and leaders like former President Premadasa, former Ministers Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, Mr. Gamini Disssanayake, Mr. Ranjan Wijayaratne and Mr Fernandopulle also were killed in addition to the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers of the State, the members of the LTTE and the members of the other Tamil militant movements. The cost of public and private properties was worth many tens of billions of dollars. In addition, the wars saddened mother Lanka due to being made to live with more than 100,000 widows and about another 100,000 of disabled and thousands of orphans deprived of their both parents.
However, the victory of the State over the LTTE brought an end to the LTTE terrorism, battle field killings, killings in cross firings and by indiscriminate bombings and forced displacement of people, and thereby stopped further increases in the numbers of widows, disabled and orphans. Despite of continuation of State-aided terrorism in a limited and selective manner, the absence of war perhaps brought to the people at large a comparative fearlessness in their movements and confidence to progress their livelihood.
End of the war and the elimination of LTTE’s armed wing in 2009 paved ways and provided the means to the Lankan leaders for reforming the State and the political system in order to permanently prevent the re-emergence of past mistakes or mishaps causing unbearable miseries and tragedies. They should have taken necessary steps and measures to build the country as a truly united nation by civilianizing the entire state administration, democratizing the political environment, strictly ensuring the rule of law and carrying out genuine national reconciliation programmes with effective healing touches and treatments. But, Rajapaksa brothers & Co, instead, chose entirely anti-democratic path, esteemed them above the laws, and treated the people not as citizens but as subjects of their clannish Sovereignty. Their war-victory euphoria made them to dream a fantasy in which there was no existence of any opposition against them and they were all powerful and enabled themselves to ridicule every legitimate institution and reduce anyone’s life and liberty. They were misusing and manipulating the State institutions and apparatus in order to reign the country with Chauvinistic ideology further combined with the elements of Zionism and Nazism and upgraded notorious version of authoritarianism of Mr. Jayewardane and Mr Premadasa.
Notwithstanding of all defects and deficiencies embedded in the national fabrication of Sri Lanka, the common people have proved at during the Presidential election that the common sense and the serious concerns on democratic values strongly prevail among them and have handed over the opportunity to the progressive and democratic forces to rectify the past wrongs and failures and restore the foundation firmly so that the polity of Sri Lanka would dynamically progress to the advanced stages and her economy would grow forward sustainably. Accordingly, the people of Sri Lanka has emphatically given the mandate for the 100 day programme, which includes the abolition of executive Presidential system, introducing an appropriate electoral system, and establishing the independence of Judiciary and other national institutions that are essential to ensure democracy, equality, liberty, fundamental freedoms, and good governance. It is the duty of the new government to convincingly attempt to accomplish its time-framed agenda despite of various odds and challenges and inevitable delays.
It is a great historical opportunity to progressive forces of Sri Lanka to lay an unshakable foundation for the good future of the country and the people of all nationalities living here together for more than three millenniums irrespective of changes of their religions, mother tongues and inhabiting locations and of demographical additions and deduction by immigrations and emigrations. It is a rare opportunity that should not be missed but need to be utilized for establishing irretrievable / irremovable Constitutional foundations for Sri Lanka to advance with highly democratized political cultures and equitable socio-economic justice.
As the Constitution carries the title “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”, she is constitutionally a Republic, a democratic Republic, a socialist Republic. So here, as the basic structure of the Constitution, it firstly emphasizes that being a republic, the sovereignty of the country is vested with the people and not with any particular person in any position or with any institution. Secondly, that it is built on the democratic norms and thirdly that it adopts the socialist principles.
In the Preamble of the 1978 Constitution, it is said:
“… to constitute SRI LANKA into a DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC whilst ratifying the immutable republican principles of REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, and assuring to all people FREEDOM, EQUALITY, JUSTICE, FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS and the INDEPENDENCE OF JUDICIARY as the intangible heritage that guarantee the dignity and well-being of succeeding generation of the People of SRI LANKA …..”
However, Sri Lanka has been misruled by the successive governments during the last 35 years not on the basis pledged in the preamble of the constitution but on the autocratic assumptions and authoritarian ideologies using the defects and loopholes in the Constitution. In Sri Lanka, how has democracy been functioning?, where has socialism survived? How much has the Judiciary been allowed to function independently? To what degree has rule of law prevailed? Has the government been made obliged to be answerable and accountable to the people? and to which extent has the election commissioner been free to hold fair election? The answers to all these question are obviously known to the people of Sri Lanka.
Notwithstanding of the superiority of the parliament, the devolution of powers to the provinces had been inalienably made a basic structure of the Constitution in 1987. However, it is a well acknowledged fact that the successive governments of the last 27 years did not respect or adhere to the constitutional part in respect of the devolution of powers to the provinces. This shows that either only by the proclamation in the Preamble of the Constitution or by making the proposed Constitutional Council to determine the appointments to the nationally important higher offices, the independency of such offices or authorities cannot be sufficiently ensured. Hence, it is the duty of the genuine democrats and other progressive forces at this juncture to reassert and restore Sri Lanka to be invariably a true “Democratic Socialist Republic” in the future by irremovably inserting necessary extra-ordinary provisions as basic pillars of the Constitution.
The industrially developed democratic countries, instead of necessarily written constitutional provisions, through the historical process of their democratic development, have established venerable political conventions and customs, which assure that the basic structure of their constitution could in no way be diluted or dismantled. In India such basic structure of the constitution is established by the Supreme Court perhaps through the application of its judicial legislative / review power. But in the case of Sri Lanka, experiences prove that it is essential to insert such provisions written in the Constitution so that no act of any part of the government or anyone can deviate from or be detrimental to the principles of Democracy, Devolution, Socialism, Equality, Justice, rule of law and Fundamental civil, social, economic and Human rights. To preserve and protect such pivotal principles, the independency of all the nationally important public institutions / authorities / offices including the Judiciary and its power of judicial review of all laws and executive actions, must not in any way or manner be allowed to be harmed or extricated. It is to be noted here that the Article 80(3) of the existing Constitution should be repealed since it is a contradictory provision to the Preamble of the Constitution and make the above –said principles redundant.
Law should expressively and categorically prevail whenever and wherever the public interests slips and common sense sleeps.
*Varatharaja Perumal – Former Chief Minister of North –East Province of Sri Lanka