14 June, 2021

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Some Questions On Protection & Promotion Of Democracy In Sri Lanka? 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Although we boast about Sri Lanka as the oldest democracy in Asia, our system has never been developed like many of the democratic countries in the world. Perhaps the main reason taken for this flawed characterization is the universal franchise introduced in 1931. While the introduction was a major democratic development in the island, it should be mentioned that many of the so-called national leaders, except like A. E. Goonasinghe, did not support or rather opposed this introduction. 

What does this mean? Democracy in Sri Lanka is primarily a plant that was implanted from overseas and it grew with much difficulties (distortedly) within a soil that was not so fertile for its natural growth. For a proper democracy, there are certain economic conditions necessary. More than such economic conditions, the society should be prone to such democratic developments through education, people’s movements, cultural change and leadership. These were the perennially lacking parts in the democratic jigsaw in the country.   

On the other hand, while Australia introduced universal franchise in 1902, New Zealand opted for its introduction well before in 1883. Why don’t we consider these countries as Asian? At least from a democratic-development point of view, these two countries should be considered as countries in our region from where we could learn a lot for democratic principles and practices although these countries then or now are not perfect in terms of democracy or in other ways. 

International and National Conditions 

No country in the world is complete/perfect in terms of democracy. A primary reason for the situation is democracy has so far not penetrated the economy. In some countries, while politics may be democratic, the economies are not. This is a major paradox and contradiction. The poor people are still suffering in democratic countries all over the world although they have free and fair elections and universal franchise! 

The argument that democracy will eventually bring economic equality (or equal economic opportunities) has not materialized. Equality before the law undoubtedly is admirable under liberal democracy. But without reasonable economic fairness that right appears hollow. Neo-liberalism has virtually brought an antithesis to democracy which might give birth to even fascism in a democratic country. 

While many liberal advocates have focused on democratic forms, very little discussions have taken place on the questions of democratic substance. This is also the case in Sri Lanka. Without a level playing field in terms of economic opportunity and social recognition, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender, region or any other distinction, there is no substance in democracy. Sri Lanka has still failed to eliminate caste distinctions or discrimination. The caste distinctions/labels should be completely abolished/prohibited. The National Human Rights Commission should be given more powers in this regard. 

Instead of ameliorating ethnic and religious conflicts, the ‘majoritarian democracy’ and ‘partial minority rights movements’ have exacerbated these conflicts throughout years. Almost all political leaders have failed in this regard. There is a need for lateral thinking in this respect and promoting religious leaders to play a major role through inter-religious dialogue might be one proposition. All religions claim they are spiritual and stand for peace and what is moral!   

This does not mean that issues of democratic forms are not important. However, even those should not be limited to, for example, a need for a new constitution, presidential vs cabinet, unitary vs devolution/federalism or even regime change. All these and other issues of democratic forms are linked to what those could deliver to the people in terms of human freedom, economic opportunity, equal social recognition and peaceful living.   

The UN has made a major mistake after its formation without coming up with a Declaration on Democracy, the principles of democratic substance included. It repeatedly says, “The UN supports democracy by promoting human rights, development, and peace.” Is that sufficient? 

Human rights debates have taken antagonistic forms, instead of being constructive dialogues, at the Human Rights Council and beyond. If there had been a UN Council for Democracy, in addition to the Human Rights Council, many of the human rights problems could have been resolved differently. While the Universal Declaration on Democracy declared in 1997 by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) is admirable even it has failed to address some of the main questions of democratic substance. Therefore, there is still a vacuum on the need for a universal declaration on democracy (forms and substance). 

When the IPU declared the Universal Declaration on Democracy, Sri Lanka was an active participant. Even China was there! However, the commitments in this regard or on the declaration were not followed up. People in the country are largely unaware of this democratic declaration. I even wonder whether the parliamentarians were/are aware of it! This was not translated into Sinhala or Tamil. It is still not too late, although this declaration might not be considered the final truth. 

From International to National      

The democratic development of a country can be considered governed by four major processes. (1) Political mobilization for democracy. (2) Democratization through institutional, constitutional and policy changes. (3) Economic development and income re-distribution. (4) Recognition and adoption of international democratic developments. While all these processes are important, what processes might be more important, or in what combination, would depend on a particular condition and situation. 

In the case of Sri Lanka, the absence or weaknesses in political mobilization for democracy can be considered the major lacunae from the beginning. Even for political independence from the colonial rule, there was no proper political/democratic mobilization. Most of the political formations, except in the case of the Left, were for power for this or that economic/elite or ethnic group. There was hardly a vision going beyond ethnicity or religion. Even in the case of the Left or ultra-left, the commitment for democracy was poor or absent. 

Many considered democracy to be a given thing or limited to holding elections, running political parties, following or drafting a constitution and at best developing the economy. Therefore, there was no conception of democratization except during certain limited periods on the part of who wielded power at the expense of the people. There is no surprise that the democracy index of the Economist characterizing Sri Lanka as a ‘flawed democracy’ with a ranking in the 69th position this year. This is also with the United States (25th position) and India (51st position) in the same category. However, it is possible that Sri Lanka soon degenerating into a ‘hybrid’ or an ‘authoritarian’ system. According to the index, only five steps remain before falling into that category! That is the interpretation of the Economist, but our interpretation or experience might be different. 

Under the circumstances therefore, democratic defense is the most important task followed by and along with democratic promotion. Just defense of democracy might not be that attractive with negative connotations although it is a primary task. But democratic promotion with appealing new ideas and focusing on people’s economic demands could be more popular. What should be advocated is not just institutional/constitutional change, but policy changes not only for democratic promotion but also for economic justice for the poor and the marginalized. Women are an important marginalized section who could be mobilized for democratic change and promotion. However, such a movement should not be limited to the urban or elite women. One demand and policy change towards that direction could be for a universal basic income for everyone in the country with equal opportunities for men and women.  

There is no doubt that when a democratically elected, yet an authoritarian government is in power, opposing that government is a primary duty of all people against the government’s authoritarian measures like the 20A or Maharagama prison shooting. This does not however mean calling for an uprising or resistance. The opposition to the regime should be democratic and peaceful. 

The possibility of democratic change against an authoritarian government was successfully shown at the 2015 presidential elections, even under the ‘flawed democracy.’ What went wrong was not only the type of neoliberal regime that was installed, but also the weaknesses of the civil society movements that spearheaded that change. When the Yahapalana government was going against the mandate, those organizations did not have the strength or determination to oppose.  

Thus, is the need for more broader, people based and a genuine democratic movement without aliening with this or that leader or party of the present opposition. This would not preclude the need or the possibility of issue based united actions and activities with any of the opposition parties/leaders. The complete submission or reliance of those parties are not warranted. At the same time, such a democratic opposition should and could have dialogues or even negotiations with the parties, leaders and more importantly the second-tier organizers of the present government. 

The protection and promotion of democracy in the country is a common cause. That is the way it should be put forward. No one should be excluded except in the case of attempted sabotage. One of the most important democratic issues of the present situation is the not holding of Provincial Council Elections for some years now. 

‘Hold PC Elections Soon’ could be the demand.  

It is not only about the form, but about the democratic substance. For a healthy democracy, and for minority rights, elected representatives and councils are important at various levels. Whatever the present weaknesses, important policy and administrative decisions/measures are left with the provincial councils. 

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando,
    One of the key barrier for democracy in Sri Lanka is Buddhist Fundamentalism. Over the time Buddhist Fundamentalism took over the control of deciding who should be our leader and what policies should the country need. I don’t blame the Buddhism but those political leadership who used that as a weapon to come to power. Unfortunately, whether it is opposition party (SJB/UNP or JVP) do not have the power to go against the Buddhist Fundamentalism because they don’t know or do not have how the courage to educate the masses about the difference between true Buddhism and Buddhist Fundamentalism. When a Buddhist Monk talk about about violence or keep silence when something go against humanity of any human that is called Buddhist Fundamentalism. Any Buddhist Monk who is kind and share the love with other human that is the real Buddhism.

  • 5
    0

    Ajith,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly about the role played by Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism. Maha Sanga is the most powerful institution in Sri Lanka.
    It is erroneous to say that the constitution is the supreme law of the country. Even the President elected by the Sinhalese with a two third majority is helpless when confronted by the Buddhist monks.
    SWRD Bandaranaike and later Dudley Senanaike were thwarted in their attempts to resolve the Tamil issue due principally to the opposition from Buddhist monks.
    Sr Lanka is not a democracy, but a theocracy

  • 2
    0

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando,

    Welcome back to CT after a long time!

  • 3
    0

    Even though the attempt to discuss the reasons for the failure of Democracy to take root in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, the effort to give life to the subject has been negated by a failure to take the bull by the horn. Democracy demands a will, a will for justice and fair play.
    .
    When there is no will we get a corrupted country.

  • 0
    2

    We take two things for granted as absolute good and take them as our yardsticks for democracy and justice.
    Westminster model of people’s representation and Roman law.
    I know of no other example of such obvious self deception as Wesminister model representing majority opinion.
    Standard ‘government’ and ‘opposition’ is mere child’s play to me.
    Say the party with 51% of electoral seats gets the government.
    Assume that decision making is ‘ democratic’ within the party , so opinion of 51% of our reps within the party is upheld which will be carried over to the parliament.
    Already it is 26% of the total!
    In the abssence of confidential voting party leaders call the shots, you and I know.
    In the parliament our reps all blaring out the opinion of their respective party leaders like school children demonstrating their oratorical skils on a assigned side of a topic.
    What is actually implimented in the end is the opinion of the leader of the governing party.
    Yet we still call it democracy and risk our neck to save it!
    With the live broadcast of parliamentary debates over public TV isn’t this nothing but an expensive tele-drama?
    WITH OR WITHOUT THE 20A IT IS MAHINDA’S OPINION, RANIL’S OPINION OR GOTA’S OPINION ANY WAY.
    .
    Dear readers this is not a comedy, it is a worse farce.
    Or a deadly tragedy you may call it.

    Soma

  • 2
    0

    Until the colonial powers introduced them at various times, for the 2000 years before that ,have we shown any interests in
    Democracy
    Independent judiciary.
    Human rights
    Rule of law
    Independent scholarship( secular)
    Science, including the debunking of religious mania
    Objective history recording
    Equality
    Cricket !

    And since 1948, apart from importing various ideas mainly from the West, what have we contributed in an original way, towards these subjects ?

    Of course, we enjoy the fruits of the life style these ideas give

  • 1
    0

    Laksiri from democrazy after 70 years now progressed to SIRCULAR.Not bad.

  • 1
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    Dr. Lasksiri Fernando is a person, who gave PhD to two War Criminals and during the First term ending of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, he wrote a book to disturb Sampanthar Ayya’s dream of Secret Solution coming true during Yahapalanaya time by recommending to Aanduwa why the Federal Constitution is not good for Lankawe, is now back explaining what is missing with UN to quench the Lankawe’ thirst to exploiting racial dividing, on the eve of Royals freaking out to have done something to evade UNHRC in March 2021. University of Jayawardena Pura has not achieved any marvel on education, but has served Sinhala Buddhists by creating two War Crime PhDs and pays and has a professor on standby for 24/7 to consulting to boomerang the UNHRC’s accusation on “Human Right Violation” back on UN. The reason for Lankawe’s human rights violations are not because of any fault of The Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals, the strange spices of , but of UN, which didn’t have “universal declaration on democracy” Professor’s sincerity is that he had arrived at, when Old Royals had established the autocracy with 2/3 majority, he has found out that the Universal Franchise is not suitable for Lankawe from 1936. WoW!

  • 1
    0

    I am not going to pick on every point the erudite professor’s talks as they are self-explanatory, but want to list some of the interesting ones again to make readers focus on them.
    “There is a need for lateral thinking in this respect and promoting religious leaders to play a major role through inter-religious dialogue might be one proposition. “ This is how the Professor, a communist but an opponents of Secular Constitution, wants to ensure Article 9 get upgraded, which he has been advocating in the past.
    “The argument that democracy will eventually bring economic equality (or equal economic opportunities) has not materialized. Equality before the law undoubtedly is admirable under liberal democracy. But without reasonable economic fairness that right appears hollow. Neo-liberalism has virtually brought an antithesis to democracy which might give birth to even fascism in a democratic country. What the professor explaining is equality is not so important. Development is important. Democracy eventually becomes neo-liberalism – fascism, no economic fruits out of it. So once again he ending at the conclusion that Universal Franchise is not good for Lankawe & the good one is only Sinhala Buddhists Intellectuals’ Franchising is what needed. I don’t know if TNA’s smart buddies like Sumanthiran can understand this high logic and will be able to embed this into their new Secret Solution proposal!

  • 1
    0

    “Instead of ameliorating ethnic and religious conflicts, the ‘majoritarian democracy’ and ‘partial minority rights movements’ have exacerbated these conflicts throughout years. “ I don’t know what is that meaning, but I am wondering if the Tamils’ parties asking for Federalism (partial minority rights), which even Sinhala PC grades Lawyers think as separation and thus is creating problems, so FP-TULF-TNA should have gone for full minority “Self Determination Rights” so the Malaysia Singapore type solution would have brought to peace between Lankawe and Tamil Eelam.

    “The UN has made a major mistake after its formation without coming up with a Declaration on Democracy, the principles of democratic substance included. It repeatedly says, “The UN supports democracy by promoting human rights, development, and peace.” Is that sufficient? “ See what a big banana the UN is! (This poor one is trying to over sell his importance to IC). Lankawe has passed local laws to every declaration and conventions ratified them all immediately and waiting for the declaration of UDD but UN has done anything on that. (The learned professor knows that UN accepts all types of governments, even the China and Iran, the Lankawe soul mates. Professor is not a silly man to baffle, but earnestly convulsing to liberate Lankawe from UNHRC in March 2021 using UDD. Pavum Thamai!)

  • 1
    0

    “Therefore, there is still a vacuum on the need for a universal declaration on democracy. “ So what can be done in this type of dire situations is UNHRC should stop its sitting 46 until UN implement the professor’s marvelous idea.
    Let’s see what that idea- Solution is: “(1)Political mobilization for democracy. (2) Democratization through institutional, constitutional and policy changes. (3) Economic development and income re-distribution. (4) Recognition and adoption of international democratic developments. “ See what a short and sweet idea the professoriate has? Anybody has brain? Did they closely look at the point the UDD should have on economic development and income distribution? Because the past idiot political theorist and Economist thought democracy deploy the economic development, but the professor cannot agree with that. Sadly the “UN is carrying lot of unnecessary bags & baggage, like Human rights, religious, freedom, Self-determination rights, Individual & state sovereignty…. get rid all of them, load the economic development instead!” In reality how many organization related to Economy, Development & Trade a are UN ? Can somebody list them for professor?

  • 1
    0

    This is the most amazing one. There is no doubt that when a democratically elected, yet an authoritarian government is in power, opposing that government is a primary duty of all people against the government’s authoritarian measures like the 20A or Maharagama prison shooting.
    Old Macdonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
    And on his farm he had a mule, E-I-E-I-O
    With a “neigh, neigh” here and a “neigh, neigh” there
    Here a “neigh” there a “neigh”
    Everywhere a “neigh, neigh”

    “What went wrong was not only the type of neoliberal regime that was installed, but also the weaknesses of the civil society movements that spearheaded that change. For 72 years the Sinhala Buddhists Social Services labored and beard a mouse and even that regime change was stillborn. Ha Ha Ha Ha He has no shame to mention that. His protocol & guide for NGOs is still in CT as enlightened master piece in CT (another comedy like this).Sadly the professor was also one of the OBGYN in team, with Joseph & Mary in January 2015, on the “Birth of the Light”. Professor gave the PhD to two war criminals rulers in 2005-2015 & 2019 governments and promoted them. Then he was a dominant advocate of New King’s regime in 2015. At last his chest beating the NGOs & UN has played him out!

  • 0
    1

    Dear Folks

    Democracy was defined in Jaffna by the FP/TULF the first party to orchestrate/successfully assassinate opposition openly using their child brigade trained in India/Tamil Nadu.

    The International community/UN/Hague approved this then from 1970-1977-1981. Hence even the GOSL was unable to apply “law of the land” to Jaffna eventually led to all we know until 2009.

    The foreign agents TNA survived all the death and misery of Mother Lankans to date and to speak of “Law and Order” and “human rights” to date in our parliament is what we have become??. Colombo judge…….GG/SJV/Amir…..and all other constitutional experts were all lawyers practised law/took oath in SL and may have taken oath to the British Bar council too….a law like no other??

    This is the Ratha Pottu Mafia have nothing to do with Majority oppressed Tamils/Tea plantation workers/Sinhalese of SL wanting a separate enclave for their style of democracy as a liberation of whatever.

    Now the foreign diaspora Tamils unable to return to their mother land for Nation building due to creature comforts not provided by the GOSL.

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