By R.M.B Senanayake –
The President has called for an election two years before the end of his term. His rival was unexpected and is a person from his own party- the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The Common Opposition candidate talks about the violation of democracy and points out that with the passing of the 18th Amendment an elected dictatorship has been established and that the prospect of a free and fair election are remote judging by the conduct of other recent elections. The President’s large posters and cut-outs even if not illegal are certainly not moral, say the people who are concerned about the need for a free and fair election. The MPs who have defected and those others of the JHU and the SLFP voted for the 18th Amendment and even for the arbitrary impeachment of the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Why did they do so? Were they so ignorant about the perils of entrusting absolute power to one individual? Were they men without any moral conscience? How has their conscience changed or has it really changed?
Lack of understanding of human nature
Had they read political science or studied world history they would have been aware of the nature of political power. As “The Federalist of the Founding fathers of the American Constitution wrote “what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others”. The Papers argued the necessity for ‘checks and balances’ on the exercise of power by each organ of government- : the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. What happened by the 18th Amendment was to remove all such checks and balances. The Constitution had provided already for the absolute immunity of the President unlike in the U.S and French Constitutions where it was limited to matters arising from the exercise of executive power and not to any private criminal acts of the President. As it is the President can get away even with murder for he has absolute immunity. This absolute immunity removes the President’s accountability to the Judiciary for any crime or violation of law. The Romans raised the question” who is to guard the guardians? The political scientists and statesman’s answer was the system of checks and balances.
In 1948 the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed. We also signed the Declaration as a member. A free moral and cultural life – freedom of conscience, information and ideas- is indispensable both for democracy and for economic development. A free economy giving rightful place for personal economic initiative and the human capacity for creativity unlike the Leftists who want to engineer a change in human nature. Do we have freedom of Information- why was the draft law proposed to Parliament not taken up and passed? Can individuals engage freely in economic activity? Not really since the allegation is that we have crony capitalism where only those who have the ear of the government can engage freely in economic activity. A free market economy requires competition and free entry into any industry or field of activity.
We need competent government and not only honest government
There is a need not only for a government elected by the people; there is also the need for efficient governance which requires competent members for the Executive branch of the State. But as Pericles pointed out the ordinary people cannot be entrusted with the task of selecting competent members to the Executive through an election process. Hence arose the need for an Executive Presidency where the President is not required to appoint his Ministers from Parliament. The President has appointed a large number of Ministers merely to give perks and privileges to MPs and thereby bind them to support him in Parliament- an exercise in political corruption to which all those now opposing the system gladly accepted. The Bribery Law says those who receive bribes are equally guilty as those who give them.
What drove the dissidents to cross-over
How is it that so many of those politicians who are now demanding the abolition of the Executive Presidency voted for the 18th Amendment? This included those few intellectuals in Parliament appointed from the national List. In fact to the standing shame of our professionals the Organization of Professional Associations also supported the 18th Amendment. The OPA has now become not an organization of professional associations but an organization of occupational associations. Those among them who wished to curry favor with the Government to obtain positions for themselves would rather support the Government whether it is right or wrong. One worthy who was in constant praise of the Government obtained a post of Ambassador. Such is the quality of our professionals.
One wonders then, what could have awakened the conscience of our politicians and intellectuals. The effort at buying over the MPs has been successful up to now. It has also meant a concentration of power to a few- the members of the President’s family. As Maslov’s theory of the hierarchy of needs points out, people once their basic needs are fulfilled are never satisfied but seek higher needs and self actualization is one of them. This involves power and the exercise of power. So the SLFP Ministers who were outside the ruling family felt that their need for self actualization was denied to them. Fear seems to have kept many of them as unwilling supporters of the Government. Machiavelli has said it is better for a ruler to be feared rather than loved and dictators have generally agreed. But there are always a few men who have the courage of their convictions who are not prepared to barter their conscience for a mess of pottage.
But it has also caused confusion and chaos in the Administration It must be stated however that the way towards a dysfunctional state was begun by the SLFP almost from 1956 onwards. In 1972 the Leftist leaders thought that the bureaucracy should be destroyed before they could take power. A bureaucracy appointed on merit and competency is the bulwark for a modern government. President Wilson realized that the ‘spoils system’ where appointments were made on political basis would not produce a competent government and modern government was too complex for amateurs to be appointed as administrators. We have destroyed the bureaucracy and replaced it with a plutocracy which has degenerated into a kleptocracy. The State cannot ensure that the money collected as revenue will not go into the pockets of the State employees as seen in the case of the Inland Revenue Department high officials. We have reached the end of the road. All politicians who have governed the country are responsible and the few men of wisdom like Ranil Wickremasinghe went along with the trend to satisfy the party supporters. Modern Education and wisdom count for nothing with our people.
We need not only to restore the 17th Amendment we also need to appoint competent Ministers from outside Parliament. Parliament in a backward country like ours with a small middle class and a large rustic population who lack sophistication and who look to the State to provide them benefits without work, will only elect populists not statesmen- men who reflect themselves and lack in modern education wisdom and values. Didn’t our people believe in a rabbit on the moon?
The way ahead is hard and demanding
Last year the Russians paraded the streets chanting “Putin a thief. Putin a thief” when Vladimir Putin sought his third term as a president. Putin’s regime was called a kleptocracy. But today Putin is even more powerful. It is difficult to remove a dictator through the normal democratic machinery of an election for there is little or no chance of there being a free and fair election. The bureaucracy if appointed on a political basis can turn into a mafia system. As Gaidar the architect of market reforms in Russia pointed out “a union between mafia and bureaucratic corruption can create a monster which has no equivalent in Russian history- an all powerful mafia state a real octopus”