7 July, 2020

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Unsustainability Of Authoritarianism 

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

The COVID-19 experience has sharply exposed the unsustainability of authoritarianism in countries in the Asian region. A proper and sustainable response to the pandemic is possible only in circumstances where there is an overwhelming agreement between the State and the people on the ways to deal with a very dangerous situation. Where there is no such agreement, the States will not be able to carry out various measures necessary to ensure the protection of all without the use of coercive methods. And, when there is disown-ness between the State and the people, the people will look for various ways to undermine such coercive measures. The result is that the ability to successfully deal with a problem like COVID-19 becomes ever more complicated. Such complications increase gradually to an extent that the authority of the State itself begin to lose its grip and legitimacy. This leads to many forms of confusions, which put the whole society at risk. Under those circumstances a country has to deal not only with COVID-19, but also face a possible societal collapse that is easily ignited under such circumstances. The whole project of running a nation on the basis of authoritarianism of whatever shade has proved unsustainable.

Most Asian countries today have authoritarian forms of governments. The mere fact that elections are held to elect a government does not alter that fact. All the processes needed to ensure fair and free elections are mostly absent. The idea of the one part of the State is what those who rely on authoritarian systems promote. Added to this is an industry of manufacturing consents through various forms of media, including the social media, which confuses the people and does not create space for the people to develop their own views on what needs to be done in their countries in order to ensure the wellbeing of their people and also to maintain law and order. 

Those who argue in favour of authoritarian States base their argument on the fact that attempts to develop the rule of law and democratic state have proved fruitless in their countries. They attribute all the difficulties that the countries face, such as: the issue of unbearable debts owed to foreign institutions and countrie;, massive unemployment that affects every aspect of life; the crisis related to food and drinking water; and crises relating to health and education. All these contribute to the failure of democratic institutions to address these matters. They argue that the authority of a single person, or a small group of persons, could provide a better leadership to solve these problems. However, this argument has proved to be not only false, but extremely dangerous to society as a whole. 

When such sharp problems, like the ones mentioned above, manifest themselves in societies, it is the ability of political leadership to win the confidence of people that provides the foundation on which measures can be taken to overcome the immediate problems, as well as larger problems that demand long term strategies. The belief that this getting the support of the people could be imposed from above and enforced on others leads to a willful blindness to all the problems that develop in the society. 

The strength of any society is the strength of collective understanding and the collective will of the people living in that society. This requires the openness with which the people and the State can interact with each other.  It is an ongoing dialogue within which the State and the people are constantly engaged. Within that context people understand the limitations which exist in given circumstances and attempt to take measures whereby they themselves impose certain limitations in order to ensure their individual well-being, as well as for their collective well-being.  Without these sober reflections the people develop many forms of alienation and unexpressed anger, which in turn leads to people finding their own means to deal with their problems as they think fit. As a result the building of a general sense of discipline becomes almost an impossible task. 

When this situation develops the unfortunate response of authoritarian systems is to give extraordinary powers to security forces and then to rely on the security forces to do things that by their very nature they are unable to do.  Security forces can never replace civilian bureaucrats. It is the civilian bureaucracy, with authority to take necessary actions within the framework of the law and rules, that creates the linkage between the State and the people. This role cannot be played by the security forces.

When security forces within a society develop excessive powers they also displace civilian policing. Properly functioning civilian policing system is essential to the stability of any society. Civilian policing deals with the problems of law without relying on the excessive use of force,  but instead establishes a rational relationship in matters of crime and other matters required for good governance. In modern circumstances a properly functioning civilian policing system cannot be replaced by security forces. 

Authoritarian systems in many Asian countries have proved very demonstratively is that they destroy the basic infrastructure of running social relationships on the basis of mutual respect and taking action for the wellbeing of the people as a whole. 

COVID-19 has challenged the entire project of authoritarianism in a very fundamental way. The impact of this challenge cannot be erased. The future of social life in the countries affected by the authoritarian systems will very much depend on the manner in which the creative abilities of everyone – the people, intellectuals, as well as those persons with sober political minds – attempt to replace the unsustainable authoritarian systems with viable, rational forms of governance.

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  • 8
    2

    A deeply hitting on the privates of those who are guilty of deliberately taking advantage for their own greed.?
    =
    Sad sorry shitty Sri Lanka is a living example they the war criminal armed forces have been seduced into aiding and abetting the entire rajapuka clan along with their Kallan gannankaraya’s to bully the much suffering sad starving gentry into all forms of uncalled for draconian measures.
    =
    If a democratic general election is not allowed to be held by the despicable power-hungry born to be crooked rajapuka’s and their always willing cohorts this country will be sunk forever and ever into the deepest annals of the cesspit in the bog.
    =
    Hopefully, the UNP, their breakaway group, the TNA and the Muslims will clasp hands together with the JVP and give the nasty wicked criminally born, trained rajapuka gannankara Kallan’s thieves the lesson of their lives whereby they will be historically inept.

  • 4
    1

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    • 0
      3

      Dnk. rj1952,
      .
      This is funny….
      .
      Cut and paste error..?
      .
      Are you guys this much desperate……….?

      • 3
        0

        pesky the dislike queen,
        it was a downloading error.
        as for u being told that you were an ex Lankan cricketer have you got any shame to still be passing and posting your always disliked garbage childish comments.

  • 7
    1

    The pathetic political situation in the country today is a direct result of a bungling, inept & self serving President, together, with a spineless, laid back PM of the previous regime, who were voted in with much hope by the masses, fed up with the nepotism & corruption of the Rajapakse era. Due to the dismal failure of the previous regime, a ‘known devil’ was appointed on the assumption that his arguably decisive leadership in winning the civil war would provide the firm leadership which was found to be lacking in the previous regime. Just like Trump’s Christian white supremacist middle America vote base, SL has a majority Sinhala Buddhist vote base which adores a tough talking ‘patriot’, even with alleged human rights abuses, massive corruption & even murders charges. Some of my relatively affluent friends are quite happy with an authoritarian miklitery regime

    • 0
      5

      Yes.
      Of course.
      .
      Let’s wait for the general election….

  • 4
    0

    The pathetic political situation in the country today is a direct result of a bungling, inept & self serving President, together, with a spineless, laid back PM of the previous regime, who were voted in with much hope by the masses, fed up with the nepotism & corruption of the Rajapakse era. Due to the dismal failure of the previous regime, a ‘known devil’ was appointed on the assumption that his arguably decisive role in winning the civil war would provide the leadership required, which was found to be lacking in the previous regime. Just like Trump’s Christian white supremacist middle America vote base, SL has a majority Sinhala Buddhist vote base which adores a tough talking ‘patriot’, even with alleged human rights abuses, massive corruption & even murders charges pending. The Easter bombing, & now the Corona pandemic, only consolidated his vote base. Some of my relatively affluent friends are quite happy with an authoritarian military regime, believing that it’s just what the country needs but we only have to see the fate of some African & third world countries under such regimes to fear the worst.

    A colleague of mine who grew up in East Berlin told me of the hardships, austerity & fear of the secret police during that time. We could very well be heading towards such an era under a military backed authoritarian govt. very soon. The writing is already on the wall.

  • 3
    2

    Basil, you sure have an inexhaustible supply of pooooonac to feed the cows. More like donkeys.

  • 3
    0

    We are not a disciplined society but each individualistic.

    The feudal past is still haunting us.

    We are neither capitalist nor feudal. Socialism is possible only in a highly disciplined society.

    The chaos resulting due to our indiscipline is a fertile soil for authoritarianism.

    However, If SLPP or anyone within has any authoritarian ideas, they are mistaken.

    Our people love freedom above everything else.

    They love to do nothing but simply idle and enjoy bringing down people at the top.

    This is our culture and understanding of democracy.

    Authoritarianism will only bring short term relief and become bureaucratic in the long run whereas democracy even though slow and chaotic in the short run will bring stability, development and social welfarism but of course not socialism..

    We are all democrat at heart!

  • 6
    0

    Whether it is a pandemic or any other problem cannot be solved by military power. The country faces social, economic, racial, language, religious problems. Srilanka had a military victory in the war between LTTE not only military power but also many other factors. Though the government claimed that it is the Defence secretary alone made the victory. If he made the victory why they lost the election in 2015? Why there was a UNHRC resolution against the country. Why still the country is not in peace? Why the economy is weakened? If you have a common sense, then you will find that militarisation will never work in any country.

    • 2
      2

      During Yahapalanaya time Basil Fernando wrote Tamils are suffering because their Hindu Caste system. Father Emmanuel, to get Visa from Yahapalanaya Ministers, supported Basil Fernando. Now Basil has got Buddha’s Nirvana. So starting to preaching, though his head still has full of hair. Lankawe politics may one day become OK, but Sinhala intellectuals finding excuses to save their bosses will not stop. Basil is very proud that those who defeated LTTE is in the seat to fight the Small Soldiers the Covid -19. But he doesn’t want the Royal team use the guns to shoot but the needles. Because this time the trouble is Colombo, not in Jaffna or Batticola. Let’s see if the Royals are willing to listen this Viyath maha too.

  • 3
    1

    What is understood by “Authoritarian Rule”? In essence, it could by “ONE” or a “GROUP” of people who “Capture” power, by force or through elections to administer State and Governmental Affairs. Haven’t we seen that “Authoritarian Rule” by a “Group” (a political party or coalitions of parties) who captured power to rule through the “Ballot”, during the last seven decades? We DID. The only difference we effected was, wait for five years and change over from one to another set of “Authoritarian Rule”. That is why our economic, social, and political situations got worse and worse with every such changeover. In summary, we did have “bitter” “Authoritarian Rule” for the last few decades but coated with a sweet “Necter” of “Democracy”. That situation still continues. Then what is the “NEED” to correct the course? That “need” is for the “Authoritarian or the Authorities” to completely undergo a “CHANGE” in character viz. VISION, INTEGRITY, PURPOSE, DEDICATION, and most importantly be FAIR and REASONABLE to all in matter of Governing. We had one such “Institution” in Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew and to an extent in Malaysia under Mohammed Mahathir. In both these examples, it was “Authoritarian Rule” clothed with the above “Qualities and Character”. Didn’t the PEOPLE agree and enjoyed the benefits of such an “Authoritarian Rule” under the cloak of “Democracy”?

  • 3
    0

    “The COVID-19 experience has sharply exposed the unsustainability of authoritarianism in countries in the Asian region.” -Basil Fernando
    ——————
    Did it? How?
    Case in point, any? None discussed by the author.
    ——————
    Comparing China to India at the extremes of the spectrum (assuming that the consensus is that India’s govt is not authoritarian!), who has done better in managing covid-19?
    ——————

  • 2
    1

    The author, through his article, makes us think about the model of government and governance. True! Many systems of governments in the world is top-down and rarely it is bottoms-up. In a crisis situation where many are affected or when it requires the development of a strategy preserving confidentiality then the bottoms up model fails. In picking the right man for the right job the attempt to lean too much on old compatriots in general and specifically the military friends can have its negative effects. Initially it may appear that things are running well. But when they are a law unto themselves and that is seen it is difficult to cure. Poor thing! HE will have to live with it biting the bullet.

  • 6
    0

    Have you noticed that these vermin politicians in Sri Lanka, of both major colours regularly praise the people as being intelligent and that they will make proper decisions when the time comes (ie elections)? And each time, the stupid idiots end up lamenting their choice, usually after about 4-5 years when the next round is due. All the while, the sycophantic media will whip up public sentiment to help their own masters, being the lackeys they are. Terms such as “democracy” or “authoritarian” or “freedoms” etc don’t mean a thing to these starving hordes who keep the bastards fat and well fed while they themselves remain in the pits, generation after generation, while the rest of the world improve their people’s health, education and nutrition etc. systematically and become better nations.

  • 3
    0

    I don’t want to use any words, he is dead, but read about how much politicos are praising their colleague Arumugam. Until living he was hell hole, now a messiah for up country Tamils. When this time he pledged support to Royals, promised the first thing (one month) will be 1,000 pay. Now six months have passed. When somebody really giving ( if that ever happen) 1,000 rupees one dollar will be one thousand rupees. From the middle of Yahapalanaya the workers are asking for that. They supported Yahapalanaya goons to come to power.
    He was Up country Tamils $18B thief. He was such a drunkard he drank in Tamils Nadu Airport, hotels and beaten by Tamils there. If one honest politicians says Arumugam doesn’t deserve this then other Tamil politicians will correct them.

  • 0
    0

    Lasantha, seems people like us have lived too long in Lankawe. Mallai, I knew him and his family since childhood and there is not much to mention other than “,his father sure would have turned in his grave”. Now I believe it is the turn of his son. Politicians die in Lanka,but not family dynasties. # RIP

  • 0
    0

    What is he talking about ? Covid19 is successfully contained only in Asian countries not in the west. He didn’t even explain how so called democratic countries are “successfully” tackling covid19. They don’t they are failing.

  • 0
    0

    SORRY. My above comment should read as ” HIS GRAND FATHER sure would have turned in his grave”.

  • 0
    0

    Sri Lanka is a rich country, and it serves as a base for the profits of those who know how to exploit it, firms local and foreign, and their shareholders/hangers on. The media (in its multiple forms and agendas) have a say and can present the various (educated?) views. While writers here can complain, nothing is going to change, I am sorry to say. Change will come when the public is able to educate itself and support only decent local candidates–I mean literally those born in the local electorate and has no need for any political party as the local people know her and know that she will represent them without fear or favor. That sort of change is going to be almost impossible as the powerful–controlling the media, armed forces, experts, etc.–will continue to foist candidates who will answer to them, even as they profit from beach hotels, tea estates, cement factories, airlines, and so on. Attacking politicians for doing their job of representing those in power is an absurd exercise.

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