By Anura K. T. De Silva –
As Sri Lanka prepares for another circus to elect the same set of crooks who managed to skirt the law even after driving the nation over a cliff, it is disconcerting that no one has been prosecuted even for the blatant actions that contributed to the country’s economic downturn. In the midst of economic challenges and accusations of mismanagement, the political elite appears poised for another comeback by strategizing a new set of political maneuvers indifferent to its consequences.
The ongoing depletion of public funds not only persists unchecked, resembling a sinking ship with no efforts to plug its leaks, but instead exacerbated by additional burdens on the public. Rather than addressing the financial hemorrhage, the authorities have chosen to impose higher taxes, placing extreme strain on the marginalized citizens. With a fear of uprisings against a failed state, various legal barriers are also being introduced to further oppress and limit freedom, pushing citizens to the wall to grab power by hook or by crook.
Despite the deceptive taglines aimed at manipulating public perception with lofty ideals as a Socialist Democratic Republic, the nation has regrettably devolved into mere political rhetoric, devoid of any substantive articulation. Despite proudly holding the title of Asia’s oldest democracy, our electoral processes consistently fall short, serving as a mere mechanism to substitute one flawed leadership for another. As a result, critical matters affecting the well-being of the populace have been continuously disregarded.
The failure to establish a genuine republic has transformed the nation into a semblance of a Banana Republic. The manipulation of democracy without accountability, checks and balances, and allowing elected officials to operate above the laws of the country, coupled with the erosion of citizen’s rights have reshaped the nation into a state more reminiscent of a Hypocritical system than a Democratic one. Moreover, despite the proclaimed aspiration to be a Socialist nation since gaining independence, the actions taken have aligned more closely with those of a fascist regime.
It is glaringly apparent that, unlike India’s profound reverence for independence, most people seemingly achieved independence with closed eyes and heads buried in the sand while allowing a group of elites to own the independence. As a result, constitutions and laws were enacted to shield rulers rather than serve the interests of the citizens, deeply ingrained in the colonial mentality. Combined with an entrenched feudal DNA, this has birthed a system characterized by nepotism, intertwined with racial and religious superiority, ultimately giving rise to criminality to oppress the people. What prevails is a facade of democracy concealing a deeply rooted feudal political culture, fostering the dominance of inept political dynasties ranging across the Senanayakes, Bandaranayakes, Jayewardenes, Premadasas, and the highly questionable Rajapaksas.
This dominance has played a pivotal role in undermining meritocracy, giving rise to dysfunction, and notably, a surge in crime, fraud, and corruption at the highest levels of governance. Economy has been primarily in import and export embezzlements, colluding with rogue private and public enterprises. Such cronyism has cultivated insecurity and eroded social cohesion, fostering disharmony and conflict rather than unity and integration. Political system became so insane that the people continue to worship the established political mobs who once destroyed their livelihoods over the one that is currently destroying their livelihoods but refuse to look for alternative solutions.
The persistent dysfunction has restricted the freedom for most citizens to shape their own destinies and contribute to creating opportunities. This cycle has also obstructed the healing process from the historical trauma akin to an ‘abused child syndrome,’ stemming from centuries of subjugation and colonization. Many citizens, feeling powerless, seek refuge in their tribal affiliations—be it based on race, religion, caste, political and even to past educational and current professional associations—for a sense of safety and security. Regrettably, these affiliations too prove to be insecure as they would expel anyone criticizing their flawed actions. Even prominent professional associations choose to turn a blind eye when their own members contribute to destroying the nation’s economy with false narratives on monetary policy.
Fundamentally, even though there are many declarations in our constitution, citizens have failed to realize their basic rights and establish the necessary foundation to realize a true democratic nation. The ideals of freedom, justice, and equality for all remain confined to rhetoric that has led to unrealized economic prosperity as a collective nation of citizens. Meanwhile, the political machinery continues to exacerbate racial, religious, ethnic and other divisions to exploit societal dysfunctions. As a result, most elder populace remain numbed and locked into blindly loyal to established political cults and it is only the youth who are able to visualize an alternate but find it easier to jump ship.
To ascend from the current predicament even after seven decades, a pivotal first step is for the few hopefuls to open their eyes wide and acknowledge that we’ve been submerged in darkness within an exploitative system. The hopeful realization is that youthful awareness can broaden the minds of the broader population, prompting the recognition of our shared humanity beyond divisive identities. This transformation is crucial to liberate the citizenry from being considered as political slaves seeking a cult leader. Only when citizens perceive themselves as independent citizens genuine political freedoms can be aspired. This shift in mindset will need to become the catalyst to march towards economic freedom to foster the creation of a new nation we all deserve. It is through this collective awakening that the nation can embark on a transformative journey towards a more just and prosperous future.
To foster such a transformative journey, two indispensable criteria must be met to form the bedrock for a transformation: firstly, true empowerment of the citizens by establishing equal justice for all, anchored in merit and adherence to a universal justice system rather than tribalism. Secondly, rights and responsibilities to self-govern and hold representatives directly accountable without blindly surrendering to different forms of autocracy.
Only by satisfying these conditions can citizens stand strong to avoid attracting the wrong type of leaders rather than statesmen and women. The greatest leaders are not necessarily those who can promise to find answers to all problems but they are who can build an environment for the people to do the greatest things. Citizens need leaders capable of creating environments conducive for independent citizens to freely find their own solutions. We should shed all desires for omniscient and omnipotent leaders to fix all our man-made problems. With excessive and unaccountable powers they would have no reason to govern but rule as autocrats. Therefore, true devolution of powers from centrally concentrated power needs to become imperative. By restricting the central government to focus only on issues common to all citizens while constitutionally allowing provincial governments to govern themselves will be crucial to gain self-determination. This strategic decentralization is key to unlocking the true potential and benefits not only of true democracy but of each citizen to enable diverse communities to actively participate and shape their own destinies. The initial outcomes may not be perfect but at least the people will learn from their own failures and get closer to finding their answers rather than allowing all powerful governments in the center remain accountable.
The current landscape of incompetence can be boiled down to the absence of meritocracy and universal justice by an all powerful but unaccountable single authority. Tainted by racial and religious superiorities to protect nepotism and feudal practices has resulted in disillusioned populace with little regard for democracy. To restore meaning to democracy, the pressing need will be to establish a new environment that can uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms of each person to enable all citizens to express their freewill within the confines of common law. For our economy to recover from the prevailing plateau, it is foolish even to imagine a single person could perform the work of 22 million in a free market place. Hene, it will be imperative that democracy will need to be first established to enable a free market with easy access to resources, production, distribution and consumption within a trusted set of laws. Creating a judicial system where the voices of the citizens are both heard and respected will be essential to rejuvenating economic growth by creating a new society to function within authentic democratic values. Not all outcomes may be perfect but the process of moving in the right direction will be much better than continuing to move in wrong directions or remain stagnant.
Much credit should be expressed to the youth who realized the suppression of the masses and spearheaded the Aragalaya movement who made a pivotal moment for transformational changes. Although the movement may not have rightfully idealized the necessary structural changes, it did spark the crucial awareness needed for initiating reforms away from the status quo. Unfortunately, this unique opportunity was selfishly squandered by the established political class who exploited a loophole left behind by their predecessors to seize power from under the table. Regrettably there were also no elected representatives who were attuned to the voices of the people and champion reforms nor advocate new policies to return power to the citizens. Instead, incompetence, fraud, corruption, and criminal conduct persisted further eroding public trust and the prospect of genuine democratic progress.
If we are to hand over the keys to the same drivers who drove the nation over the cliff at the upcoming elections, people will end up drinking the same poison in different bottles. People need to rise up to rekindle the spirit of the Aragalaya and advocate for much-needed reforms instead of casually unleashing people’s power one more time during the upcoming elections. Instead of voting for or against loyalty to political parties or being fooled for bribes and new promises, citizens should use their votes to demand for transformational reforms. Effective reforms must prioritize the establishment of meritocracy and restrain excessive powers by establishing the independence and purpose of each branch of the government. This approach can pave the way to introduce checks and balances and transform these branches into democratic institutions. These reforms will serve to lay the new foundation for self-governance, rejecting the traditional concept of outsourcing citizen power to a central political cult.
Failure to implement such reforms would be tantamount to outsourcing our rights, akin to ruled by the colonials, who had no regard for the citizens. Without these transformative changes, conducting elections within the existing structures would only be a futile exercise. Failing to replace prevailing cronyism with true democracy at the upcoming election could swiftly lead our nation to a degradation even below that of Afghanistan. Conversely, if Sri Lanka doesn’t shift its governance paradigm towards competence and rule of law, the nation will soon risk descending into anarchy and chaos. Time is now to break free from the shackles of our dysfunctional DNA to allow a new class of citizenry to emerge without waiting for noble Kings to emerge.
Current youthful generation will need to sacrifice as no previous has done so to break away from the colonial-feudal bandwagon. Therefore, we need to look for leadership who can sacrifice instead of making promises to solve all our problems as they cannot. The few citizens who can discern light through the seven-decade-long dark clouds should unite for a single purpose to first establish the foundation of democracy, at least by mirroring the flock of doves in the Panchatantra fable. This collective effort is essential to escape the current political trap and usher in a transformative shift from the prevailing political culture. The new culture must create avenues for the competent to govern, breaking free from the cycle of being ruled by mobs lacking foresight other than to play selfish games in the same mud they created.
Reforms must pave the way for a rule of law applicable to everyone, irrespective of status, class, family, connections, or identity. These laws should be established through transparent processes, open to scrutiny and public input. Representatives elected by citizens should make these decisions, and regular accountability mechanisms are introduced to replace representatives failing to uphold citizen’s interests. By first cleaning up the muddy waters and leveling the playing field, many incompetent players will very likely be discouraged and new competent players will naturally emerge. There is no rationale for persisting in a futile game on skewed playing fields without first leveling the playing field and reclaiming powers from those who have undermined our lives and the system.
To strengthen citizen power, the election of new positions of power for Provincial Governors, Provincial Auditor Generals and District-level Attorney Generals will need to be introduced to ensure no government can rise above the citizens. In light of this, voters must come together to forge a Citizen Government of independent representatives away from the system of Political Governments. If an unelected citizen could adeptly navigate the system for self-serving purposes, 22M citizens should possess greater competence to navigate the system and establish these new structures and processes to establish a government of the people, by the people, for the people. By doing so, we can break free from the shackles of the past and usher in a governance model that can serve the interests of the citizen rather than groups of self serving political cults. In such a system of governance, citizens will willingly contribute taxes to fund services that will directly benefit them rather than allow rulers to extract their hard earnings.
Transitioning from a system that has drained the nation for decades while those in power still holding sway, it sure will be a considerable challenge. Moreover, the journey towards a genuine democracy from an undemocratic system demands intricate and wide-ranging changes encompassing governance, institutions, and rebuilding a new society. To facilitate this transformative path, a holistic approach rooted on new ideals is crucial. These ideals akin to seeds can nurture the growth of a new generation of leaders from the Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. These new leaders can, in turn, champion a mandate from the 22 million to adopt the following principles to bring about a truly meaningful transformation of a new nation we all deserve:
- Constitutional Reforms:
- Establish separation of powers, and the establishment of checks and balances.
- Institute an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of every citizen.
- Strengthen and protect fundamental rights of each citizen by electing District-level Public Prosecutors and Auditor Generals
- Free and Fair Elections:
- Implement changes for transparency, fairness, and inclusivity in the electoral process and welcome new political parties.
- Strengthen independent election commission to oversee elections, prevent fraud, and grant impeachment powers through an independent judiciary.
- Political Pluralism:
- Promote the creation of new political parties to represent diverse interests, subject to the same scrutiny as any public institution with no restrictions to race, religion or gender.
- Ensure that opposition views and parties have equal access to media and resources.
- Strengthen Civil Liberties:
- Ensure unconditional freedom of speech, assembly, and association.
- Allow the formation of independent civil society organizations, including NGOs and advocacy groups.
- Media Freedom:
- Liberate the media from government influence, allowing it to function as a watchdog, providing evidence-based, accurate, and critical information.
- Ensure media laws protect journalists and their right to report without fear of persecution.
- New Public Prosecutors to take legal action against media for false propaganda
- Education and Awareness:
- Implement educational programs to enhance civic awareness and political literacy from an early age.
- Encourage public discourse and debate to cultivate an informed citizenry.
- Empower local governments within a democratic framework, ensuring local representation by electing a Governor and representatives in each province.
- Encourage community participation in decision-making processes, focusing on issues common to the citizen
- Grant impeachment powers to the citizens to a Judicial process.
- Transparency and Accountability:
- Implement measures to guarantee transparency in all public actions and decisions by governmental, NGO, and political entities serving the public.
- Institute oversight mechanisms to hold public officials accountable for their actions with clear oversight.
- Security Sector Reform:
- Ensure military and security forces are under civilian control.
- Establish mechanisms to prevent human rights abuses by security forces, with independent public oversight.
- Place police functions under local governments with independent public oversight.
- Elect a Public Prosecutor within each district to represent the citizen against illegal government actions.
- International Cooperation:
- Collaborate with international organizations and democratic nations, adopting best practices and allowing international oversight.
- Engage diplomatically to promote democratic values globally, demonstrating intentions to the international community.
- Reconciliation and Inclusivity:
- Genuinely address historical grievances and foster national reconciliation.
- Ensure the inclusion of marginalized groups in political processes.
- Patience and Consensus-Building:
- Recognize that the transition to democracy will be gradual.
- Encourage dialogue and consensus-building among the citizens, ensuring the emergence of new political actors for a stable transition.
- Ensure the process is inclusive, participatory, and reflective of the values and aspirations of the citizen.
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