24 October, 2017

Why We Should Bring Back Democracy?

By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

It is a good augury for our future that the Ven. Athureleye has spoken out against the suppression of freedoms. He is spearheading a reform movement to restore true democracy instead of the fudged democracy proclaimed by the ruling regime which violating the Constitution passed the 18th Amendment arrogating all power to the President and freeing him from all checks and balances, so that he is completely above the law and accountable to nobody except nominally to the people at an election which is neither free or fair. The President likes to say that we still have democracy because he equates democracy with the holding of elections.

Omnipotent President

The President is all powerful like our feudal Sinhalese kings. He makes all the important appointments to the public service, the judicial service and the Elections Department.  Political affiliation and loyalty not competence or merit are the criteria of suitability for the high appointments. Since all these appointees to the high posts are appointed by the President based on their personal knowledge of him or through canvassing for them, these office holders totally beholden to the President and know that if they want to hold their placements they have to do his will even if it is against all norms of morality and justice. So public administration, the Police, the Judges are all servants not of the people but of the President- a throwback to the feudal rule of our ancient Sinhalese kings. He can dispense with accepted moral values whenever it is politically expedient. All his officials are expected to do the same. A similar situation existed in the Western countries prior to the revolutions- the revolution of 1688 in England, the revolution of 1789 in France and the revolution of the American colonies in 1776. They may now be distant but the people in these countries have not forgotten them and uphold their principles. They do not allow their present day democratic rulers to violate their Constitutions. How often have our so-called democratic politicians violated the principles enshrined in our Constitution?

Democracy and Economic Growth

Mahinda ChinaBut some people are enamored by the high economic growth in authoritarian countries like South Korea under Park Chung Hee, China under Deng Tsiao Peng, and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. So some intellectuals are impressed by authoritarian rule and justify it on the ground of the faster economic growth they have provided. But not all authoritarian dictatorships have succeeded in providing faster economic growth. The several dictatorial regimes in Latin America- in Chile, Brazil and in the Philippines under Marcos and in the erstwhile Communist countries faster economic growth did not take place  at all or failed to be sustainable and led to the restoration of democracy. China has grown fast but so has corruption and President Li is grappling with its control.

It is of course true that democracy with its public demonstrations and agitations against necessary economic reforms , its squabbling political parties, with its  dominance of interest groups, its poorly educated politicians elected by a naïve rural peasantry and crafty leaders who manipulate the voters with their populism,  are all barriers to the taking of right decisions to promote economic growth. But people do learn over time however slowly it may be.  Economic growth and democracy requires discipline on the part of both the people and the leaders. Such discipline is often underpinned by the religious and moral values of such society. But crafty politicians fool the people with their false and hypocritical religiosity. They equate religion with the practice of rituals and give the impression to the people by their false example that it would be sufficient to follow such rituals rather than practice the moral code preached by the religions. But people are blind to the hypocrisy of these politicians and accept them as the saviors of their religion in the background of other missionary religions which seek to spread their own values and principles. In this background it is easy for the crafty political leaders to whip up hatred against other communities in the society. So the task of nation building is relegated to the background and instead the idea of championing the religion of the majority as the religion of the State is propagated. So truth and justice in the popular mind becomes equated to what is proclaimed as truth and justice by the political leaders. They set up those elements in the society who preach violence and hatred against the minorities and justify them by whipping up latent fears to their religion.

Economic growth needs discipline 

If economic growth is about governments getting things done then would it not be better for growth if the governments are strong and authoritarian instead of being weak and elected. Then the administration of the public services would improve; the trains will run on time, the hospitals will perform better and provide a better service to the people and schools will be better managed. True indeed but such discipline in authoritarian countries cannot be achieved without the spilling of blood, the suppression of public movements, the repression of civil society groups, and the suppression of the truth through censorship of the media. In short it involves brainwashing the people through thought control, so vividly described by George Orwell in his novel “1984”. So even if economic growth suffers under a democracy, yet the trade –off of growth for freedom is worthwhile. Isn’t it better to have slower growth with freedom rather than faster growth with repression of freedom?

But there is no evidence that in the long run economic growth in the democratic countries is slower than in authoritarian dictatorships. The great economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey explains that modern prosperity was not caused by the exploitation of the poor by the rich in their own countries or in their colonial possession; nor even really by an increase in investment but, rather, by the unleashing of innovations – itself the result of a change in social attitudes. How did this change in social attitudes come about? It was through the new found personal freedom in the western economies after the Reformation. People were free to think for themselves and a new class -the merchant class arose to take advantage of the results of the voyages of discovery. To say that modern prosperity was not caused by an increase in investment (or, to pick another example often given by economic libertarians, an expansion of trade) is not to deny that investment and trade are necessary for economic growth.  Of course they are.  McCloskey’s point is that the timing, the geography, and the magnitude of modern prosperity cannot be explained as being caused by a change in the likes of investment or trade.  Neither investment nor trade – as indispensable, as admirable, and as marvelous in their own right as they unquestionably are – were the sparks for our modern prosperity. It is the new attitude of freedom sparked by the great revolutions against absolute government that ensured the freedom of the people from arbitrary rule and introduced the Rule of Law and protected the freedoms of the people. The merchant class was free to pursue the money making activities. It is such freedom that allowed the Scientific Revolution to flourish and made possible the Industrial Revolution which led to modern prosperity.  Where did all these innovations and inventions come from? Could they have occurred without the freedom of the individual? In the long run economic growth depends upon innovation and invention and not the mere replication of investment in the same economic activities.

Even in China, Deng Tsiao Peng’s growth policy was in accepting and permitting private property and economic freedom for the foreign entrepreneurs at first in Special Economic Zones and then extending such freedom to all Chinese by adopting free enterprise and the free market economy. Yes there is no democracy or political freedom but there certainly is economic freedom and protection of private property. There are today two economic models- the freewheeling capitalism of the USA and the economic freedom of the Chinese model. But what is common to both models is the acceptance of the free market economy.

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  • 3
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    R.M.B Senanayake –

    Why We Should Bring Back Democracy?

    “It is a good augury for our future that the Ven. Athureleye has spoken out against the suppression of freedoms. He is spearheading a reform movement to restore true democracy instead of the fudged democracy proclaimed by the ruling regime which violating the Constitution passed the 18th Amendment arrogating all power to the President and freeing him from all checks and balances, so that he is completely above the law and accountable to nobody except nominally to the people at an election which is neither free or fair. The President likes to say that we still have democracy because he equates democracy with the holding of elections.”

    Please review the U.S. system. They were ready to impeach Nixon.

    So, Sri Lanka needs such a system,

    Until then., it is a “democratic” dictatorship populated by Shills, Crooks, Thieves., Robbers, rapists, criminals liars and white-washers.

    • 5
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      R.M.B. Senanayake,

      Do you think 66 years of miss-rule under democracy is not enough for us?

      The Sinhalese society is not ready for democracy, nor are the mahanayakes, bhikkus or the Sinhala politicians.

      I think we were better off under kings and even under foreign colonial rule.

      You will recall that the eternally trouble making racist monks were kept locked by the colonial powers: That is what is needed now too.

      • 1
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        Thiru

        “You will recall that the eternally trouble making racist monks were kept locked by the colonial powers: That is what is needed now too. “

        Do you think giving Monks women and girls, and allowing them to marry, instead of boys will solve the monk “problem”?

        Child Abuse by a Monk in Habaraduwa

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNSC93mPs4I

        Just curious.

  • 2
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    How can we Mr. Senanayake? Look who we have in power. If we had people like you, Gamini (he comments here) and MA Sumanthiran in the government, then this country will shine like a star. But that is not the case, eh?

  • 2
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    Wasn’t he a part of this government from day one? What changed for him to realize that he had a conscience and cannot support the race to the bottom.
    Having said that isn’t he still a part of this govt? So the question is whether he really grew a conscience or he is just making trying to get a better deal for him and his party in the future.

    Better late than never but if he is honest and does not see eye to eye with the govt then he should resign. He is playing the same game as SLMC and shopping for a better offer.

  • 3
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    “Why We Should Bring Back Democracy?…..”

    .

    LTTE is done,
    India is politically powerless,
    US is economically weak,
    China is the new Super Power and Srilanks’s best friend,

    So, why we should bring back democracy?

    :-)

  • 3
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    Mr,Senanayake ,

    Thanks for the much needed exposition of the concept of the ‘ Free man’ and ‘ Freedom’. Institutions in the more politically evolved countries , are designed to recognise these concepts and let them play out within limits of what is moral and legitimate. There are of course occasional misuse of these concepts, but the institutions ultimately prevail and reinforce these concepts. This is the strength of true democracy,

    Such countries move forward at various paces depending on time and circumstances. They may also stumble occasionally . But the established system and the ingrained freedoms prevent them sinking.and losing their balance and vision.

    The so-calked democracy we have in place, which is regressing by the day, can only propel us backwards, because man is diminished as a free, thinking and creative being, Unless every man – every citizen- is treated as the most cherished wealth of the nation, progress where it matters and needed will not come about. Unrestricted creative thinking and creative actions as a collective if citizens can take us forward. If the fate of this nation depends on the thinking of an individual and that too one with a rather empty head, and expect progress , social justice and prosperity , we will only regress as a nation. We will be deluded by illusions of grandeur, as is happening now

    Athureliye Thera, is an intelligent and a thinking man. But he is a half-baked cookie. His proposals are an attempt to swim with the emerging tide, without comprehending its true force. His proposals are like the ‘ Guli’ ( the medicine ball) the poorly qualified Veda mahatmaya prescribes, to which he has added some aspirin and antibiotics! The ingredients in the guli are wrong, he understands the pharmacology of the aspirin and the antibiotic little, he has not been trained to diagnose and ultimately he has more interest in earning his buck than curing the patient! This is our sorry plight!!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran.

  • 4
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    How does it augur well that it took the JHU 4 years and a few months to figure out that the 18th Amendement was harmful to democracy? How much of a rut are we in when a party consisting of Buddhist clergy and layman vote for the said legislation and then come out against it with bats swingings when the UPFA has dip in it’s voting percentage? Waiting for a optune moment? It’s elementary, my dear RMB. They’re playing us for suckers!

    Many strong ethical positions, plans and visions of the future will soon be thrust upon us so we the citizens may choose the best plan and vision. In the end, the best singer of songs and the giver of most freebies will win and the best coalition of theives and hustlers will coalesce, so that the next round of theiving may begin without much disruption.

    Clearly democracy is perceived as the better form of government from what is available out there. It is however the the values of the society in which it operates that determines how democracy will be used.

    When 2 well know drug dealers, Messers Mervin and Duminda Silva are each able to garner 150,000 preferential votes each. It says much about the electorate.

  • 8
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    I have always preferred a Presidential form of government, even if somewhat authoritarian. Is democracy the answer? Then why cannot a Presidential System exist within a democratic framework? The real problem is that we need to find a good and honest man for the job. And that is very near impossible.

    • 3
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      It’s not the knife that matters, but the character of the man who wields it.

    • 1
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      Don’t forget that it has both been beneficial and on occasion been harmful, as when the Amendment 13 was imposed on us.

  • 2
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    Very well stated. Holding of elections as is unique to the Rajapaksa brand is not democracy. For the Rajapaksas, corruption and the absolute lack of the rule of law with the development of infra structure with foreign aid is democracy. Unfortunately, as long as the minorities are kept subdued the majority Sinhala chauvinists are prepared to give him and his relatives a free run now and for future generations. There is no democracy in Sri Lanka. In western democracies what the people are enjoying is not the product of one generation but that of several experiments over a few centuries. “Eternal vigilance is the product of democracy.” In China, what happened under Mao was a revolution of the peasants and not of the working class against the imperial regime. Deng Xiaoping was determined to restore the dominance of the petite bourgeoisie from which class he had come. The current Communist Party regime is a convenient vehicle for the market economy government for the Peoples’ Republic of China which in actual fact is capitalistic. It has also to borne in mind that the Chinese are highly civilised, belong to an ancient culture and are highly conscious of their rights. In Sri Lanka there is only savagery and no democracy. Bensen

    • 0
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      Sorry Bensen. There is a contributor called Eusense who has been arguing that Sri Lanka is a democracy and the Tamils and Muslims enjoy the same rights as the Sinhala. This is contrary to what you have written. He asked me to get real!

      I have quoted as to what N.M. said about democracy during the 1955 debate on the language bill. He claims that no country in the world practice democracy like I have described. What tonic we can give this guy to enlighten him? He has been driving many people up the wall by asking the Tamils in Particular to list their grievances!

  • 2
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    Forget other countries. What democracy you wanted to bring back to Sri Lanka over peace and tranquility that prevail now, RMBS? The British Colonial democracy or JRJ’s five star democracy or Chandrika’s bahubutha democracy or Velu’s terrorist democracy? Now don’t get me wrong. I have mentioned only the long lasted ones.

    • 2
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      mechanic

      Could you define democracy as you understood it to be?

  • 0
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    Please listen to this make’s sense… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niqWYwxPGrg#t=20

  • 1
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    Democracy vs Mahanama’s convoluted false premises. The latter will always win in the ‘Wonder of Asia’ – always, always and always. Democracy becomes a mockery when faced with the religious mumbo jumbo our masses have been imbued with for eons. Thousands of years of blind faith in a faith that has been so stage-managed by self serving priestcraft has made us a blind nation indeed.

  • 2
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    Mr. Senanayake,

    Why We Should Bring Back Democracy

    Democracy can only flourish in a country where there is respect for the Rule of Law and elections are fought on issues affecting peoples daily lives which we call Bread & Butter issues. But when you add Race as one of the issues then it becomes a Lethal Cocktail giving people like Mahintha the opportunity to exploit. We have had the so called experiment with democracy for the last 64 years and the Race Card was never far away. Fortune favours the Brave and Mahintha has been bold and he slaughtered thousands of innocent Tamils to win the Freedom Struggle and that has gone down well with 20 million Racists.
    To wrest control from Mahintha you have to convince the electorate that the liberator is courting danger which will spell disaster but that is a big ask.
    So in the short term you have to put Democracy in the back burner.

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