Where is democracy in Sri Lanka heading to?
Posted on January 15th, 2017

By Prof. Hector Perera Sydney Australia Courtesy The Daily Mirror

It is now time that we discuss some key factors relating to democracy, given that the name of our country is the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.’ But, unfortunately, ours is still far from being a true democratic state.

Democracy, which refers to the idea that people should rule themselves, was first established in Greece in the 5th century B.C. Henceforth, many countries, using different methods, have experimented to govern their societies and it is today recognised as the best form of governance.
It has been described as a system of governance ‘of the people, by the people and for the people,’ in which the supreme power is vested with the citizens. Accordingly, this authority is exercised by people, generally governed through their representatives elected periodically at held free and fair elections. Importantly, democracy means a set of principles about individual freedom and related practices and procedures. It is characterised by the institutionalisation of freedom. Hence, the idea of democracy consists of rights and responsibilities for both the government and the governed (citizens). This is the basis of ‘good governance.’


In a democratic society, political decisions are freely made by majority rule. But, rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic, as no one would call a system fair or just if the majority oppresses the minority in their name. In making political decisions, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of human rights of all stakeholders irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. The rights of minorities do not depend on the goodwill of the majority. The country’s Constitution protects the rights of all citizens through the democratic laws and institutions. Democratic society is also characterised by constitutional limits on government.
Citizens’ freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same although they are inseparable. Freedom is the condition of having the power of self-determination, which emphasises the opportunity for the exercise of one’s rights, particularly basic human rights. However, in a democratic society, the freedom to exercise individual’s (or a group’s) rights cannot be unlimited, as it is limited by the freedom to exercise the rights of other individuals (and groups) in society. However, in Sri  Lanka, the terms ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ seem to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused too. Politicians and others often use these titles inappropriately to achieve various objectives driven by self-interest.


‘DEMOCRACY’ IN SRI LANKA 
There seem to be at least two prerequisites to be recognised as a true democratic state. First, the citizens should have the power to govern themselves and the freedom to protect their rights, and they should also comprehend the sense of that freedom in order to be able to use it rightfully. Second, everyone should realise that corruption is a major obstacle to democracy, and have a genuine interest to contribute towards eradicating it. Undoubtedly, these would be difficult prerequisites to fulfil as they require a paradigm shift in the way many people in the country are used to think. However, with a determined effort by all citizens to make a change, they are not unachievable goals.

Citizens’ Freedom — a main characteristic of democracy 
Citizens’ freedom to protest is a good sign of a democratic society. Such a society is characterised by individuals’ (and groups’) freedom of expression. For instance, according to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, every citizen is entitled to the freedom of peaceful assembly. However, it is vital that individual freedom of expression cannot be unlimited, as it is limited by the freedom of other individuals in society. Infringing the freedom of others in society is unacceptable. Those who infringe on the rights of others should remind themselves of the following: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” (Abraham Lincoln)

In the present local context, the idea of freedom of expression (or the opportunity to protest) seems to be misused. Such freedom should be used in a peaceful manner and that the decision to protest should be the last resort to solve matters (particularly of political nature). From the society’s point of view, it would be preferable to resolve such issues amicably through negotiation. But for various aggrieved groups, especially those politically motivated, protest seem to be the first step in showing disagreement.

Politically-motivated protests and protest rallies have become part of the everyday life. They are usually characterised by slogans, shouting and road blocking, with no regard to the inconvenience caused to the non-protesting community including bus commuters, motorists, children going home after school or tuition classes, people returning home from work and so forth. It would be a violation of human rights of those non-protesting groups of citizens. It would also cause a large loss of productivity to the country due to the time wasted on the streets. Such activities must be against the law of the land.  In a democratic society, the government of the day has a pivotal role to play in nurturing democracy. For instance, when the human rights of a section of the community are violated, it is the paramount responsibility of the government to take action to ensure the Law and Order situation is restored. Failing to do so would be interpreted as a weakness and the government’s inability to perform as expected. On the other hand, citizens may also have genuine grievances or displeasure with some government policies. On such occasions, they should be able to express their views peacefully. The government is responsible to provide facilities for people to have protest meetings or rallies, for example, by earmarking suitable locations and making it widely-known that only set places could be used for such purposes. It is not unreasonable, however, to expect that individuals (and groups) who break the law should face the consequences (legal and other) of their actions. It is also possible for some sections of the society to become aggrieved due to other reasons than government policy (such as natural disasters). It is a duty of the government to listen and respond to the aggrieved parties for some reason in a positive and inclusive manner, and resolve the issues amicably. Failing to do so might trigger protest action.

Freedom also means the ability to communicate with fellow citizens. Language is a crucial factor, and the country’s education system takes centre stage in removing the language barrier. For this purpose, the government should develop appropriate policies for the country’s schooling system to ensure all citizens have this ability. This would have a unification effect among different ethnic groups in the state. As the founder of the Ford Motor Company late Henry Ford once said; Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Corruption – a main obstacle to democracy 

As pointed out in a recent panel discussion held in Colombo, corruption is ingrained in the Sri Lankan society almost as a part of the country’s culture. People from all walks of life, irrespective of their social status, are accustomed to engage in corrupt practices for their convenience and/or to accumulate wealth unlawfully. The menace of corruption in the country has grown into an epidemic proportion, and it appears to sit on an exponential growth curve. It is a major obstacle to democracy as it causes an individual or a group to take undue advantages at the expense of others. Its eradication from society would require a mammoth collective effort by the general public and many groups such as the media, independent citizen, professionals and so forth, in addition to the government.

People in Sri Lanka tend to blindly follow what the ‘corrupted people’ say and do. Fighting corruption could only be successful with the involvement of all Sri Lankans for which the country’s education system can also play a pivotal role. People need to change their mindset and stop bribing. Freedom does not mean license to engage in corrupt practices, even without breaking the law. It is also important that law and justice do not mean the same thing (law is a rule enacted and recognised as prohibiting certain actions and enforced by the imposition of penalties, whereas justice is just conduct).

Corruption refers to both illegal and unjust conduct which should be eradicated from the country in order to strengthen democracy. Furthermore, people must believe that corruption could be wiped out. Although this sounds like a dream, it would be a dream that could come true. It has been done in other countries, for example the Hong Kong police force.

Various professional groups in the country have a responsibility to uphold the standards in their respective fields so that corruption would not thrive. However, the professions in Sri Lanka seem to have contributed to the growth of this menace. Lawyers, bankers and accountants are often criticised for letting set standards lapse.

The subject of the panel discussion jointly organised by the Colombo MBA Alumni Association and the Daily FT was ‘Fighting Corruption.’ The panel consisted of the chairpersons of the Corruption Commission and Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Cabinet Minister of the present government and representatives from a number of professional organisations.

For example, it was pointed out during the aforesaid discussion that the bankers believed (when they gave loans) they knew 60% of the audits reports and accounts were misrepresentations, falsifications and were incorrect. Banks have also been criticised for deliberately targeting to collect drug money and filter it into the legitimate financial system to increase their profits. Similarly, legal and accounting professions have been criticised for manipulating the system, which makes corruption worse in Sri  Lanka.

In addition, the media have also been criticised for contributing to the growth of corruption in the country. They are expected to be unbiased and impartial, and when they disseminate distorted and biased information for some reason that should be exposed so that the public won’t be mislead.
If the rulers are involved in politicising the professions for taking undue political advantages, citizens’ groups such as the ‘Puravesi Balaya’ should divulge it (among other things), thereby making a positive contribution to eradicate corruption. De-politicisation of public service is crucial as political interferences in the public service seem to be one of the main causes of corruption. For instance, it is vital to ensure the independence of the public service including the judiciary, and is also crucial to empower public officials who could identify wrongdoers including parliamentarians and bring them to justice. Unless politicians in all persuasions understand the weight of public expectations on them, they run the risk of having the situation escalated.

It is obvious that the government alone cannot take full responsibility of wiping out corruption. However, the government should recognise that ‘lip service’ only is not sufficient. At present, the characteristic features of the government’s political agenda seem to talk about democracy and good governance on the one hand, and continuation of some corrupt practices (irrespective of what was promised before coming into power) on the other. The appointment to state institutions is an area where rampant corruption could take place. As pointed out at the same panel discussion mentioned earlier; such a policy must recognise that just the ability to speak in English, having a privileged family background and education in an elite school are inadequate to run a state institution economically, effectively and efficiently.”

It would also be important to a country like Sri  Lanka to bring in international standards that would test domestic systems against global best practices. Whether one likes it or not, in today’s globalised world, no country can afford to exist and grow in isolation. There are greater, more pressing challenges in the global geopolitical landscape that is changing constantly, which ultimately shape everything domestically. Therefore, it is important that the global context is part of the country’s national conversation; otherwise the country will struggle to deal with challenges that lie ahead, both locally and internationally. Lack of understanding about the global context, which is becoming increasingly-complex, would make us look like ‘frogs in a well’ and tend towards attempting to apply simple answers to complex issues.

– See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Where-is-democracy-in-Sri-Lanka-heading-to–122144.html#sthash.AycYkibD.dpuf

3 Responses to “Where is democracy in Sri Lanka heading to?”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Prof Hector Perera has exposed the Ideals of Democracy for which we thank him.

    ————

    Sri Lanka can be said to have a failing Democracy, as in some other countries.

    If Democracy is firmly tied to Pure Capitalism only, then failure is assured.

  2. Christie Says:

    Hi Professor.

    Democracy in Ceylon is no different to the one in Australia.

    Indian colonial parasites and vermin in Australia with the Socialists in Australia are another group who interfere with the Democracy in the island nation.

    Talking about Global; you should be educating the Australians about the invasion of Australia by Indians from India and Indian colonies like Ceylon, Fiji, Mauritius and Africa. Telling them How Indian non violent aggression and oppression works and the victims just die off.

  3. Cerberus Says:

    Democracy requires the participation of people who are able to think and evaluate the policies of different politicians and then vote for those who will be good for himself or herself and for the country in general. People think Democracy is synonymous with Capitalism. It is not so. In the USA today, the media is controlled by a few people who put out their version of truth for the consumption by the people.In countries such as the USA, there is no real Democracy. The newspapers do not publish the real issues affecting the people In the USA today the media is controlled by a few people who put out their version of truth for the consumption by the people.The media is controlled by a few people who put out their version of truth for the consumption by the people. In Sri Lanka too the media is owned by RW’s family and the Govt. Pure Capitalism and Democracy cannot co-exist. In Sri Lanka too the media is owned by RW’s family and the Govt.

    It is also good to have a literate people for Democracy to function properly. Otherwise, if you have a mass of uneducated people who are not aware of the issues involved, then Democracy is meaningless. In this context, though the Western countries criticize many countries which do not have Democracy they ignore the fact that Democracy cannot exist in a country where the people are uneducated and unaware. When Lee Kwan Yew started as the Prime Minister of Singapore he was a benevolent Dictator. Later when the country became more educated and enlightened he gradually introduced Democracy. The West criticized China for the same reason. Yet today the methods used by China to develop have paid off.

    The West uses Democracy like a weapon to destroy countries. Compare India and China. India had Democracy thrust down its throat while Mao Tse Tung realized the need to develop the country first before introducing Democracy. Today India is a filthy mass of utter poverty with a small very rich class while China has leaped ahead in development that they are now strong enough to even challenge the supremacy of even the USA. Then any demagogue can move the people and come into power as it happened with Hitler.In this context, though the Western countries criticize many countries which do not have Democracy they ignore the fact that Democracy cannot exist in a country where the people are uneducated and unaware. When Lee Kwan Yew started as the Prime Minister of Singapore he was a benevolent Dictator. Later when the country became more educated and enlightened he gradually introduced Democracy. The West criticized China for the same reason. Yet today the methods used by China to develop have paid off. The West uses Democracy like a weapon to destroy countries. Compare India and China. India had Democracy thrust down its throat while Mao Tse Tung realized the need to develop the country first before introducing Democracy. Today India is a filthy mass of utter poverty with a small very rich class while China has leaped ahead in development that they are now strong enough tostand on their own among the developed countries of the world.

    Today Ranil and his group seem to think to sell all our assets to private companies is the panacea for all our ills. He wants to create a purely ​capitalist paradise in the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

    There are many top economists who have written on the topic of Capitalism. One of the most outspoken has been Dr. Richard Wolf. His famous talk Capitalism hits the Fan is given below. His solution for Capitalism is to have democracy in the workplace. The Mondragon Corporation in Portugal is actually a large number of Co-operatives under the umbrella of Mondragon. This was set up with the blessings of the Catholic Church. In the USA there are many companies which are run as co-operatives where the employees participate in the decision making of the company affairs by being on the board. In Germany which has been very successful with their economy, any company with over 2000 employees have to have at least 50% of employees on the board. This is why unlike USA Germany is very successful. This law is part of the constitution introduced in Germany by Harry Truman after the world war II. Yet Harry Truman could not introduce it in the USA due to the railway and back barons.

    In 2008 when the recession hit many companies in the USA they laid off people in millions. In Germany, the Govt informed the companies not to lay off anyone. They suggested that they can reduce the number of hours of employees but keep all employed. In return, the German Govt paid the wages of the companies who had reduced the number of hours of employees so that no one lost any money. The net result was that the people had money in the pocket and were spending it thereby keeping the economy rolling. They hardly felt the recession, unlike the unwary USA.

    Please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZU3wfjtIJY ( Capitalism Hits the Fan – Richard Wolff)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WhZXhRS3F4 ( Austerity and Neoliberalism in Greece with Richard Wolff and Barry Herman | The New School)

    Background of Dr. Richard Wolf.
    Academic positions
    Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. He also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan.

    In Sri Lanka, we need to do what is right for our people not implement theories which have already failed in the West

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