Democracy must not be confused with liberalism. This government may be liberal but it is not exactly democratic. Liberalism is laudably concerned with individual freedoms. Democracy is primarily about the character of government as defined by the key variable of representation. Democracy is about being governed by chosen representatives of the people: “government of the people, for the people, by the people” (Lincoln). If the governed aren’t freely and adequately represented among the rulers/governors and the government-in-waiting (the Opposition), then even if the political atmosphere is relaxed and the freedom of individual expression is in evidence (liberalism), that political order’s democratic character and therefore legitimacy are questionable.
Progressive opinion always criticized the post-Independence disenfranchisement of the hill country Tamils of recent Indian origin who had voted at the 1947general election. Now we have a second disenfranchisement or semi-disenfranchisement. I refer to the partial disenfranchisement of the millions who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa and against the slogan of a National Government at the August 2015 parliamentary election.
Not only don’t they have their 95 seats, they have been deprived of the leadership of the opposition that their 51 seats entitle them to according to all tenets of logic, arithmetic, fair play and natural justice. Instead we have a bogus Opposition, a fraudulent Opposition, an entirely ethnic opposition which has only 16 seats, represents an ethnic minority and two provinces of the island. There is no mainstream opposition that is adequately permitted.
This structural fraud, this confiscation and suffocation of popular sovereignty, renders the political order illegitimate and therefore not entitled to the stipulation that goes with legitimacy, namely that such a political order can and must be replaced only through electoral and systemic means. If a political order ignores the results of an election, violates it and actually stands it on its head, then its degree of illegitimacy is such that extra-electoral methods of direct action and people’s power almost automatically come onto the agenda.
The eviction of the moderate Dinesh Gunawardena, from parliament for a week while disallowing Dullas Alahapperuma, a social democrat, to stand-in for him, smacks of a trial run to reduce the already restricted political space of the legitimate Opposition, the JO.
One can readily imagine the fate of democracy if a Third Republican Constitution is promulgated in which the executive Presidency stands abolished and executive power transferred to this Prime minister and this Parliament as it is currently configured, or rather, distorted– with a 16 member party as Opposition, a five member party as Opposition Whip and a 51 member coalition with no official status whatsoever!
Political stability has been already undermined also by the depletion of the SLFP at the hands of CBK’s maneuvers. That depletion is not because the SLFP hasn’t been “modernized” as CBK wants it to be. The UNP was the party of pro-western modernity and the SLFP could compete on that terrain (1994) only when it was a competitor, offering an alternative, social democratic modernity. Modernity and moderation cannot save the SLFP today so long as it is in alliance with the UNP. The SLFP was always the dominant partner of either a center-left governing or oppositional coalition, while today it is neither, and is “tailing behind” its traditional foe, the UNP. It can be resurrected only if it resumes one of its two ‘normal’ historical roles.
The Wickremesinghe government’s macroeconomic vision is to open up unconditionally and sell itself to all comers passing through the Indian Ocean or better still, the Asia-Pacific region. This is not an economic developmental ideology; it is the project of being a stopover point and service station for visiting navies; the consciousness of a brothel owner in a port city.
Any self-respecting government (e.g. Premadasa’s or Mahinda’s) would have responded to Tamil Nadu piracy in our Northern waters, Delhi’s failure to rein it in and the arrogant capture of Sri Lankan fishermen, by resort to asymmetric diplomacy and the principle of linkage, postponing talks on both ECTA and the Trinco oil tank farm. But that’s what a self-respecting government would do.
Instead, in the service of its project of prostituting the nation, the UNP’s old aggressive behavior is back. The UNP’s polarizing policies of 1951-1956 generated a massive social uprising in August 1953, radicalized the Sinhala Buddhists and swerved SWRD and the SLFP to a ‘Sinhala Only’ platform by 1956. The UNP’s policies of 1965-70 catapulted a strong left-of-center coalition into office, but more significantly, gave birth to an armed revolutionary movement by the late 1960s; a movement that armed itself due to a fear that the UNP’s rightwing (of which the present PM’s father was the ideologue) would outmaneuver the liberal leader of the country Dudley Senanayaka, postpone elections and install a Rightist dictatorship.
In the 1980s the UNP weakened the parliamentary Opposition by hauling up Madam Bandaranaike before a Commission and removing her civic rights, throwing Vijaya Kumaratunga in jail, and holding a fraudulent and coercive referendum to extend the term of Parliament.
The descent into hell began six months later with Black July ’83, the police shooting students in ’84, the JVP and its radical rivals going underground, the police killing a youngster at the May Day rally of Dinesh Gunawardana in ’87, civil war in the South, secessionist war in the North, foreign intervention and a barbaric backlash, culminating in a situation in which UNPers were not only murdered but could not be carried above the knee in funeral processions—a horrific situation from which the populist dissenter and archetype ‘Outsider’, Ranasinghe Premadasa, rescued his party and country. Today’s UNP has only ‘insiders’; no rescuing superhero.
As in the ’80s, the UNP is persecuting the legitimate Opposition because it wants to evict it from all political space, and it wants to do this because of the same reasons that motivated it in the early ’80s. The UNP wants to win a referendum. The UNP wishes to push through the Third Republican Constitution that it has promised its Tamil voters, its TNA partner, its Tamil Diaspora allies, and its foreign sponsors. It also wants to cripple both wings of the SLFP.
It plans to cripple the progressive (JO/MR) wing, just as it attacked the SLFP’s Vijaya Kumaratunga-led progressives in the 1980s on the pretext of the absurd “Naxalite Plot”—and actually shot at Vijaya at the Mahara by-election (where the UNP’s present leader had been appointed political authority of the UNP’s campaign).
It also wants to cripple a once and future electoral competitor, the more liberal, moderate SLFP which is currently its coalition partner, by abolishing the executive presidency and transferring power to the UNP Prime Minister and his allies, the TNA-SLMC Chief Ministers of North and East.
What injects some black humor into the situation is the square box the UNP-CBK partnership has got itself trapped in: (1) if the Presidential system is abolished, Mahinda has a great chance of beating Ranil and becoming the country’s leader again; (2) if it is not, then MR cannot run but Gotabhaya has an excellent chance of beating Ranil and becoming President (because the 2015 proxy ploy cannot be pulled off again); (3) if both Rajapaksas are deprived of their civic rights, there’s a senior Rajapaksa who can reunite the SLFP and win an election, restoring his brothers to their full status; (4) if all Rajapaksas are framed, then in a situation of mounting economic crisis—and despite US warships showing the flag in Hambantota—a social uprising and supportive military revolt can consume the manipulative governing elite in an inferno of national rebellion.
Courtesy: Daily Mirror