By Suren Raghaven
(Suren Raghavan Ph D, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and currently a Resident Research Scholar at the University of Colombo)
Democracy is a dangerous game. Especially, if it is played by those with bloody minds and muddy hands. This is not because such attempts may not succeed – they may well be so as often is the case in Sri Lanka – but because what they pretend to construct will be abysmally empty and permanently tarnished like their polity.
A Constitution will be the overarching canopy under which a progressive blueprint for a State and all nations within is desirable at any cost. It is for this reason that all modern democracies took painful labour to hammer out such a document to answer the epistemological question “then how shall we live better?” The keystone assumption is that the proponent (and yes even the opponents) must have the legitimacy to do such fundamental structural changes. Tenants have no right to remove the foundation of a house even if they claim it is for the betterment. Such legitimacy is not mere legalistic correctness but a much wider moral qualification that is expected.
No one will respect a lawyer – even if s/he was the Gold medallist just last year – if such has turned to be a murderer. It is true that both Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate and then President Mahinda Rajapaksa asked the mandate to change the present Constitution – in that Rajapaksa wanted an overall comprehensive change instead of piecemeal amendments as a sustainable solution to the Tamils’ political aspirations. It is, also, true that both candidates collectively received a quantitatively astonishing over 95% endorsement.
But governance – especially if one is mindful of a participatory democracy in a pluri-nation State – is not only based on Wall Street type inhuman and often immoral number crunching but on the supremacy of goodwill, endorsement and the active participation of the citizens from the very periphery to the core centre. In the Political Science sphere during the last two decades an enriching development in political theory developed and it is broadly named as Deliberative Democracy (DD). DD refers to the mechanism that legitimate lawmaking happens from the public deep deliberation of citizens of all categories. As a normative reflection of moral legitimacy, deliberative democracy conjures ideals of rational legislation, participatory politics, and civic self-governance all such at the regional as well as the central level in a multi layered political structure. In short, it constructs an ideal of political autonomy based on the practical reasoning of a wider citizenship.
It is in this context that the new proposals to constitutional changes have come forward almost as a side show to the government’s other essentially non-essential activities, in a State where the annual budget gap is ever widening in a frightening manner. Even if one is to imagine that this Government of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Presidency of Maithripala Sirisena both that came to power by the direct and sheer support of the minority votes and, therefore, trying to address the deep rooted issues of the minority nations such fancy imaginations have no ground realities. Simply the social, economic and political conditions in the North and the East say an opposite story. Land release from the forcibly occupying Army is dead slow. Still more than 10,000 IDPs lament in the camps. Repairing/improving of the essential services such as the health sector, drinking water, transport is at a token minimum level. An adamant Minister of Rehabilitation again a royal friend of the PM is intransigent in his determination to build pre-fab aluminium houses against the will and advice of the local leaders.
This causes in the process to be hampered. No major new industry or investment has come. The mongering diaspora has not brought the millions of dollar investment they promised. Still over 90,000 Sri Lankans exclusively Tamils are living as refugees in Tamil Nadu. This Government has taken no step whatsoever to encourage their return even while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has come forward to make such arrangement.
Above are issues at the operational level. Then comes the long list of the structural issues such as the topic of the Transitional Justice, the genuine inquiry into the war crimes (of both sides), the full and impartial operation of Office of the Missing Persons, strengthening and fortifying the full need of the judiciary administration in the entire region of 1.6 million citizens, filling and supporting the decomposed higher education system centred on the university of Jaffna: The need to make the agricultural economy of Jaffna synchronize with the needs of the southern market place: The social psychological repair of the war and its deep wounds in a systematic manner to recover the human potential: The systemic programme to address the ideological opposition between the two ethnic nations so that the future of this State will be true Sri Lanka instead of Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim.
Yahapalana Government has failed to meet these challenges in a satisfactory manner. The clever articulations of then Foreign Minister Managala Samaraweera, managed to defuse the fires at the international community and win some basic concessions like GSP +. Nevertheless, all such small gains are conditional and temporary. It is in this perplexing condition that this Government continues its arrogance of (shameless) power to protect the scallywags of the Bond scam. Ranil came to power promising to punish corruption and recover the lost. Ranil came to power promising to punish corruption and recover the lost. What a disaster of disjuncture. Within the first 100 days, he appointed one of his confidants Saman Athaudahetti to a loss-making pitiable ITN and another to the Central Bank, which is possibly only second to Parliament in terms of governance of this country, and made sure that he broke all the trust and all the ethics of professionalism, especially in a field like finance where the level of ethics and transparency should be as in the Supreme Courts.
The ugly revelation continues by every hour. Ranil seems to be destined to go down in history as the UNPer who destroyed his party and its liberal image in just 100 days what Mahamanya Senanayake and others took decades to build. It may be the only clean achievement this Government has done so spectacularly – to divide and destroy the two major Sinhala political parties. It is in this deplorable surrounding that his government has contracted the all-important task of constitutional change to few minors like Dr. Jayampathi Wickramaratne , some liberal looking essentially Colombo based civil fronts and their advertising agencies.
They think the Sri Lankan citizenship importantly the Sinhala South is so weak and fallible that it can be altered by a part time Facebook campaign. They similar to their political leadership fail to read the continuous and undefeated ethno-national determination of the average man like Vannihami of ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’ of Prasanna Vithanage. They may be blind to certain democratic reality of the 21st century. But the Sinhala’s are not deterrent in their determination. So all my dear friend Sumanthiran can do is to sit, dialogue and win the confidence of the Mahanayakes of Kandy and Matara as equally as or more importantly than Delhi and New York before we can even discuss the first draft of the proposals.
These proposals can secure the majority in Parliament, yet what use of such endorsement if it is not coming from the conviction of the Sinhala majority of this country. By failing to give priority and instead letting his Government entangle in an abysmal tunnel of corruption Wickremesinghe has lost not only his “Mr. Clean’ image but also slipped another opportunity to bring structural changes to this country: Because democracy is dangerous in the hands of those without political morality.