Debatable questions about democracy
Daily Mirror Editorial
Dec 14, 2011

Modern democracy despite all its defects and drawbacks, aberrations and attacks has still proved to be the only sustainable and substantial process through which the sovereignty of the people is exercised or in simple words where the people are kings or queens.

At its highest and noblest dimensions, democracy as seen by legendary pioneers like Abraham Lincoln is a government of the people for the people and by the people.

Sri Lanka is, and we hope still is one of the oldest democracies in Asia. The 1978 Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka – still in existence despite being described as a curse with several threats or promises to scrap it – is one of the few constitutions where on paper at least the sovereignty of the people is absolute. The 1978 Constitution proclaims that the executive power of the people is exercised by the president, the legislative power of the people is exercised by Parliament and the judicial power of the people is exercised by the judiciary. But to what extent this happens with the checks and balances is highly debatable with many independent analysts and observers believing that most of these pious platitudes and proclamations about the people’s power are more preached than practiced. Lots of words but little by way of deeds.

It was against this backdrop that the all-powerful Executive President Mahinda Rajapaksa went to Bali in Indonesia to address the Democracy Forum attended by Heads of State or other leaders from more than Fifty Asia Pacific countries. The President said it was vital that there must be the closest possible interaction between the government and the people if democracy was to be meaningful and command their respect while having a direct impact on their everyday life. He said the mechanism of government must have effective application at the grassroots level to address issues and provide relief. “It has always been important to us to ensure that the forms and institutions of democracy, far from being an ideal remote from the people, should be part of their experience,” he added. while appreciating the President’s vision and words on people-power democracy, many independent analysts wonder to what extent it is working or valid in Sri Lanka today.

The time tested process of checks and balances among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, appear to have become unbalanced with more cheques than checks operating in the system. Related issues such as good governance and accountability also seem to be on the decline as seen in the fate that befalls the shocking reports of widespread corruption, fraud, waste and extravagance in public institutions. These reports are issued after months of full-scale inquiry by an all-party parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). Little or nothing was done about the earlier report of COPE headed by corruption fighter Wijedasa Rajapakshe and he was virtually forced to crossover. Now the committee headed by Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera has exposed the scandalous plunder of public money by at least forty public institutions. If stern action is not taken against highranking politicians or officials responsible for this plunder and pillage of public resources then democracy is a dead letter with rampant, unchecked corruption creating more poverty among millions of people.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka