CONTRADICTIONS OF DEMOCRACY
(1998 July 08)
It is now known that the government has decided to postpone the provincial council elections. Within a matter of days the President will invoke provisions of the public security ordinance over the whole island and will postpone the elections under emergency regulations. From the time the statement by the Mahanayake Theros requesting the government to postpone the elections appeared, it was clear that the government was not interested in conducting an election at this juncture. The challenges by the leader of the opposition suggested that neither the UNP, at least the leader, was keen to face an election right now. The official reason for the postponement is the security situation, and the government appears to think that by December they will be in a position to release about thirty thousand police and army personnel for election duties.
It is well known that the minister Anuruddha Ratwatte was very keen to postpone the provincial council elections, and that he wanted the government to postpone the elections even before nominations were accepted by the commissioner of elections. There have been some ministers like Dr. G. Lakshman Peiris who wanted to obtain the support of the UNP to postpone the elections. The President has come out with the idea to postpone the elections after the nominations. In any case it is apparent that the decision of the government would be challenged in the Supreme Court.
It is ironical that the parliamentary elections and the presidential elections, which are far more important than the provincial council elections cannot be postponed even under emergency regulations, whatever the security situation of the country may be. The 1988 presidential elections and the 1989 parliamentary elections were held under very difficult conditions. That may be another contradiction in the J. R. Jayawardane constitution implemented in 1978.
Already the JVP has come up against the postponement. The posters that appeared last week gave the impression that the JVP is the guardian of democracy. It was the same JVP that ordered the people at gunpoint not to vote sometime ago. Of course an individual or a party can change their views and take a diametrically opposite stand. But the irony is that the JVP has not made any confession about its activities in the recent past. In fact it goes to the extent of defending them. It was only the last week the propaganda secretary of the JVP, appearing in the ITN programme Janatha Adhikaranaya, defended the past actions of the party, by claiming that in a civil war type situation any thing could happen! By postponing the elections the government has indirectly defended the JVP also, for the people will now not be in a position to give their verdict.
In any case the government is creating a bad precedent by invoking the provisions of the public security ordinance to postpone the provincial council elections. This move is different from postponing elections under emergency regulations gazzeted under provisions of the public security ordinance already in force. The government has now decided to invoke those provisions explicitly for the purpose of postponing elections. It may give different reasons to justify the declaration of emergency but those who have followed the events know that the public security ordinance is to be invoked over the whole island for the specific reason of postponing the provincial council elections.
These words against postponing the provincial council elections are written not out of any admiration for the provincial councils or democracy in general. I am not in favour of the provincial councils and I would like to see the thirteenth amendment, which gave rise to the provincial councils, repealed from the constitution. In fact I would have made use of the elections to campaign against the provincial councils.
The provincial councils were opposed by the Mahasangha and by the majority of the Sinhala people. Now that the government is listening to the Mahanayake Theros, it may be the most opportune time for the most reverend Theros to advise the government not only to reject the so-called political package but also to abolish the provincial councils as well. The government can then concentrate on defeating the LTTE without wasting its time on finding out ways and means of postponing elections.
Having decided to postpone the provincial councils the government has said that a presidential election will be held in December. Can anybody believe that this promise will be fulfilled? This is as if the government is trying to bribe the people after denying them their right to vote at the provincial councils. But the most incredible thing is that people do not suspect the politicians after so many unfulfilled promises. This government came to power with a pledge to abolish the executive presidency by July 1995. The same government is now talking of a presidential election in December 1998!
The parties and individuals in the PA who called themselves the defenders of democracy are silent about these developments. In fact some of them are busy consulting books on constitutional law, in order to find out loopholes so that they can postpone the elections. These people are only carrying out instructions from their masters who have assigned them a contract. The contract is nothing but the devolution of power to the eastern and northern provinces. As long as the government is working towards that end they and their masters are prepared to turn a blind eye to the so-called undemocratic behaviour of the government.
This brings us to the phenomenon or the process known as democracy. The Marxists have criticised democracy from a class point of view. According to them it is the democracy of the capitalists and not of the people. The peoples democracy can exist only in the so-called workers states. But as there are no workers states, this ideal democracy can be found, if at all, only in the so-called revolutionary parties. Unfortunately more revolutionary the party becomes, the ideal democracy becomes more and more confined to the politbureau and the general secretary of the party.
Democratic form of government is based on two fundamental assumptions. It is assumed implicitly that all people are interested in politics and that they understand politics so that they can make certain judgements. This is in contrary to the previous systems found in Europe where politics was the birth right of certain families only.
It is true that people who are interested in politics can be born into any family. However it does not imply that all people born in this world are interested in politics. Neither do all of them understand politics. This has nothing to do with their intelligence. It is due to the fact that people have different interests and different talents. Not all people are poets or philosophers, but there are some who are interested in poetry and /or philosophy. Even among them only a few can be called poets and philosophers.
However unlike poetry, philosophy, or even physics for that matter, politics is very close to our lives in the sense that political decisions more than others affect our lives directly. Not that the other fields are not important for us. In the near future there will be quantum computers based on the principle of superposition according to which an electron, for example, can exist in two states of spin simultaneously. This may be very remote from the day to day experience of most of the people, but it will affect their lives in various ways. However people are not going to ask for a vote to decide whether the principle of superposition is true or not and whether the wave function collapses according to the idealist many world interpretation, the Copenhagen interpretation or the so-called realist interpretation. But in politics people are called upon to decide whether to join the European common market or not even if they do not understand the economic implications. In Sri Lanka, not many years ago, we were asked to decide if we were in favour of postponing parliamentary elections and the majority voted in favour of depriving themselves their franchise!
In the society only a few people are interested in politics in general. A tiny minority of these people become politicians. However we have been trained to think that this minority represent the rest, though the vast majority have no interest in politics in general. Only on very rare occasions they become interested in politics and on such occasions we may say that the politicians represent the people. On the other occasions the politicians represent an imaginary interest of the people. This imaginary interest is represented as a "real" interest, but in essence the politicians represent only their self-interest. Their self interest is projected onto the people whom they are supposed to represent.
With democracy, more people got themselves involved in politics. In order to justify this broadening in the field of politics the myth was created that all people are interested in politics and that all of them have a right to take part in politics and political decision making. However at the same time it was pointed out that not all people can take part in politics for practical reasons and the people have to be represented by a few. These few people, and those around them, turned out to be those who are interested in politics!
These people are in general very articulate and they compete among themselves, to win over the rest of the people, meaning to deceive them. In countries like Sri Lanka very often people are deceived with promises that cannot be fulfilled, especially with respect to job opportunities and cost of living. Sometimes even promises connected with the so-called democratic process itself are given. The very same politicians who pledged to abolish the executive presidency can promise the innocent people who do not think deep, a presidential election. After all those people are supposed to be interested in politics, understand what is going on and take decisions based on their understanding.