HYPOCRISY OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY
(1999 February 17)
The Vayamba provincial council elections continue to attract the attention of the politicians as well as the general public. The UNP is trying to capitalise on the issue and already has urged the authorities to declare the elections to the Vayamba provincial council null and void. Various "civil society", media and human rights people have also made a similar request. These people have fallen out with the government and are seen to be gravitating towards the UNP.
Several ministers of the government have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the Vayamba elections. Mr. Ashraff, for example, has discovered that the elections were crowded with violence and corruption. It is unfortunate that he has opened his eyes only after the candidates of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress who contested under the PA were defeated at the Vayamba elections mainly by the PA itself. During the election campaign he did not complain of any violence or corruption, even though the opposition parties and the government party were accusing each other of foul acts. There were so many allegations against the PA by the opposition and it would not have been possible for Mr. Ashraff to be unaware of them.
The main problem in the country is not violence at elections but that of Tamil racism in general and LTTE terrorism in particular. The politics of the country is determined by the Tamil racist problem. However it was never an issue at the Vayamba elections except perhaps for the cry to defeat Sinhala Chauvinism by the speakers of the new left front who base their politics on invalid Marxist principles. Anyhow they are only a marginal group that provides entertainment to the people during elections and people have completely ignored them.
This is an interesting phenomenon that has to be taken into consideration very seriously. The parliament, the provincial councils and the pradeshiya sabhas and the other local government bodies have increasingly become theatres where the politicians perform and "entertain" people. At the elections to these bodies the "real" problems are not discussed. Instead what is being discussed or rather talked about is the prevalence of violence and corruption. "Dooshanaya" and "Bheeshanaya" have become the main issues and every body the politicians, the media and human rights people, the clergy, the NGOs, the foreign diplomats all seem to be interested in eradicating violence and corruption. At least that is the picture painted by these people and the public is expected to believe them.
The American and the British envoys have not only expressed their concern over the way the elections were conducted but have also warned the government that they will have to withdraw the aid given to the country unless the economic and the political programme is not implemented. The cat has jumped out of the bag. Now what is this economic and political programme that they are talking about? Is it something that the envoys have presented to the government? Are the people who are supposed to defeat and elect governments aware of these plans?
While the people are discussing the "dooshanaya" and "bheeshanaya" the envoys are talking of political and economic plans. The people can only defeat and elect governments but the governments have to rule according to the whims and fancies of the western envoys. They have expressed their concern over the violence and in general the way the elections were conducted in Vayamba not because they are interested in parliamentary democracy. They want the government to implement their economic and political programme. They have expressed their concern and warned the government simply because the latter has failed to implement the plans that they have dictated. They would have tolerated undemocratic methods provided the government had acted as told by them. We should not forget that some of the worst dictators of modern times in the non-western world have been tolerated and maintained by the western powers.
It is true that this government was elected by the people in 1994. But the PA under Ms. Kumaratunga was not their creation. They only voted for the PA. The PA was promoted by the NGOs, which are financed by the western countries, not simply by "well meaning" public in the west but by western governments and by political parties of the west. They have their own political programmes and the local NGOs only follow their donor NGOs in the west. The so-called civil societies, irrespective of whatever Gramsci and others have theorised about them, are not political or non-political organisations that are not affiliated to political parties. They may not be directly affiliated to any local political party, but indirectly they are affiliated to the political parties of the donor countries. The so-called civil societies like the parliamentary system itself are not indigenous and organically linked with the culture of the country, but have been transplanted on our soil. Only a very small percentage of people take part in these civil society activities but their importance is very much inflated by the media. Very often some of these people publish their own newspapers, again funded by the NGOs, and/or have established "proper" contacts with the rest of the media.
The "civil society" in Sri Lanka is formed around a "sub society" of the society of the NGO activists and is only another instrument used by the non-national forces. If one thinks of the so called civil society in Sri Lanka as an arena free of party politics and looks at them in terms of theories on civil societies formulated in the west one is sadly mistaken. The "civil society" in Sri Lanka today is helping the UNP with or without its participants being aware of it consciously or unconsciously. No wonder that Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe was a speaker at one of the "civil society" meetings held recently.
The main item in Sri Lankan politics today is neither the Vayamba elections nor the forthcoming elections to five other provincial councils. The Tamil racist problem will remain the main problem for some time. The west is unhappy with the government not because of the violence associated with Vayamba elections. As long as a government delivers the goods they will tolerate that particular government whether it is democratic or not. When a government becomes very unpopular and becomes detrimental to the west or when according to the west it does not deliver the goods the west will take steps to ditch that particular government.
In the recent past many examples like Din Diem and Macros can be given to illustrate the point. In the case of the PA government it is not the unpopularity of the government that matters to the west. When compared with the UNP the PA is not that unpopular. The PA has simply failed to solve the so - called ethnic problem the way the west would like it to be solved. The government has not been able to introduce the political package of Drs. G. L. Peiris and Neelan Thiruchelvam. This government was given a contract, which they have not fulfilled and hence they have to go irrespective of "Dooshanaya" and "Bheeshanaya". Does anybody think that Pinochet while he was "delivering the goods" to the west was a democratic "upasaka"?
The civil society, the free media, the human rights people who were with the PA in 1994 are not with them anymore. Under the auspices of their donors they attack the government, helping the UNP consciously or unconsciously. The west having failed with the experiment of getting the package implemented by a SLFP led government has already turned towards their naturally ally, the UNP. The free media people who are not that free have to indirectly support the UNP. They will not do so directly as they do not wish to "tarnish" their image as left of centre "radical enlightened" people. People like Mr. Ashraff will wait for the most opportune time to cross over. They can always say that they are against violence and are leaving the government to safeguard democracy.
However the objective of all these people would not be the protection of democracy. The UNP's record is not better than that of the PA when it comes to democracy and only a political naive would think of protecting democracy with the UNP. Do those who want the Vayamba provincial council dissolved, think that democracy is safe in the hands of a UNP government? While people discuss the non-issue of democracy the diplomats and the others will work out their new strategies of solving the so-called ethnic problem. The west and all those financed by the west will rally round Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe and his asymmetrical devolution of power, which will end up in a confederation of Sri Lanka and Eelam. The people should not be fooled by the "foreign civil society" operating in this country and other such organisations and make sure that Vayamba does not end up in a confederation leading to a separate state.
While Mr. Wickramasingha is going through his proposal for asymmetric devolution the impression is now been given to the people that violence and corruption are due to the present system of preferential vote (manapa) and the electoral scheme based on district as the unit. While agreeing that there are so many deficiencies in the present method one has to realise that violence and corruption are not the direct result of district based constituencies and preferential voting scheme. There had been violence and corruption since 1931 and all that one can say is that they have increased with every election. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh even without a preferential voting scheme there is violence at elections. South Asia has not been able to absorb parliamentary democracy into their cultures.
Parliamentary democracy is not something, which grew organically in South Asia. It has been transplanted in this part of the world but has failed to take roots in our cultures. It is high time that we evolved a scheme that is suitable to us rather than trying to introduce modifications to the present system within the general framework of the British system. It is not a question of throwing the baby with bath water but a matter of throwing the imported basin with the water, while keeping the baby.
As it is under the parliamentary democratic system people's attention is drawn to non-issues and trivial issues at the elections while the real issues are discussed somewhere else. The people are made to believe that the governments function according to their wish when important decisions are made by others. The present Westminster system, not merely the manapas, has to be replaced by a democratic system that is suitable to the country.
As a first step we can abolish the present provincial councils which serve no purpose. They were imposed on us by India through the infamous Indo Lanka agreement signed at the insistence of India. It was said then that the provincial councils would be the ideal solution to the so-called ethnic problem and within weeks there would be peace in the country. However as everybody knows we have still not achieved peace and now the Tamil racists claim that the provincial councils are not enough. They now clamour for the regional councils. This is according to their tactics of little now and more later formulated by Mr. Chelvanayakam.
What is clear is that there is no ethnic problem but only a problem created by Tamil racism. Tamil racists have an objective and they are slowly but steadily (hemin seeruwen) moving towards that. Provincial councils were established as a solution to a non-existing problem and as a first step towards evolving our own institutions let us abolish the provincial councils.