Upholding the Democracy (what is left of it) in Sri Lanka by J M P Indunil Fernando

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The Current Leadership 

The current leadership of Sri Lanka has unfortunately begun to show signs of failure a little too soon. He got elected to power on major promises of a secure country with the strict application of the Rule of Law (One Rule for All) towards a “Saubagyamath Dekma” and a Sustainable Development. Yet, what is being shown to a discerning public are the exact opposites.  Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development paradigms have been trashed. They have failed in providing security for food, health, fertilizers and stable prices for consumer goods, mainly due to bad timing in decision making. There is an apparent lack in equity in justice for all. All of these affect the day to day lives of the people. And failure to comply with 27 international covenants related to human rights, labor rights, environmental protection standards, good governance and sustainable development will not only cost GSP+, but also, affect trade with some regions.

At the very beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020, HE The President delayed by nearly three weeks before locking down the country, to permit the nominations for parliamentary elections. He said that the country was not locked down when a few thousands died during war times. Soon thereafter, the fast increasing infections made him to lockdown the country from March through June 2020. Delays were encountered in ordering the vaccines whilst mostly waiting for donations of vaccines. As per evidence, countries that have best managed the pandemic are those which have imposed lockdowns in a timely manner, as per well maintained and managed data, whenever there have been spikes in infections. Vaccinations alone have not proven to be sufficient in the face of new variants. It is a combination of initiatives involving vaccinations, health guidelines, evidence based timely lockdowns and a cooperating public that have enabled successful management of the raging pandemic in some of the better managed countries.

Now we wait helplessly for yet another election to come around so that we can hope for a change.!!  In a land with so many honest, wise, and clever people, how did it get so bad for us. ?? Will another leader do better for us ??  Where do we go wrong??

Sri Lanka needs a visionary leader who is strong, wise, compassionate, someone with a genuine public interest in the mind to unite the country. A leader who who could make bold and timely decisions in the best interests of the country, without giving priority to purely remaining in power and allowing unbridled corruption, which have led to the grave peril the country is faced with today. While this is true for any country, considering the fragile condition our small island nation is in, this is more important now than ever.  


Systems of Elections and Governance 

Democracy is a system of governance of the people, by the people and for the people through their elected representatives. The people elect the preferred candidates as their representatives, hoping they will do right in serving the country and its people. Sadly, we currently have a twisted democracy operating in Sri Lanka which has made it a playground for thieves and thugs to do as they wish. The 20th amendment was the final blow to the already beaten up Sri Lankan democracy, which removed the little transparency and accountability gained by a 19th Amendment passed in 2015, but, thanks to a near 2/3 majority voted for by the people in 2019 and made into an absolute 2/3 ruling mockery by way of buying .over a few elected representatives, which action itself is corrupt to the core, that democracy was thrown into the dustbin.! Therein comes the question of how we could change this. ??

The present system of elections need massive amounts of funds and media backing to get elected. The major parties including their corrupt cronies who have ruled the country for years, but yet not delivered, are continuously able to hold sway because of this anomaly. No new untainted parties or new faces are able to compete in this scenario. Therefore, we will need to institute a new system of elections. One way is to bring an enforceable cap on spending for elections and where elections spending shall be financed by the tax payer funds, since they are the electors of their representatives. Secondly is to bring all media under an independent elections commission for elections purposes. Thirdly, it needs to be ensured that the candidates have minimum qualifications and have untainted past records, whilst committing the contesting parties to only nominate those whose records are clean.
In an environment where corruption, stealing, and wrongdoings are considered normal, we wonder if there is any hope left for us and for the generations to come !!. Successive governments have protected and rewarded corrupt dealings and high-ranking thieves. They turn a blind eye to politically motivated violence and also encourages it. Ethics, integrity, and honesty are disregarded, and hate and immorality reign in the parliament. Money talks at elections and votes are bought over by way of handouts.


The Government

There is an apparent lack of coordination between government ministries where many cross cutting issues need to be addressed. Most government departments are overstaffed and lethargic. Successive governments have used the government services to provide jobs for their supporters. This has to stop for the sake of the tax paying public and for the future progress of the country. It is time to digitize governance to enhance transparency, efficiency and accountability.

The government must stop using every incident in the country to their advantage. Unfortunately, this has been the normal practice in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Dividing people by religion, ethnicity and igniting hate between different groups has been the technique used each time during any major election campaign.

Police plaints have to be filed at most times in the language of the country’s majority, even in the areas where other ethnic groups form a majority. The systems currently in place maintains this division of Sri Lankans and encourage this separation in every possible way for the advantage of a few. Hence the reason for the inability to forge a true national identity as Sri Lankans in a united motherland despite 70 or more years of independence.

If we consider all these factors, it becomes evident that unity, national reconciliation and transparency and accountability are the keys to success of any government in power in Sri Lanka.


The Opposition

The opposition parties have to play a vital role in enforcing an ideal democratic system. For this to be efficient, there has to be a strong, united and independent opposition. More importantly, they must have the best interests of the country at heart. The opposition must act as a watchdog of the system. If the government is acting in a detrimental or unwise manner, the opposition’s duty is to question and challenge such actions relentlessly.  This is the ideal scenario for a functioning democracy. Yet, it appears like Sri Lanka’s systems have diverted too far away from this ideal due to steam roller majorities being enjoyed by those in power which makes it difficult to get them on the right path.
It is very unfortunate that for a very long time, weakening the opposition has been one of the dirty ploys of the governing parties.


Absence of the Rule of Law
The existence of Rule of law defines and ensures fairness and equity to all citizens of a country and the absence of this leads powerful people to mend the law with money and power to their own gain and repressing the innocent public. Sri Lanka is in the 99th position out of 126 countries in the civic justice index of the World Justice Report of 2020. This shows how bad the situation is and it is slowly getting worse. This can be mostly attributed to the advent of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that has virtually done away with all independent commissions previously instituted by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and where judicial appointments are now made by the sole authority of the Executive.

It is no secret that the government has overturned court decisions by manipulating the justice system using extreme measures on several occasions. It is apparent that all decisions are made to favor those in power and with connections rather than being based on facts or fairness. The apparent absence of fair play in the Rule of Law has brought much disrepute to the Justice system and to the image of the country at the national and international levels. Convicted criminals get released under Presidential pardons and sometimes even appointed to high offices. This has brought a sense of defeatism into the mind sets of the people and where most youth feel a sense of insecurity with regard to their futures ahead. This situation must be addressed as a matter of priority for the greater common good of the country.


The Media
Most media companies survive and enrich themselves by supporting one politician or a political party. They are ready to publish wrong information, manipulate incidents and follow many other unethical practices to please the politicians they are attached to. Most of the time the public who are unaware of those secret connections, believe the news and stories they fabricate to maneuver our thinking in a certain way. Therefore, the media has a huge responsibility in fashioning the minds of the people in an unbiased manner, if a country is to progress.

All the incidents that took place in the recent past have been reported in a certain manner to divert the attention from the actual incident and the issues to be resolved, by pinning blame on a particular religion or ethnic group. Ethnic groups are being highlighted repeatedly and we end up believing that we have a racism issue in the country and trying to play the majority against the minorities to ensure certain voting patterns.  

Sri Lankans have lived peacefully in a multi-cultural society. People from every religion and ethnicity have contributed immensely to the progress of this nation. We used to embrace the differences in our cultures and enjoyed them as Sri Lankans. But unfortunately, in recent years we are lead to believe, people from every other group are there to destroy us and harm us. This must be dealt with separately and wisely as a matter of priority.



The politicians use the trust that people have placed in their religious leaders to plant ideas in our minds. Some politically minded Buddhist monks who have enriched themselves and gained much popularity among people do more harm to society than the politicians. Their duty is to carry out propaganda campaigns for politicians. The politicians go from temple to temple and from Bo tree to Bo tree and emerge from these sacred precincts talking politics under a full media glare.  As they are not true practitioners of the Buddhist Philosophy, they do not practice Buddhism or teach the true meaning of the Lord Buddha’s preaching which is based on kindness and peace. This goes to show how much religion is being politicized.


The way forward
Some of the ideas here may sound like a distant dream for our still beautiful and once peaceful country which has now being swallowed by dark forces of dirty politics. But we might still be able to save our country if we stand up for what is right and do not give up our peaceful fight against normalized filthy practices in every aspect of government.

Let’s find and support the best leader for the country. We must not lose hope yet. We must create an environment where new, honest, young people can come out and actively engage in a decent political field, based on a just and revamped system of elections and governance, where Sri Lanka might be able to groom and develop new virtuous leaders.

The unity of all Sri Lankans is an important part of this quest. We need to differentiate the good and the bad, not based on religion or ethnicity of the person, but based on their actions and words.

If the leader we trusted to “save” the country failed us from day one, let’s start “saving” our country ourselves, out of compassion for the next generations. Let’s start standing up for our rights and speaking up against corruption and stealing, devoid of political affiliations. Let us each individually be seen as speaking the truth in our communities in order to form the minds towards good governance and leadership. 

We can start where we are, by always doing the right thing, which will lead to a virtuous and dignified society, in which the current corrupt leaders would not survive and where the field will be set for righteous leaders to rise and lead our mother land through transparency and accountability in governance and towards prosperity and sustainable development. Let us give priority to education, peace and unity, health, environment, economy and the society and also prioritize the investments of our limited resources in the shorter term, whilst delaying some of the capital expenditures for the longer term, so that our next generations could be able to proudly say that Mother Lanka is a great place to live in and for the international community to say that Sri Lanka is a good place to visit and to invest in !!

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Disclaimer: Upholding the Democracy (what is left of it) in Sri Lanka by J M P Indunil Fernando - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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