The Sunday Leader

Whither Sri Lankan Democracy?

The excitement caused last week by the resignation of UNP parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera was disproportionate to the political significance given to it by newspaper headlines.

Jayasekera, barely 10 years in politics, had not demonstrated his political prowess as yet although some media persons have attributed a promising organisational ability. He had been a co-ordinating secretary to his former university law professor G. L. Peiris in 2001 when Peiris was a minister in Chandrika Kumaratunga’s cabinet.

He then went over to the UNP when his guru pole vaulted. Jayasekera won the Katugampola seat on the UNP ticket in 2004 and remained in the party while his guru re-jumped to the SLFP under the Rajapaksa leadership. Jayasekera locked horns with the UNP leadership under Ranil Wickremesinghe and joined the dissident faction of Sajith Premadasa but failed in their attempts over the years to oust Wickremesinghe.
He attacked with extreme severity the leadership of Wickremesinghe and gained much popularity with UNP’s opponents but also attacked the Rajapaksa leadership with equal vehemence though he embraced them last Tuesday.  Some of his criticisms of the Rajapaksa regime given on the front page of a daily last week would have dented his credibility.

Some of the quotations were: ‘I urge the people of this country to get on to the streets to speak against this unethical and horrible act the government has done’ (Feb 13, 2012). ‘The disciplinary inquiry should be held against the Rajapaksa regime and not me’ (Aug 29, 2012). ‘This country is at a critical juncture. For the first time due to the continuous hoodwinking of the government, we as a proud nation have been made to take instructions from world powers’ (March 25, 2012).

The fact that Jayasekera had attacked Wickremesinghe with equal or even greater vehemence will not exculpate him because he is now with the Rajapaksas on the assurance that he will be made the Chief Minister of the North Western Province, once the UPFA wins the NWPC election. His reasons for crossing over are extremely flimsy.

The issue should not be gauged on Jayasekera switching sides but in the context of the overall state of national politics.

Today, it is apparent that for the functioning of a democracy in Sri Lanka, a strong opposition is a sine qua non. The ruling party has been winning provincial, general and presidential elections with monotony so much so that some members of the ruling party are assuming absolute power and violating the basic principles of the rule of law. President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot be blamed for winning elections and the failure of the opposition to overcome their squabbles and unite. But it is also a fact that Rajapaksa has been splintering the opposition with the deployment of his unlimited executive presidential powers. He does not gain much with Jayasekera walking over to his side but a weakened opposition is further weakened.

Absolute power brings in its wake grave problems to those exercising them. Not only does it lead to absolute corruption as Lord Acton’s dictum has it, but it leads to charges of dictatorship with violations of basic laws with impunity. Justified or not, the Rajapaksa regime is being charged with such violations by international bodies of repute.

Live and let live should be the motto of a democratic government however powerful it may be.
The Opposition leadership is struck with the policy of intolerance. Power is slipping from the hands of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe because of his inability to stomach any form of criticism which is indeed ironic for any leader professing to be fighting for democratic rights. The younger members of the UNP are equally to blame for their indecent hurry to get to the top. Inheritance of power and wealth (from undisclosed or ill-gotten sources) do not qualify them for an automatic ride to the top. Party discipline and respect for senior leaders are essential requirements.

Perhaps these leaders should take Rukman Senanayake as an example. For no given reason he was removed from the Post of Chairman of the UNP. Rukman, a grandson of the founder of the UNP, D. S.Senanayake, has taken it all silently and appears to be out of politics. The country needs such people back in the mainstream of politics if democracy is to survive.

It is undeniable that Sri Lankan democracy is stumbling because of the desire to hold on to or grab power at whatever cost. Win elections at whatever cost is the slogan. This kind of fascism leads to the end of democracy and the takeover of power by thugs with sarongs tucked up or thugs in khaki. That has been the experience in many developing nations.

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