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Democracy vs. Autocracy


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Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake resigned. There were many arguments and debates over the issue. There were lot of opinions that the present Government failed miserably. They came into power pledging that the persons of the previous regime who were responsible for frauds will be punished but in the run a Senior Minister of the present regime had to sacrifice his portfolio on ethical grounds. The report of the commission on bond scam is yet to be issued.

Sri Lankan society traditionally is with high power distance, which means the way in which power is distributed and the extent to which the less powerful accept that power is distributed unequally. That was one of the underlying reasons why the people accepted the virtual kingship of the previous President. That status was deteriorated over the time due to autocratic governance style and corruption.

The present Government came into power pledging to establish democratic processes and punish for the corruption of the previous Government. There is a marked delay of apprehending those who were responsible for the corrupt practices of the previous regime. Moreover, there are allegations that even the present Government is corrupt. Therefore people are dissatisfied over the record of the Government in this line. 

Democratic processes are being established and people are dissatisfied about the existing brand of democracy. Some of them prefer autocracy against existing brand of democracy. We can approach this issue of democracy with the following example. 

At the presidential commission to investigate the bond scam, Additional Solicitor General Dappula De Livera (DL) alleged that Ravi Karunanayake (RK) was lying under oath.  Relevant questions and answers are given below as reported by the Sunday Times on 6 August:

DL: Do you know that this company GTL negotiated to purchase this agreement?

RK: How do I know, I am not in the company?

DL: Did your wife tell you?

RK: No

DL: Did they tell you? I am asking a simple question.

RK: Subsequently they told me they bought it.

DL: That was after.

RK: There is no necessity to tell me, because they are running the company. Not I.

DL: There is a limit to lying.

RK: I take offence on that, I am on oath, you are not on oath.

This certainly is a characteristic of a matured democracy. Looks like the Government officers said goodbye for good to the regime of kingship. Although there were criticisms of this behaviour of the officer, it is certainly commendable.  The credit should go the present Government unfortunately at its own expense since in the process ethical behaviour of a Senior Minister was questioned. 

There were questions from certain ministers and politicians how these 8,600 pages of data were retrieved from Arjun Aloysius’ mobile phone within two days. Explaining how this happened at the Commission, Additional Solicitor General Yasantha Kodagoda said: “Kodagoda can’t fabricate messages in Aloysius’ phone, and that has to be clarified, because some illiterate people are making false allegations, which only reflects the level of their literacy.” (Daily Mirror 12 August) 

We can compare the behaviour of the Attorney General’s Department under the previous regime with its present behaviour. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe mentioned the following at a recent speech: “Today there are so many investigations where ministers are brought before the Attorney General and questioned. Did this occur before? Those days the Attorney General was any acolyte of the President.” (Daily Mirror 7 August).

Untitled-1The Prime Minister should remember that not only during the previous regime where all the malpractices came to the zenith, even during the UNP regimes the behaviour of some of the officers who held the post of Attorney General were not commendable. However authorities have not given an explanation why the same efficiency cannot be applied in the cases against the members of the previous regime.

Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation was the third of the recent history. First was of Gamani Jayasuriya who resigned protesting against the Indo Lanka Accord in the J.R. Jayewardene regime. Recently Tilak Marapone resigned when there were allegations against him about connections with Avant-Garde. Introduction of this culture, which is a characteristic of matured democracies, to the country is commendable. Therefore the country and the State is coming of age in this line. All of us should keep this up and those officers should be defended.  

The Prime Minister recently at a public speech commenting about the losses of SriLankan Airlines said: “What did Lankadeepa do when these losses happened? What did Daily Mirror do? Daily Mirror newspaper asked me to resign from the party leadership when I revealed losses that occurred during the tenure of the last regime.  The media in Sri Lanka don’t have an ethical right to say that such and such things have happened. Why is that? They all went shopping on their behalf – ‘kade giya’. Lankadeepa, Divaina, Ada, Dinamina, Silumina are all guilty of this offence.” (Daily Mirror 7 August) The owner of Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror is the Prime Minister’s mother’s younger brother and the father of the State Minister of Defence. 

During the previous regime Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, once threatened the female Editor of Daily Mirror over the phone. He also scolded Frederica Jansz, Editor of The Sunday Leader, in raw filth over the phone. Jansz eventually left the country for fear of her life. None of the newspapers dared to criticise him except Ravaya. Therefore the criticism of the Prime Minister is within a democratic frame. 

However people are dissatisfied over the present form of democracy. Democracy was not evolved in our country and it was thrust upon us in 1931. Our collectivist cultural habits do not accord equality to out-group members. What is important is not justice and equality for all. What is important is to safeguard the interests of the in-groups and this does not go in line with the values of a matured democracy. That is why we did not have leaders other than Sinhala Buddhists in this country. We had only one leader outside of the Govigama caste. 

We can compare this situation with India where pluralistic values prevail. Therefore under these circumstances when the Government is trying to be less autocratic the Opposition tries to be more aggressive since priorities of the interests of the Opposition remain within and national interests are secondary. That is why the Parliament could not have a draft constitution which was a prime objective of the Government even with a so-called Unity Government.  So that the people might think that this system does not work and they would prefer autocracy in place of it. 

We have experienced the taste of autocracy bitterly. In this type of culture we would not have benevolent dictators. Therefore all of us will have to safeguard the present form of democracy which is evolving over the time. In this process, the Government will have to govern effectively where necessary, rather than allowing things to slip between the fingers.

 

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