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Hail independent institutions


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Independent institutions that protect the rights of the people are the hallmark of democracy. It is heartening to know that Sri Lanka still has institutions that the people can depend on to protect democracy and uphold the Constitution. 

For over two weeks Sri Lankans have watched with dismay at the chaos wrought by unbridled executive power. First the appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, the proroguing of Parliament and the subsequent dissolution of Parliament sent shockwaves through the law abiding public of Sri Lanka. The unconcern with which the Constitution was treated and the sovereignty of the people ignored was a frightening development that did not augur well for the future of one of the world’s oldest democracies. 

The decision to go before the Supreme Court was welcomed by moderate Sri Lankans. But given how judicial independence has been undermined in the past as well as the carefully poised balance of power between the three different branches of Government, there was also concern over the outcome. The pro-democracy minded masses can hope again because it is clear that Sri Lanka still has a Supreme Court that respects the sovereignty of the people.  

The changes over the past three years, though far from perfect, and falling well below the expectations of the people, nonetheless seem to have had positive impacts on at least some of the more crucial institutions that are integral to Sri Lanka’s democracy. Much like a rising tide lifts all boats, Sri Lanka appears to have, almost without realising it, drifted forward from crippling institutional apathy. 

This is of course in the context of the dark days when a Constitution was amended to serve the interests of a sitting Executive President and the Chief Justice was impeached without due process. Even with the distance of time it is hard to shake off the darkness that engulfed the country then. Fears of authoritarianism creeping back even after moderates and minorities banded together to beat it back in 2015 were growing. Even in the last two weeks hope was kept alive by a courageous Speaker and pro-democracy advocates who refused to back down. 

Whatever the battle ahead, it is imperative that the discourse on restoring democracy to Sri Lanka and strengthening democracy goes beyond just the United National Party (UNP). While the UNP has been part of the changes that took place since 2015, they have also been responsible for the disillusion and disappointment people feel regarding their representatives. This was clearly shown at the Local Government elections and the effort to build a platform for the preservation and promotion of democracy around institutions rather than on a political party or politicians. 

This reliance on institutions is an important change in the Sri Lankan mindset. For at least the last decade, if not longer, Sri Lanka has been unsuccessfully depending on politicians to protect their rights and uphold the law, with disappointing results. Continuing to strengthen the judiciary is essential to the preservation and growth of Sri Lanka’s democracy and it is time this became a goal for the democracy-loving public as well. 


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