Elections have been held from time to time, not only to select the team that should govern the country but also to give them the right to plunder public property as well – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
This is not an issue which has received adequate attention. Yet, I am of the view that one era of the history of Sri Lanka which commenced since independence in 1948 has come to an end in 2020. It simply means that the State and its associated socio-political system that was bequeathed to us by the British when Sri Lanka was granted independence, by ending the long period of colonial rule, has completely collapsed and ceased to exist.
Although there may have been shortcomings in the system that we inherited from the British, it can be considered as a very modern and better system based on liberal ideology than the feudal system that we had previously, before the advent of the British.
India, in contrast to Sri Lanka, reformed the system that it inherited from the British in order to comply with the needs of the newly-gained independence and did it in a manner that would further strengthen and enhance the democratic nature of the mechanism.
It was only after 24 years since independence that Sri Lanka ventured upon reforming the system of governance it inherited from the British. Unlike India the reforms were not carried out the way they would have strengthened the democratic foundations of the system, but rather debilitated and weakened it. The damage that can be caused to an edifice constructed by liberal architects is immense when it is modified and repaired by a group of architects consisting of Marxists, adherents of Anagarika Dharmapala and several others without any vision at all.
In fact, we did not possess an adequate democratic vision or discipline required to pursue an effective system of self-governance by the time the country gained independence. India possessed a far-reaching vision and discipline for that. The freedom struggle of India served as a source of education, a university capable of producing mature leaders that India needed. On the contrary, the freedom that we gained was not an outcome of an independent struggle, but a thing received as a gift. Consequently we did not have the opportunity to produce mature leaders.
The Supreme Court
India had built its State and socio-political system in such a manner that the onus of defending the entire system of governance and the Constitution on which it is based would rest with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of India too has fulfilled that responsibility to the letter. It has maintained a strict policy that would not allow the Indian politicians to meddle with the Constitution indiscreetly and distort the political system for their narrow political gains.
The Soulbury Constitution had vested the Judiciary with the responsibility of defending the system of governance and the Constitution of the country. But the conceptual knowledge of indigenous judicial officers who remained in the service following the withdrawal of Europeans and burghers from the judicial service lacked the required standard. So much so, the Supreme Court allowed Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake in 1948 and Prime Minister Bandaranaike in 1956 to violate the Constitution. Again in 1972, the judicial review, the process under which Executive or Legislative actions are subject to review by the Judiciary was withdrawn. In 1978 the judicial review was confined to a very narrow framework.
The role played by ruling parties which controlled State power from time to time in distorting the State and its socio-political system is immense. In this backdrop, what the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has done was to adopt a policy of supporting such distortions rather than following a strict policy to prevent them.
Race, caste and religion
The divisions based on ethnicity, caste and religion and developing them into large-scale and protracted violent conflicts can be seen as the biggest factor that has contributed to the breakdown of the State and its socio-political system.
All political parties in the country can be said to have contributed in exacerbating this crisis in one way or another. Most of the things in the country have happened in such a manner that would promote mutual hatred, anger and disbelief among different communities and ethnic groups.
The loss of life caused by violent conflicts is immense. The death toll is more than 100,000. The number that survived but sustained injuries and was subjected to torture could be as high as half a million. The volume of cruelty unleashed on the society during the times of violence by the rebels and the security forces that suppressed them was enormous. While a large number of people had died physically, those who managed to survive were rendered spiritually dead.
These conflicts led to debilitating the country’s economic strength to the maximum. The damage to the economy and property caused by uprisings and the protracted civil war was enormous. In addition, the occasional riots that occurred from time to time caused extensive damage to the economy and property which greatly reduced the country’s economic growth. Thus the damage to the economy caused by post-independence conflicts could be as large as three hundred to four hundred billion dollars.
The plunder of public property by ruling parties since 1978 which has become a regular feature of State rule can be considered as another important factor contributing to the degeneration and collapse of the State and its socio-political system.
The president acted as the custodian of public property following the establishment of the presidential system of governance. The president possesses the power to sell, lease or transfer the public property. There were no strict provisions laid down for ensuring constant monitoring on how this power is exercised and preventing misuse of same. Under the circumstances, almost all the presidents who came to power after 1978 have opted to accumulate ill-gotten wealth from public property using the presidential immunity and in addition allowed their cronies also to accrue wealth from public property in improper ways.
Looting of wealth
In addition, the presidents, in order to please their MPs, gave them the right to transact business with the government violating the law and the accepted democratic norms and traditions. This practice has caused a huge and constant loss to the government.
This shady system, which continued uninterrupted since 1978, plunged the State and the entire system of government institutions into a state of rampant corruption. In order to give this corrupt practice a reasonable look the number that benefited from it had to be increased from time to time, which eventually made it an unbearable burden of cost to the country.
This corrupt practice constituted a predatory system pursued with the knowledge and implicit concurrence of all political parties represented in Parliament. It was a system that benefited all of them in various ways.
In the final analysis, it implies that the elections have been held from time to time, not only to select the team that should govern the country but also to give them the right to plunder public property as well. This corrupt and predatory system has led to weakening the means of State revenue to a maximum, disrupting the country’s economic performance, plunging the level of foreign debt to the maximum and pushing the country to the brink of total bankruptcy.
Loss of sense of reasoning
The continuing catastrophic events in the country have exacerbated the miserable plight of the society and become an important factor in weakening the sense of reasoning of the people. The policy that confined the people to one language also can be said to have contributed to weakening the sense of reasoning which has again been accelerated by the system of education based on rote learning and memorisation and the least importance placed on mathematics in the curriculum. The fact that Sri Lanka has become a stupid nation having lost a great deal of its reasoning ability has also contributed to intensify the decline of the State and the socio-political system associated with it.
The idiotic character overwhelming society has had its impact on heads of State as well as bureaucrats. All of them had lost the ability to look forward to the future sharply, except for sheer greed for making wealth. By the end of the internal civil war in 2009, the Sri Lankan State and its socio-political system were in a state of extreme degeneration.
The country was in a position where structural reforms remained an indispensable condition for reconstruction of the State and its socio-political system for better forward march. But the Rajapaksa regime did not have the foresight to understand this reality. As a result, the crisis became worse than it was when Prabhakaran was alive. As a result of this situation the Rajapaksa regime too collapsed.
What may happen?
What the Yahapalana regime that came to power as a result of this process did was to do a false operation on the patient rather than performing a genuine surgery. The result of it was devastating. The subsequent victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa can be described as a logical consequence of the opportunism of the Yahapalana regime.
Gotabaya came to power not with a proper understanding of the crisis the country was facing and equipped with an appropriate package of reforms to resolve it, but with the conviction that all issues could be resolved by creating an atmosphere of dictatorship. So much so, if there was at least a small space to overcome the crisis facing the country, even that space would be lost, marking the end of the era. This means that the survival of the State and its socio-political system that Sri Lanka has maintained so far since independence will come to an end.
In view of the above, the future of Sri Lanka is bleak and chaotic. The country will necessarily be plunged into a state of extreme misery. It may even end up in bankruptcy and total anarchy. The people will have to pay a heavy price for the mistakes they have made. The very existence of old political leaders and their political parties will completely collapse and both will become objects of mockery and ridicule in the eyes of the public. The system that prevailed in the old era is not one that was created by the public while it is the people who will have to create the system that will function in the ensuing new era.