Defining moment of democracy
The ongoing Eastern Provincial Council election
campaign could very well be one of the most crucial such
exercises in this country in recent times. In fact, it could be
construed as constituting a defining moment in local democratic
practice. This is mainly on account of the fact that the
campaign helps focus on issues which have a close and central
bearing on what democracy should mean to those who are claiming
to practise it in this country.
Yesterday, the country was given an insight into some of the
sensitive issues which are playing out in the Eastern political
arena by Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. He
said, among other things, that the UPFA is committed to an
issue-based or policy-focused political campaign in the East.
This is in contrast to some of those political forces in the
East which are apparently exploiting ethnic and religious
differences for the purpose of capturing votes. It goes without
saying that the parasitic and opportunistic use of ethnic and
other sensitive issues could only lead to inter-group
animosities and, consequently, an aggravation of divisions
within the Lankan polity.
Although somewhat late in the day, one could be glad that the
Lankan polity is coming to grips with these very vital issues
which have a decisive bearing on the functioning of local
democracy. Today, the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is
comparatively forthright in its opposition to communalism and
religious bigotry, but this was not always the case.
From the time of independence, to a greater or lesser degree,
perceived racial animosities were exploited by opportunistic
politicians from all regions of the country, but there was no
open and unambiguous denunciation of racism and religious
extremism from any responsible quarter, except for some of the
Left political parties. They were considered issues which were
'too hot to handle', maybe, and as a result the evils of
communalism and religious bigotry flourished.
Many of those holding high office in this country gave the
impression of ignoring these troubling questions probably out of
an anxiety that they would be falling foul of their support
bases, which they thought were essentially racist and
religiously bigoted, although the opposite is true of very many
But it was not clearly perceived in the social mainstream
that communalism and religious fanaticism, for instance, damaged
the democratic ethos of this country incalculably. Democracy and
secularism are considered inseparable because one cannot have
democratic governance along with racism and other socially
harmful and disintegrative tendencies.
This is because in a truly democratic dispensation, citizens
are considered equal in every conceivable respect. If the local
polity is frank about its lapses, it would admit that it did not
probe to the extent desirable, over the decades, the total
meaning of democracy and what it implies for the larger society.
It is doing so now, and it is better late than never, as the
In a political culture which is truly democratic, the dignity
of every citizen, irrespective of man-made differences, will be
recognized and upheld and the systems would be in place to
further these noble aims. As we have time and again said, evils
such as racism should be completely outlawed in this country and
it is gratifying to note that a provincial poll is bringing
these issues to the fore. Democracy, in its true essence, is
equality and to the extent to which the Eastern poll highlights
this, to that extent could we say that the election is a
defining moment of democracy.
It could not be emphasized enough that a government stands or
falls by the extent to which it brings into being and practices
policies that further the national good. Ethnicity and other
such anomalies are shunned in such dispensations because these
predilections stand opposed to the general good. The Eastern
poll could prove exemplary by shunning the cancer of communalism
and other such distortions of the mind that keep people divided.