Democracy, then and now | Daily News

Democracy, then and now

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera says that the Sri Lankan public should credit this government 100 per cent for creating a mature democracy in this country on par with other advanced democracies in the west such as the USA. Launching the “Sathya” (Truth) campaign and the UNP media unit at Sirikotha on Monday, the minister also said that certain facets of the government has been construed by the public as being due to its weakness but added that on the contrary these aspects stand testimony to the fact that Sri Lanka is a mature democracy. He said despite many persons criticizing the government for being weak, the same traits they identify as weaknesses are the characteristics of a mature democracy.

The minister, of course, was referring to the spate of strikes, protests and agitations and the non-action on the part of the government to suppress these campaigns. He said there is freedom to hold public protests like in any democratic country. He also noted that during the last three and a half years two Cabinet ministers stepped down from their posts and the Prime Minister was summoned to give evidence before a Presidential Commission, while a No Confidence Motion too was brought against the PM, for good measure. “This is what democracy is all about”, the Minister went onto stress.

Minister Samaraweera is right when he said that the public perception of the government was a negative one due to its failure to deploy harsh methods to restore order. In other words, they fault the government for its failure to use a heavy hand in dealing with the various sabotage and disruptive campaigns that affect public life. For instance, government doctors go on strike advocating causes that are far removed from their profession, causing misery and hardship to the public while the government appears helpless. Naturally, public anger wells up and is directed at the government.

But the fact remains that such protests and disruptive action, politically motivated as they are, are being tolerated. In other words Trade Union action and the right to strike are being recognized in the true democratic spirit, by the government. The media too is enjoying untrammeled freedom to a level that may make one wonder if this was a government under siege.

Here too the US parallel drawn by the minister is appropriate, considering the unrelenting attacks news channels such as the CNN carry out targeting US President Donald Trump. Even its worst critic would concede that this government permitted media freedom as no government before this has done. One could say that it has virtually allowed itself to be persecuted by the private media. A far cry from the days when media houses were bombed and journalists murdered or made to disappear.

Of course, Minister Samaraweera's whole intention was to compare the state of play in the present day with that of the Rajapaksa era. One should not lose sight of the fact that the regime change on January 8 was as much to do with anti-democratic acts of the Rajapaksas as with the allegations of mega corruption. The right to criticize is an important facet in a true democracy. So is the right to hold independent views and the right to dissent. The collective public memory cannot be all that short to forget how the Rajapaksas acted in this respect.

The country's first lady Chief Justice was hounded out following a sham trial by a so called Parliament Select Committee for ruling against a move by a powerful Rajapaksa sibling cum minister to use public funds outside the sanction of parliament. On the other hand, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia was forced to step down after a court ruled that he could not hold office due to his dual citizenship. It was also the Supreme Court of Pakistan which ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he was found guilty of corruption. Under the Yahapalanaya Government the judiciary was granted total independence, so much so the Supreme Court even deemed that the President's term will end in 2020 and not one year later, when he (President) sought a ruling in this connection, another facet of a true democracy where the concept of separation of powers was adhered to the letter.

As to the people's rights, protesters demanding clean drinking water were shot at resulting in the death of two innocent by-standers. Not only that, the people's right to free movement was obstructed when large areas of the Colombo Fort area were sealed off, so that the Rajapaksa progeny could indulge in their favourite pastime of car racing. The freedom to engage in political activity was denied when supporters of the UNP were set upon by government sponsored goons, resulting in injuries to many. The Common Candidate was deprived of venues to hold his meetings during the Presidential Election campaigns and in fact one of the stages was set on fire.

In contrast, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe threw open the Galle Face Green for Mahinda Rajapaksa to hold his May Day rally while the recent Local Government Election was one of the freest held in this country, as it should be in a mature democracy. 


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