SRI LANKA: Democratic activists from Cambodia and Pakistan write to the leader of the JHU on the issue of dictatorship

Both of us who are the authors of this letter are from Cambodia and Pakistan, two countries that have witnessed the bitterest lessons of dictatorship.

We were shocked and saddened to see a statement in the Sri Lankan media (The Morning Leader, May 30, 2007) attributing a comment to you in which you said that the country (Sri Lanka) should “cast aside the fool’s democracy and look for a dictator who could restore democracy at least during his rule of five years.”

We are sharing our thoughts with you in the spirit of loving kindness and compassion as we are very concerned that the people of your precious country should not suffer the same fate that has befallen the people of our countries.

Cambodia lost one seventh of its population and all the basic institutions that sustains stability within a society. Under several military dictatorships, Pakistan also suffered enormous displacement of people and also all the basic institutional framework of the country. For the peoples of both of our countries, life is now a nightmare and we grope in the dark, wondering how to emerge from this terrible situation.

It is not that we do not appreciate what you speak of as a “fool’s democracy.” It is an absolute truth that in many parts of Asia we have failed to grasp what democracy is and that the strength of democracy lies in the establishment of viable institutions within which people can act intelligently to resolve their own problems. It was an unfortunate fact of history that in the post colonial period, in many Asian countries democracy was conceived only as the holding of parliamentary elections. However, the concern to build viable parliaments where all pressing problems of the people are debated and where budgetary allocations are made for the purpose of sustaining the institutional framework of the country was sadly absent. Democracy has its meaning only to the extent that there is a meaningful separation of powers and when all the three branches of government, the executive, legislature and the judiciary, can serve the people with independence and vigour. Bureaucracy in the country must be able to work within the framework of the law in order to serve the interests of the people efficiently. Unfortunately it is in these areas that we failed in our respective countries.

A “fool’s democracy” often resulted in political leaders elected by ballot becoming dictators. By the displacement of basic constitutional provisions for the separation of powers, for the independence of the judiciary for checks and balances and for the strict adherence to constitutionalism in all aspects of life dictators took all power into their own hands. The results are decades of the weakening of all the basic institutions that are needed to run a country for the benefit of its people. Gradually elected dictators have become a power unto themselves, and run their countries for their own personal gain. The logic of corruption has displaced the rule of law. We are all victims of schemes of corruption and that is what is at the heart of a “fool’s democracy”.

Military leaders and political ideologues have made use of the failures of democracy as the best argument to come to power and to establish power for themselves. In doing so they have often promised that they will restore democracy and their military takeovers are just a means of restoring this. However, behind such deceptive propaganda are schemes of dictators who want to place military control over society doing away with every form of institutional life that has been established, either through attempts to develop democracy or on the basis of some ancient traditions of community cooperation among the people. Dictators cannot avoid being repressive and it is in that process of repression that Cambodia lost over one seventh of its population and all its institutions.

Also the tragedy of Pakistan was accompanied by the deceptive language of the necessity of dictatorship to reconstruct society.

We are very moved by your reference to the tragic circumstances faced by your country. However, it is these circumstances that unscrupulous social forces use to make things even worse. The past history is full of such examples and we all know how the tragic circumstances of the period preceding the first world war in Germany was used by Adolf Hitler to come to power and play havoc on his nation as well as others. It is this same thing that we have experienced in our two countries in different ways. Our fervent hope is that your country will still be able to avoid that ruinous course.

In our countries we are struggling hard to establish a solid framework of institutional protection for our nations. We believe that the law can only be the basis of a stable society. And the law must be upheld by a competent judiciary with absolute integrity and in no way bow down to the executive.

A very essential component of a stable society in modern times is a credible and strong policing system respected by the people. If the policing system is lost everything is lost. This is what has happened in many of our countries now. We cannot call our policing system a rational system anymore. Internal command responsibility is lost, competence is lost, investigative capacity is lost. Instead of the enforcement of law, the police rely on muscle and gun power. The policemen who kill alleged criminals are even considered heroes today. What kind of rationality can prevail under such circumstances? If policing turns into a noon day madness in what institution can the people trust to safeguard democracy? To those of us who are concerned with the reconstruction of our societies dealing with the issue of our policing systems and finding ways to build rational systems of policing has become an imperative. This is no small matter. Perhaps the heart of the problem of a fool’s democracy is fool’s policing. To solve one we need to address the other.

Another very responsible institution is the prosecutor’s office which in some countries is the Attorney General’s Department. We witness today that part of a fool’s democracy is the foolishness of such an important office as this. If such an office succumbs to political pressure or other forms of non professional practices who is going to be the guardian of the law? Today we have to ask such questions and find solutions to them.

Venerable Sir, we are not writing from a position of superiority but rather as sharers of a common tragedy. We should not allow ourselves to be demoralized and to loose our sanity because of the overwhelming nature of our tragedies. It is in these times that we should do our utmost to rise above all prejudices to use our reason and to look for the ways in which other people have dealt with the tragic situations of their societies and have overcome them. That task is inseparable from a strong fight for the will of law to be reestablished.

We are in solidarity with you. We are committed to the fight for democracy as a way of governance for our countries and human rights as the way to defend the dignity of our people. We wish the same for the people of Sri Lanka. You will see these days the suspended Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftehkar Chauhdry, taking to the streets of Pakistan with lawyers associations and people with strong convictions to fight for the democracy that has been lost. It is this kind of struggle we need in our countries. We hope that as a religious leader in your country you will exert similar pressures to establish an institutional framework for your country on which people can rely.

Thank you.

With sincere wishes,


Dr. Lao Mong Hay Baseer Naweed
A Political Scientist and Broadcaster and
Social Activist (Cambodia) Human Rights Activist
Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-018-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,