SRI LANKA: Today is the international day of democracy

Today (15th September) is the international day of democracy although in Sri Lanka we are going through very painful times. When democracy is very serious with challenge, it is very essential for us to recall the basic principles of democracy so that we could reaffirm our commitment to these principles. These principles are citizen participation, equality, accountability, transparency, regular free and fair elections, economic freedom, control of the abuse of power, the rule of rights, accepting the results of an election, human rights, multi-party system and the rule of law.

Judged from all these principles, we are today in serious crisis. Citizens participations have been very seriously challenged by way of mass arrest of people who protest on very legitimate grounds such as the increase of prices of food, the lack of freedom of speech, employment problems and above all, the issue of malnutrition and scarcity of food in the country. At such times, enormous tolerance must be shown to people who have been dragged down to this enormous hardships. Abuse together with this is the principles of equality. Everywhere the complaint is that those who are corrupt have their way, they are unequal in everything. They could escape from prison even though they have committed extremely serious crimes. They could escape from criminal activities without being brought to examination, inquiry or prosecuted in courts.

This principle of equality applies naturally for minorities in particular but in Sri Lanka it is not only the minorities that have been suffering from this problem. All citizens are graded into two categories: those who have a favored status politically and those who don’t. This is an extremely serious problem. Behind all this is a problem of encouraged corruption. The result is that if it is not possible to have transparency, it is not possible to have freedom of expression because all these things will bring out the dirt which is being kept hidden. Unfortunately, although we still have independent judicial system, system has been paralyzed by the restrictions placed on it by the executive and particularly by the constitution. The most sad part of Sri Lankan history of democracy is that the construction of Sri Lanka fundamentally undermined democracy. It undermines the rule of law because in the constitution itself it is guaranteed that not everybody is equal before law. Executive is above the law and as a result, everybody who works for the executive and those who work for powerful political people have unequal, favorable treatment. This is what leads to unprecedented and unimaginable forms of corruption.

In everything, officers state that they have orders from above. Orders from above means above the law and they claim they are obliged to obey. Therefore, any legal act can be tolerated because there is nothing you can do against those who are above the law. So the question of human rights becomes extremely problematic because you can have rights on people but if you participate in a demonstration, you are arrested and you are also subjected to prevention of terrorism act although there is no state of terrorism declared in the country. There is arbitrariness prevailing over everything. What is sacred about democracy is that it is not something you just do for exhibition and in reality it is all cynical laughter against all principles. So therefore we should celebrate this day with soberness, with great reflections of trying to understand what went wrong to the democracy of Sri Lanka. People need democracy and that’s the only way they could safeguard their dignity, a decent way of life and also participate in the affairs of the country as equal citizens. On this day of great importance internationally we wish the Sri Lankan people one more year of deep reflection and deep involvement in order to see that changes will come about which will be for the benefit of everyone.