Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Strengthening democracy in Sri Lanka: An open invitation to generate fresh ideas

How can we strengthen democracy in Sri Lanka?

From blue sky thinking to tried and tested ideas at the grassroots that need to scale up or be better recognised and supported, Groundviews invites you to create a unique catalogue of ideas on how post-war Sri Lanka can strengthen democratic governance.

Groundviews, as well as other online fora and media are already tremendously rich in engaging discussions on the trajectories of our post-war democracy. This is an opportunity to flag ideas that moved you to debate or action, or refine those featured elsewhere through your own experience and expertise.

You can easily submit your ideas, including attaching a video uploaded to YouTube. We encourage you to be succinct and go beyond current challenges, yet anchor your suggestions to the realities of our evolving context, cultures, politics and identities.

We strongly encourage those from the grassroots, or work closely with communities at the grassroots to contribute their ideas.

All you need to participate is a Google Account. If you’re on Gmail or using Google Apps, you already have one. Ideas can be submitted under your name, or anonymously.

At the end of six months, depending on quality and number of ideas generated, the top fifty submissions sent in and voted by you will be presented to government and civil society.

A similar exercise, conducted during the last US Presidential Election can be seen here and is a useful guide to help frame your submissions.

Important update

Please send in your ideas to the Google Moderator page set up for the purpose of this exercise. Please do NOT add your ideas as comments, since it defeats the purpose of a single repository that others can vote on and add on to.

If you have any technical difficult adding your idea(s) to Google Moderate, please send it in as a comment below asking us to add it in under whatever name you choose.

  • Lankan Thinker

    This is an excellent idea – I look forward to seeing people engaging with this in a positive and constructive manner. I look forward to doing so myself, but need to give some thought before making a contribution.

    Thank you to Groundviews for creating this opportunity.

  • Sinhala_Voice

    This is what I might call a BLOODY GOOD IDEA.

    Instead of locking down to politicans solutions we should generate fresh ones.

    I have already one in mind and penned down. I just need to sit down and write it.

    all the best

  • First and formost is transperancy, good governace, human rights, lifting of Draconian emergency Law. Once this is not done it is waste of time to go ahead of any intiatives.

  • Sinsin

    Remove state of emergency. Implement 17th amendment.

    Stage 2, repeal PTA and Press Council Acts.

  • ICEMAN

    Waste of time if you ask me…

    Does ideas written in this blog here really influence anyone or anything…think hard…and you will realise it does not. But ofcourse it will give you a temporary buzz!

    At the end of the day, politics governs everything. Whether it is the Sinhalees, Tamils, Indians, Norwegians, the British or the Americans, all these politicians want is to maintain power and get rich while at it. They will use what ever is convenient to help them to fight a case. The above groups all use the racial division to compile their case.

    Politics is a curse, be it the east or the west. Just imagine if we all stayed away from supporting any party what so ever. How powerless the politicians will be.

  • Democracy must go with human rights, legitimate rights, justice and freedom.

    A person who has committed war crimes, often tries to cover up with blatant lies, if he thinks he can get away with it, was clearly evident from the interview held by Sara Sidner with president Rajapakse of Sri Lanka(SL), telecast to the world yesterday, by CNN.

    Without batting his eye lids, running short of words, Rajapakse shamelessly told a few blatant lies, subsequently exposed brilliantly by Sara, with proof of evidence o viewers, later by images.

    Gotabaya Rajapakse said during the last days of the war ” the hospitals are targets for aerial bombings” and bombed ruthlessly; and there is subsatantial evidence in support of it. Yet, president Rajapakse chose to defend with a lie, denying it.

    The war was an independence war for Tamil Eelam(TE), which could have been politically resolved. But that was not done.

    It is evident now that the ethnic racist regime in Colombo thought that they could commit Tamil genocide, eliminate any evidence, tell lies and escape from punishment by denying involvement in the crimes.

    The image of soldiers with rifles behind an unfortunate naked Tamil, handcuffed behind, with the intent to arbitrarily execute him, shows to what barbaric extent crimes were committed.

    If humanity believes in justice and preservation of human kind; Rajapakse, his cabinet, all the soldiers who committed war crimes and accomplices should be speedily brought to the war crimes court in the Hague and punished.

    A lady victim of the war, who lost her limbs and relatives when the soldiers bombed the civilan targets, was asked very kindly by Sara ” what do you think about your future?”. She had no answer except tears rolling down her beautiful face.

    Surely, she knows that her hope and future cannot come from the present genocidal regime or any future regime in Colombo.

    Even the soldiers seen in images “removing” land mines were pretending to do a job. They cannot be interested because it is not their homeland.

    Therefore, the only pragmatic solution left for the International Community, if they still care for the lives and future of the affected people, they must support the legitimate demand for the independence of TE, and allow the Tamils to take care of themselves.

    Obviously, wolves and sheep do not live together.

  • Life cannot conducted in state of fear and control. Democracy is all about human freedom, not one that we create but one we are born with. The purpose of freedom is to allow unhindered approach to taking care of ones needs. Democracy also sets limit to my freedom in the sense that I do not deny my fellow human his rights to living.
    I left Sri Lanka 40 years ago, the country never got any better. Now, being in a fully democratic country I am able to bring out my inherent talents and created a business and thus able not only to fully live my life but I have provided vocation to several people.

    Democracy also removes fear from our minds. Fear is like a steel cage around you and keep you in inertia.

    When will Sri Lanka be free? When we have a real human natured leader emerges like Lee Kwan of Singapore. Mahinda Rajapaksa, he should be hanged for his atrocities. He thinks the whole world is stupid but little he knows that the wheel of justice turns very slowly. There are large number of murders he is responsible for, he knows them , does he know that the world also know about it?
    He will find out soon. One of my life’s goal to put him behind bars and throw the key away. He should know that several people are wokring on it.

    Only way he can survive is to dissolve the parliamentary system and install one party system where is and his family will be in power till he dies of natural causes.

    That is a dream that will never come true. Some times Justice delayed need not necessarily means justice denied. I have 35 or so years to live so he can expect an on going campaign to pur him behind bars.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    Can Groundview give a definition of democracy and invite improvement of that definition? Such an exercise will get more innovative ideas I think.

    • We choose to allow our reader to see and define democracy as they wish.

  • Heshan

    Democracy has to begin with a constitution based on a system of checks-and-balances. Any government is basically divided into branches; if you make one branch too strong, the others cease to carry out their function impartially. In short, you are left with a dictatorship. A good example here is the relationship between the President (Executive) and the Supreme Court (Judicial). If checks-and-balances works, then the Supreme Court can keep the President in check. Recall the petrol price fiasco in SL. Even though the Supreme Court ordered petrol prices to be lowered, the President (Executive side) did not comply. This shows that the Executive side is far too strong in SL. It is necessary to cut down their power. But there is a catch here… the Executive Presidency clause can only be abolished by the President and Parliament.

    In any event, as you can see from the above, democracy is more than an idea. There is a method to it… like any method, you build a foundation and proceed logically from there. The problem in SL is that the foundations are missing altogether or if they exist, have been thoroughly corrupted. This is why we end up with “party politics.” To get anything done, one must have connections to so-and-so Minister, and then so-and-so Minister must give his assent. A solid foundation will eliminate this redundancy… what we need, at the end of the day, is a [b] self-regulating system [/b] that has sufficient built-in mechanisms so that the system can run on its own. IMO, that is the goal of a modern democracy.

  • Groundviews

    @ Sinsin, please contribute ideas to http://www.google.com/moderator/#16/e=4ee5.

  • Groundviews

    @Lankan Thinker and @Sinhala_Voice, please spread the word about this experiment. A measure of its success, the number of ideas generated, depends entirely on how many get to know about it and choose to contribute. Thanks.

  • yapa

    Groundviews;

    I think what Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam has said is more appropriate. “Democracy” is a very vague and ambiguous word that is used very loosely among people all over the world. All over the world there is no consensus about “Democracy” among political theorists or democratic practices in different counties. Though many use this word I don’t think all are using it with a similar meaning. For different people it has different meanings. So, in an endaevour to strengthen democracy, it is a pre-requisite to define what democracy is or at least the form of democracy we expect to strengthen.

    Actually speaking we must know what we are going to do before we start to do it. We must clearly define our objectives.

    Thanks!

  • Groundviews

    @Yapa, why don’t you begin by defining democracy as you see it, or want to establish in Sri Lanka.

  • There is a long-standing misconception in Sri Lanka(SL) that democracy is elections and only elections. The Sinhala politicos started this naked foolishness.

    Democracy starts with a constitution that is true and fair to all its citizens, and honouring in practice, what is in the constitution. It becomes a living document.

    Let us put an acid test to see if the constitution of SL is true and fair. Is SL truly a Sinhala Buddhist country? The answer is “No”. It is a multi ethnic secular country. So in principle the constitution of SL is an untruthful document. Even the former Chief Justice Sarath De Silva seems to realise this only now, sadly, after his retirement !!!

    Adverse majoritarian political decisions have promoted not democracy in SL but Sinhala ego and Sinhala totalitarianism, through majoritarianism. This has culminated in state terror on Tamils and the present brutal war.

    Since 1948, consequent to Sinhala ego, federal governance was denied to the people of North East, their democratic and legitimate right of self governance.

    The onus is therefore with the Sinhalese -not Tamils – to put right the wrong they did with a unilateral constitution declared in 1972.

    So, in real sense, to restore democracy in SL; a) the constitution should be changed completely, b) the right of self governance and self determination of the people of North East should be accepted and c) the Sinhala ego that caused Tamil genocide and Human rights violations should be nullified and absolute equality protection and freedoms of all the citizens should be guaranteed.

  • Observer

    everything is twitterised these days ainit? this is a subject matter that there has been wars fought over. summarising into 200 odd characters is a challenge to say the least.

    “We choose to allow our reader to see and define democracy as they wish.”

    so as they wish maybe a stretch. anyhow let’s see how it goes.

  • Sri Lanka democracy under attack! Here are the gorund realities on undemocratic and bad governance of Sri Lanka.

    Former CJ Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva told on 15th March that arrest and detention of former army commander and defeated presidential candidate General (Retd.) Sarath Fonseka had violated:

    1. the Sri Lankan Constitution,
    2.Code of Criminal Procedure Act,
    3.Army Act,
    4.Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

    See videos:
    1.Legal perspective of Illegal Arrest of General Fonseka, views by Former Chief Justice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpMkTv23bMw
    2.Comments of CJ, JVP, GOSL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXFV7VyEbnY

    The illegal court marshall somehow was held at 9.35am on 16th March for a short while but even the Military Tribunal was full of Nepotism & Corrupted Judges. Case postponed to 6th April. When the Fonseka court marshall proceedings commenced lawyers representing Gen. Fonseka raised a preliminary objection against the judges of the military tribunal. The lawyers pointed out that Maj. Gen. H.L. Weeratunga, the president of the tribunal is the brother-in-law of the present Commander of the Army, Maj. Gen. D.R.B. Jayatilleke is an officer who had been demoted for an offence while Gen. Fonseka was the Army Commander and Maj. Gen. A.L.R. Wijetunga had been found guilty of an illegal tender dealing.

    Sri Lanka is moving a towards a dictatorship. We still respect good things of MR but that doesnt mean we blindly accept wrong doings of MR. Arrest of General Fonseka is a political and personal one. The charges are fabricated and cant be considered as threat to Sri Lanka. By court marshalling General Fonseka, MR expect to play a monopoly in Sri Lankan politics. In that case people can stop undemocratic trend by voting against MR in the coming General election 8th April.

    The choice is up to the people. Should people tolerate undemocratic acts and believe in “obata suba anagathayak”, or say “enough if enough, you did wrong and you get punished, we vote for General Fonseka”?

    NoEalamInSL

  • ordinary lankan

    return to silence
    open your self
    all you see out there
    is lurking here
    be democratic with your
    own ruddy self
    dont try to change
    ha – that aint easy
    just open things up
    and look at what you got
    the lust and hatred
    the kinks and conceit
    deal with all these using non violence
    if you can do this – then get on to your spouse and children
    that’s a lifetime of work my friends
    character is the foundation of sovereignty
    and its made and destroyed in small places
    like your self – your friendships and your home
    get it right there
    forget what’s out there – those are results
    get to the ruddy root causes
    get there soon
    your life is drifting away like smoke

  • Heshan

    @Groundviews:

    Thanks for the offer. I will take you up on it.

  • Heshan

    Yapa is correct that there is no single definition of the word “democracy.” One finds Western democracy, but then there is the East Asian type of democracy, such as we see in Singapore. Both kinds of democracies are capable of producing first-world nations. SL will have to choose which kind to embrace.

  • Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam

    Yapa,
    I agree with your observations on my request for the readers to agree on a definition of democracy. I also understand why, as moderator, Groundviews does not want to give any definition or direction and thus dampen creative thoughts on democracy by the readers.

    The best and simple definition of democracy is attributed to Pericles of Athens by Karl Popper in the first Chapter of his book, “Enemies of the State – Vol I, Plato.” He quotes Pericles’s, “Only a few can create, but everyone can judge it.” (I am not sure of the exact words.) If we in the 21st Century accept what was said by Pericles in about 430 BCE, we need to discus the procedure by which “Everyone” can be given, directly or indirectly, the opportunity to make judgment on all matters created by one or a few that affect “Everyone.”

    John Locke, in his “The Second Treatise on Government.” argued for periodic renewal of Parliament based on the reasoning that the sons should not be burdened with their fathers’ choice. Thomas Jefferson included Locke’s concept of the renewal and many of Locke’s political ideas in the US constitution.

    I think most people will agree with Pericles and Locke the concept of democracy both expressed. The difference of opinions will be as to who the “Everyone” is and on the basis of the election and referenda processes of the “Everyone” for their judgment on critical issues that affect them.

    Should the “Everyone” be defined as ethnic groups, linguistic groups without territorial limitation or ethnic/linguistic groups within defined territories? Should a people large in number in a defined territory or defined ethnic/linguistic group be given the right to override other ethnic/linguistic groups?

  • niranjan

    Groundviews,

    “At the end of six months, depending on quality and number of ideas generated, the top fifty submissions sent in and voted by you will be presented to government and civil society.”

    Yours is an interesting idea.

    However, I like to know how you plan to present your ideas to Government? To whom?
    Secondly it is unlikely that the Governement is looking for ideas from the public/civil society to help improve democratic governance. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the government is not keen on improving democracy in any meaningful way. Destroying what is left of democracy is more like it.

    • We were planning on sending it to the Presidential Secretariat. No guarantee of course they will take it seriously, but the larger point was to create and hopefully, sustain a vibrant debate of ideas using a novel way of presentation and participation. It’s more of an experiment in this regard, and the response to date has been positive.

  • Arrest of General Sarath fonseka: illegal arrest, illegal detention, illegal court marshall, biased judges!!! this is called democracy in Sri Lanka!

    First military court (67th March): Judges not qualified to hear -Lawyers raise preliminary objections http://www.lankaenews.com/English/news.php?id=9256
    Accordingly the General’s lawyers stated , the President of the Court , Major General H L Weeratunge is the brother in law of the Army Commander , his conducting the trial therefore will not be unbiased , and justice will not prevail.

    Second military court (17th March) against General indefinitely put off.
    The military tribunal against Gen. Sarath Fonseka that met today decided to put off the sessions indefinitely. The same Army officers who participated as judges participated as judges today as well. When counsels representing Gen. Fonseka raised objections the judges suddenly decided to put off the hearing stating they would have to consider whether the tribunal could be continued.

    http://www.lankatruth.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4980:second-military-court-against-general-indefinitely-put-off&catid=34:lead-news&Itemid=50

    Sri Lanka democracy under attack!!!!

  • rajivmw

    Democracy is difficult to define, not least because it is an evolving concept.

    Let’s take the US as an example, cetainly the most charismatic of democracies today. But when did it actually become a democracy?

    Some would say 1776, with the declaration of independence, or 1787 when the current constitution was adopted. But slavery existed in a major portion of the country for almost a century thereafter. That would surely not be considered democratic today.

    Then how about 1862, with the emancipation proclamation? But that still left out women, who didn’t have the vote. Would any country be considered a democracy today if it didn’t have universal franchise?

    So then we get to 1920, when women were finally allowed to participate in federal elections. But millions of African-Americans, particularly in the South, remained disenfranchised and languished in apartheid-style conditions due to discriminatory laws.

    Perhaps then the US became a democracy in the 1960s, following the sweeping changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement. But some would stll argue against it.

    The 2000 election caused many Americans themselves to question their country’s democratic credentials – after all, the Supreme Court installed as president the candidate who polled half a million votes LESS than his opponent. Other Americans fret that the extraordinary power of special interest lobbies (religious groups, corporations, labour unions, etc) make a mockery of democracy. Certain Europeans might not consider any country with the death penalty to be truly democratic.

    Today, Westerners (and a great many Easterners) view democracy as a broad amalgam of many things: voting rights, civil liberties, personal freedoms, secular government, rule of law, minority protections, social safety nets, strong civic institutions. As a result, they’d be reluctant to view places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka or even India as democracies, in spite of their regular competitive elections, universal franchise, and parliamentary structures.

    But once upon a time in the West, a nation which essentially allowed only white males to vote was considered a revolutionary experiment in democracy.

  • niranjan

    Groundviews,

    We need to find ways of making the people who inhabit the Presidential Secretariat take this issue seriously after all it is the peoples views on democracy.
    A good debate and exchange of ideas among civil society is simply not enough if the Government is not willing to listen.

  • ordinary lankan

    dear intellectuals and conceptual thinkers

    go beyond your own mind – if lack of discipline is the problem – i have a pretty good idea it is – you are not going to make any headway in those big places like the President’s Office/Parliament/Police HQ/etc etc

    I still see some desperate hope that this will be possible – keep trying – I wish you all good luck

    my suggestion is to get to the places where a new discipline can be fostered – where alternative learning can take place – there are many sites for this – not only religious – but any value based enterprise is your site –

    generate positives – starting from within – and this will grow in time – pretending that we are a democracy (we are a dictatorship) will take us nowhere – lets get out of this land of make believe and grapple with hard facts and with human beings DIRECTLY – without the lenses we borrowed from the west –

    WE HAVE TO BE HONEST – AND START SMALL – WE ARE TOO FAR DOWN TO INDULGE IN THESE FRIVOLOUS CONCEPTUAL DISCUSSIONS THAT HAVE NO MEANING IN THE REAL WORLD

  • This is a great idea, & possibly a very useful project.

    I left an idea entry at the Gmoderator page (it is a challenge to limit the words, however). Here it is if anyone wants to discuss it:

    “1) Maintain & build on the current improved security situation so that groups are not able to start wars, 2) End all extra-judicial killings, abductions, etc., 3) Reject race theory – race is an old, evil & useless idea, 4) End corruption everywhere”

    Of course a lot more ideas can be added – but I think most people already know what’s needed in Sri Lanka – end to poverty & lawlessness/corruption of all kinds. Neither will be achieved very fast w/ out most of the Sri Lankans rejecting race theory – the belief that speaking a certain language or having a certain religion makes you an entirely different kind of a person.

    I definitely see immense/a large number of positive changes happening in Sri Lanka in the near future. The end of the LTTE vs. GOSL war being the first of these new wave of changes.

    Luckily we are talking about a small space & a relatively small number of people (as country & population sizes go), & a vast majority who are (probably, from what I hear) tired of being poor & living w/ instability of many kinds & are thus motivated to work to make things better.

    I think a broader topic – along the same lines – to discuss & act on is how to improve the quality of life in SL even if the government & other institutions are slow to change. Because a well functioning democracy does not always equal good laws, an end to racism, or individuals being able to work/have jobs, build wealth, etc. So, maybe people should think about how the financial situation in Sri Lanka can be improved, regardless of the type of government there & how well it functions.

    I understand that an efficient government without a lot of corruption & one that is not theocratic or is not a dictatorship will go a long way towards getting a country out of poverty. But, things being what they are or what they may be for a while, what can interested people do to alleviate poverty & joblessness (also related stuff such as homelessness & hunger) in SL? This is also important because even if there is a good government & law & order in place, if the country continues to be poor (or if a lot of people in the country continue to be poor) – instability – in the form of attempted armed revolutions, etc. will probably come back.

    – S

  • ordinary lankan

    Has anyone heard the word PRO-ACTIVE? that is what we have to be – so many are in the reactive mode we might as well post a dictionary definition for this –

    perhaps we are too much of a literate and educated country to think straight …

    I am sorry – but good try Groundviews –
    tomorrow is another day
    NEVER GIVE UP

  • Renton de Alwis

    On my Facebook Notes, I posted a poem I wrote on Corruption, for I am of the opnion that accountability is the basis for building a sustainable & developed nation. My friends commented and here is is a comment that was sent by a friend in Hong Kong of Hong Kong has taken on this issue and has been successful.

    “Corruption need not be a fatal cancer. It can be curbed if there is intent to curb it at the highest levels. HK’s ICAC is a good example of what can be done to curb corruption.

    “When ICAC was set up in 1974, very few people in Hong Kong believed that it would be successful. They called that “Mission Impossible”. Within three years, the ICAC smashed all corruption syndicates in the Government and prosecuted 247 government officials, including 143 police officers. In its thirty years of
    history the ICAC has achieved the following success:

    Read the report at http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:DPZGsP6OkvEJ:www.unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/PDF_rms/no69/16_P196-201.pdf+ICAC+hong+kong+corruption&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESizPSWYqyKTTJ_6FETEuOAMrMwwdKEwWpNAuTXQnVcMbjGkXhwWMKF-UCY3XfBO6bjavxouFyD8HPVkQLMn8LjCxzugR9VOiN7GKkshIWxjPk348i8rSTVaB4_eUOII1Rl1PS1B&sig=AHIEtbQlHNgIk4yFPSevKd7wa_3IRXW5hA

    http://www.icac.org.hk/en/home/index.html

    And went on to say ..

    “The networks still exist in HK, but by and large there is a level playing field. If you can do the job, you can get it And there are checks and balances like the Equal Opportunities Commission, a hotline to complain about police etc. HK’s police force was very corrupt pre 1974, but today is probably Asia’s finest.
    Of course, HK is small. There are other examples:

    http://www.icac.org.hk/newsl/issue37eng/frame.htm

    I beleive that what we need is the desire, pure intention, strong state level and civil society leadership and strong sustained action. We also must create our own ways to involve our society in the task where find raising (where needed) is done locally coupled with awareness creation. Why not use forums such as this, SMS, Telethons and all other media on a “Corruption Free Sri Lanka” Campaign.

  • Better late than never.
    Please excuse my very late participation.

    This is indeed the need of the hour!
    Firstly Congratulations!! Groundviews for taking the leadership.
    Today we are faced with need for a formidable grass-roots, Community Advocacy Organisational leadership in Sri Lanka. More correctly there are a handful wellmeaning intiatives but they seem to be in anarchy, unheard, and their presence in the media is simply hidden.

    Community sector organisations should originate from the notion of “active citizens taking collective control of their destinies” and ought to “arise as initiative in the society”. Such organisations act as an interlinking source between the state, business enterprises, and society. Voluntary community sector associations are crucial counterweights to states and corporate power, and an essential pillar in promoting Transparency, Accountability and other aspects of Good governance.

    My proposals

    1. Be politically independent: from political parties, religious/cultural groups and Government.

    2. Adopt a peaceful, non-violent non-hawkish philosophy at all times.

    3.Any funding to come from the same independent donors.

    4. Initiate calls to unite various Third sector organisations towards commonly areed goals to make a the collective voice heard

    3. Campaign to target only 1 issue at a given time. Citizens and the already established organisations can join only for the common campaign and disperse after the campaign.

    4. Use more of environmentaly friendly medium.
    We should take the leadership in sustainable and environmentaly friendly media campaigns. so electronic media such as TV ads, Radio ads, emailcampaigns, websites, social media and Newspaper ads would be ideal.

    5.Use civic education. – Organise community sector seminars and social events. Make such meetings fun get-togethers.Such micro level campaigners would be provided with electronic presentation material such as videos and ppt.

    6. Demonstarte democracy that we seek from the state, within the organisation at all times; Transparency, Accountability and Good governance.

    These are some of the points i could think off the cuff. So please feel free to alter or add in.