18th Amendment, Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Might is Right in Sri Lanka today

“I define Justice or Right as what is in the interest of the stronger party – the ruling class in any state, but I can see you don’t agree” says Thrasymachus, the sophist to Socrates in Plato’s  – The Republic. The sophists dismissed conventional morality as a sham and substituted self-interest.

In Sri Lanka today might has been proved right in several instances. The forces that Lasantha Wickramatunga continued to criticize in his regular columns were definitely stronger and he was easily eliminated. The fact that he was brutally slaughtered in a high security zone in broad day light shocked only a minority. The majority continued to remain silent. Might was proved right. Not so long ago Eknaligoda was abducted, again for his critical writings and made to disappear. General Sarath Fonseka who saved the country from the terror of the LTTE is today stripped of his rank, denied his pension and incarcerated. Not many people even want to point out the injustice done to these men. Their reasoning seems to be – Lasantha and Eknaligoda should not have criticized powerful politicians. As for General Sarath Fonseka he is being punished for his ambition. He should have quietly retired and not contested the Presidential election. That was his mistake. He could even be executed for treason. There will be death for his ambition but no honour for his valour, being stripped of his rank and medals and subjected to severe humiliation. Majority of Sri Lankans may accept this as just, for it is those with might who do it and might is proved right.

“A land without opposition” is the subject of the editorial in a daily newspaper this week. There is no collective protest from the opposition parties. The leader of the opposition Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe has been named Ranil Rajapakse for the support he lends the powerful Rajapakse regime. In the occasional public statements he makes he may sound critical of these many acts of injustice but all his actions prove that he supports the powerful regime.

Many admire this regime for the power it wields and they want to be a part of it. The SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem seems convinced that Mahinda Rajapakse should remain President for life. We still do not know what ministerial post he has been offered for his timely support. The next to join the merry band of ministers could very well to be Sri Ranga. The opposition has allowed itself to be completely swallowed up by the regime, because it is profitable to be with the strong and mighty ruling clan. It is also the right thing they seem to believe.

“The President can contest for ever once the constitution is amended” is the main headline in a week end newspaper. Already these amendments have been approved by the cabinet. Very soon it could be passed in parliament with 160 members in favour. That is more than two thirds majority. According to these amendments the President can, not only remain in power for life but also wield enormous power without any checks. The more power the President acquires the more attractive he seems to the people, at least to the majority.

The police, the guardians of the law also act in favour of those in power, proving that might is right. Wimal Weerawansa the powerful minister was only exercising his right to protest in front of the UN office. But the Buddhist monks near the Fort railway station protesting against the detention of General Sarath Fonseka were treated as law breakers. The police did not see this as their democratic right to express dissent as in the case of Wimal Weerawansa.

What hope do we have then for a just and stable society in Sri Lanka? Today justice seems to be what is good for the ruling party. And there is no Socrates among us to whom we could appeal: “Prove to us, therefore, not only that justice is superior to injustice, but that, irrespective of whether Gods or men know it or not, one is good and the other evil because of what it inevitably does to its possessor”.

But all is not lost. There are still a few dissenting voices that do not agree with Thrasymachus’s definition of justice. To quote one example – Renaissance man in his Sunday Leader column (July 18/2010) under the heading “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” says. “We have rationalists justifying every step of the Rajapakse clan’s path to total and absolute power, we have erstwhile Troteskyists performing semantic gyrations in an effort to prove that the current regime doesn’t preside over corruption that isn’t without equal even in Sri Lanka. We have Stalinists providing an example of self righteousness— justifying god knows what horror that those of us who once lived in a Sri Lanka of decency and where the Rule of Law prevailed could never have anticipated”.

But then a time may also come when all such dissenting voices will become silent if not silenced.

  • sathyadeva

    Might is right every where, has been that way all along. In the West they have made it an art. You invade a country – iraq – to rob their oil, call it a merciful intervention, kill almost a million, cover it up.
    But the westerners have pefected the art. They do it covertly .
    Our guys do it in the open, They should mature and be real buddhists.
    Most english educated paint this picture that all non whites are barbarians, Whatever Srilankans do is backward.
    If you criticize to correct thta is fine. But this attitude that english are decent , our people are indecent is too shallow.

    The west has interests, they dislike anybody who is not their henchman.
    They respect China ,even North Korea because they have to deal with them.

    Only western value is the almighty Dollar.

  • sathyadeva

    The police in the US charged the journalists with ID cards during the democratic national convention where O’bama was nominated.
    These people an not very exemplary.
    Don’t demonize these guys, criticize bad done , give room for corrective interventions. Don’t be an instrument of the British.
    Who behave and claim that they are born to rule us.
    I detest the English educated elite kissing up o England.

  • Sonal

    I support Mahinda Rakapaksa (like most Sri Lankans), and I find this article laughable because of its doomsday predictions. It is time for the NGO cabal and their hangers-on to find a new tune to sing. It really is getting old listening to the same old whining day in and day out. Most Sri Lankans care for this country and want a stable government so that development can take off. They want a safe environment for their children. If you want a totally liberal democracy after 50+ years of independence then please get your head examined. Look up what was happening in the USA after 50 years of independence. Sri Lanka needs a stable, strong government and that is what the people of Sri Lanka are going to get witht he 18th amendment. You folks need to stop making such a big deal over it and perhaps do something worthwhile like stop dumbing garbage on the roads, stop blocking the roads with your protests and stop trying to run down Sri Lanka right after the end of a brutal war. Currently your bellyaching is adding jack all to Sri Lanka’s advancement.

  • Realist

    Ekneligoda wasn’t abducted, it was staged. He had a history of doing the same. Refer:

    http://www.island.lk/2010/05/07/features8.html

    http://www.island.lk/2010/05/08/features2.html

  • samuel

    Does the writer distinguish between “might is wright” in the west and Sri Lanka. Swimming against the tide is indeed difficult. It was exactly what Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ did in their time. Fought or taught against the popular and wrong notions and teachings of their times. May be those who are standing up to the notion that might is right are the Buddhas or Jesuses,Mohameds of our times.

  • SATHYADEVA

    The elements who are Western henchmen are getting heartaches and instigating trouble.
    We need a strong leader.

  • Sonal

    So the 18th amendment was passed without a hitch. What do you folks who were marching about, arms all flailing about and screaming on online blogs have to say now? Do you realise that all your hypocritical protestations were in vain? Are you able to accept the fact that the vast majority of Sri Lankans did not and do not give two hoots about the 18th amendment? What is going to be your next focus of protest? Might I suggest the following – a campaign against littering, a campaign against the domination of the Colombo elite, a campaign against the elitism and exclusivism of the UNP the main opposition. You guys are just bashing your heads against a brick wall. Why don’t you work with the government to help Sri Lankans instead trying to be sticks in the mud and oppose everything just for the sake of opposing.

  • Wilson Thilakaratna

    The main drawback to carry Sri Lanka forward has been the weaknesses of the democracy from the date Sri Lanka gained Independence.Every time in the history many governments were not well established due to the lack of majority in the parliament. The governments changed in every five years or less and there had been colossal change of policies. This is the first time we have experienced a steady government After 40 years. There may be some truth in certain allegations against Rajapaksa regime but he was instrumental in annihilation of brutal terrorism from the country that nobody could do. The general public participate in democratic right only at a general election thus far no further. We people expect the right things the government to do. The power struggle exists only among the politicians only to catch the power. A head of a country needs his confidantes to run the government. He should have powers to do it. It happens now. What’s wrong with that? When an efficient young President is elected at the age of 40, for example, -the present Prime Minister in UK is only 35 years old – should he retire from politics at the age of 52, while he is still capable of holding the leadership? The people should have the right to re and re elect a good leader. Therefore, the restriction of electing only twice seems miscarriage of democratic right of people. If you name a country that the so called democracy exists in the world, I still have allegation about that country. We need a powerful leader who can develop the country irrespective of democratic theories.

  • Travelling Academic

    @Wilson Thilakaratna
    “country. We need a powerful leader who can develop the country irrespective of democratic theories”

    Do we actually know that it is the shortage of power with the leader that is preventing our development? Is it the kind of power that says “you didn’t attend the meeting I called, so I shall tie you to a tree, with policemen watching”, that we need more of? Shouldn’t civilized behaviour be part of the development you and I like to see?

    There were some in history who told their people: “just let me grab a lot of power, I will help your development”. Hitler, Mao and Prabhakaran are names that come to mind. I don’t believe they delivered on the promises made to the people who cheered them. Do you?

  • Diffpersepective

    Can some one please show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today???

    Is democracy and freedom of expression good???? Certainly it is.. but it is an ideal!!!! Does it contribute or deter economic development ???? History cannot show any country that developed their economies practicing these ideals and standards which are perpetuated today.

    Does this lack of democracy and freedom of expression leave room for misuse by corrupt leaders??? Certainly it does but on the other hand…it also allows genuine leaders to take the country forward economically !!! It certainly is too early to jump to conclusions whether this govt will take the route of the genuine or the corrupt … !!!!

  • Arosha Bandara

    @ Diffperspective

    Does this lack of democracy and freedom of expression leave room for misuse by corrupt leaders??? Certainly it does but on the other hand…it also allows genuine leaders to take the country forward economically !!!

    Could you please explain how democratic freedoms and mechanisms for accountability to parliament and the justice system would prevent a genuine leader from taking a country forward economically??

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Diffperspective

    RE: “Certainly it does but on the other hand…it also allows genuine leaders to take the country forward economically”

    If Rajapakse was genuine and had the people’s best interests at heart, why couldn’t he educate the people, hold a referendum and then go for a constitutional amendment? Is 12 years in office not enough? Why couldn’t he wait till he showed us his capabilities for the next 5 years before doing this?

    Secondly, do you believe that a constitution is nothing but an inconvenient piece of paper that’s there to get in the way of a “genuine” leader?

  • Idealist?

    Diffperspective:

    “Can some one please show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today???”

    You just need to look next door at India! Yes, they have problems but the freedom of the media and speech, independent judiciary, have enhanced development, not hindered it! And it is the places where democracy has NOT been implemented fully that are least developed.

    Second:
    “It certainly is too early to jump to conclusions whether this govt will take the route of the genuine or the corrupt”

    Ermmm, has your head been in the sand in the last few years???

  • Idealist?

    India’s Right to Information Act has really enhanced transparency and held govt to account, thus strengthening the sovereignty of the people, which is the essence of democracy!

  • yapa

    “Is 12 years in office not enough? Why couldn’t he wait till he showed us his capabilities for the next 5 years before doing this?”

    Hit the iron while it is hot, that may be his formula, may be he is not foolish to do it when it is cold.

    Don’t brand me as a Mahinda loyalist for telling this. I just saw and got the curiosity just as the “Dasa Sil Upasaka got”.

    “Apata motada api dasa sil upasaka,
    Ibbanne puchchanne anith pita”

    Thanks!

  • Diffperspective

    Arosha Bandara.,

    “Could you please explain how democratic freedoms and mechanisms for accountability to parliament and the justice system would prevent a genuine leader from taking a country forward economically??”—-

    The experiences of the last sixty years of democracy and the justice system together with the first 30 years of accountability to parliament and the economic development we achieved while enjoying these freedoms in this country should answer that question unless you claim all the leaders from DS to Chandrika were not genuine and were corrupt!!!

    Somewhat Disgusted

    “If Rajapakse was genuine and had the people’s best interests at heart, why couldn’t he educate the people, hold a referendum and then go for a constitutional amendment? Is 12 years in office not enough? Why couldn’t he wait till he showed us his capabilities for the next 5 years before doing this?”

    I can’t answer for Rajapakse.. but Why wait when its already in the bag??? and maybe he did not want to make the same mistake Ranil did by waiting too long…. (Strike while the iron is hot kinda thing!!!) Because of the partisan destructive politics played by all parties opposing for the sake of opposing for narrow political gain… with no thought for the national good…as has been the practice for the past sixty years by everyone!!! This is only a guess!!! 🙂

    “Secondly, do you believe that a constitution is nothing but an inconvenient piece of paper that’s there to get in the way of a “genuine” leader?” –

    NO!! ..Further A vast majority has agreed before this that JR’s constitution was a bad one.. All political parties including the UNP has claimed this at one time or another.. What this guy has done is amended it with the mandate received at an election to suit his agenda in this case which he claims is “Economic prosperity” !!!
    This is not to say there are no inherent risks in this path for the people…… there is a 50% chance of SL ending up like Zimbabwe but another 50% chance of SL ending up with a developed economy… let’s say like Singapore!!

    Arosha Bandara/ Somewhat Disgusted

    Now I have answered both your questions as best I could… Can you please like good chaps answer mine…. show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today which we complain we have lost???

    Once again what is desirable is one thing.. and practical another!!!

  • Heshan

    Rajapakse is an opportunist, like every politician. One cannot blame him alone – these amendments were not passed spontaneously in a vacuum but are indicative of a systemic failure. For example, the Supreme Court could easily have blocked the passage of these amendments, but it did not. There is no such thing as “trust” in politics; there are only limits to how much power you can seize and how long the latter can be retained. Those limits are imposed by the Constitution and enforced by the Supreme Court. Rajapakse first politicized the Supreme Court, and then went after the Constitution. This is in fact the essential difference between East and West. In the West, the Supreme Court (or its equivalent) is never so heavily politicized – thus there is a neutral body which the Executive cannot easily bypass. In fact, this process of politicizing the Supreme Court in SL began a long time ago. Surely, readers must remember this:

    `Helping Hambantota` probe halted
    Wednesday, 28 September 2005 – 9:05 PM SL Time
    Lankan News Replies

    Supreme Court in Sri Lanka has issued an injunction order against the investigations carried out by the police on alleged misappropriation of tsunami funds.
    A bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva ordered Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to temporarily halt the investigation after considering a petition by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

    http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2005/9/3757.html

    How many times has the Supreme Court ruled against Rajapakse? Very few times. Clearly, Rajapakse was aware that the Supreme Court would not stop him; else he would not have bothered with such amendments. That’s why in the West the Executive doesn’t try such games – he is fully aware that the High Court will strike him down.

  • Diffperspective

    Idealist

    “You just need to look next door at India! Yes, they have problems but the freedom of the media and speech, independent judiciary, have enhanced development, not hindered it! ” —-

    “Enhancing development”… that is a relative term isn’t it??? Maybe they would accelerate faster if they did not have all these ideals… who can tell??? Do you really believe that India is a developed economy???? Get real please …. in most economic and social indexes they are on par with SL or below in some cases…. yes they are progressing but far from being a developed economy by a long shot.. Bad example my dear!!!! Let’s talk once they reach that position of a developed nation not before!!!!…

    “And it is the places where democracy has NOT been implemented fully that are least developed.” —

    yes you are right….there are countries that have not fully implemented democracy that are not fully developed… but my point is…. all countries that have developed had not implemented democracy and individual rights fully at the time they were developing their economies!!!! I repeat… please show me one country which has developed their economy to the level of being categorized as a developed nation by practicing these ideals…

    “Ermmm, has your head been in the sand in the last few years??? —
    I can ask the same question from you!!! did they not deliver what they promised with regard to the LTTE issue??? and do you honestly believe they could have done it if they followed all these noble principles????.. incidentally which no one else in the world follows when in a similar situations!!! I am not saying its the most desired method.. but it surely seems the most practical sans any alternative….

    All I ask is if you think the alternative is the way to go.. practicing proper democracy and individual Freedoms etc… show me one example where it has been successful…. There is no point saying something can be done without showing examples of how and where it has been done!!!! 🙂

  • Arosha Bandara

    Diffperspective,

    “… first 30 years of accountability to parliament and the economic development we achieved while enjoying these freedoms in this country should answer that question … “

    On what basis can you blame the democratic freedoms and accountability for the lack of economic development from 1948-1978??

    I don’t have an expert knowledge of the political history over this period, but from what I’ve read my impression is that that the economic woes of this era were more due governments having to grapple with rising nationalism (both Sinhala and Tamil), and then the extreme socialism of the Bandaranaiyke era. I have also read that in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time, she imposed restrictions on travel outside Sri Lanka, but freely sent her children to be educated abroad – not a sign of a politician who was genuine in desire to uplift the lot of the common man.

    A vast majority has agreed before this that JR’s constitution was a bad one.. All political parties including the UNP has claimed this at one time or another.

    Indeed. And how does the 18th Amendment improve on the short comings of JRJ’s 1978 constitution? For example, on Ada Derana news today lunch time (9/9/10) they showed an interview with Champika Ranawaka which took place immediately after yesterday’s vote in parliament – he said “Jathika Hela Urumaya wants an executive presidency that is accountable to parliament and to the justice system”. Even Mahinda Chintanaya Idiri Dekma says “The Executive Presidency will be converted into a Trusteeship which honours the mandate given to Parliament by being accountable to parliament, establishes equality before the law, is accountable to the judiciary and enacts laws that are accountable to the judiciary, and is not in conflict with the judiciary”.

    Both Champika Ranawaka and Mahinda Rajapakshe are 100% correct to to highlight this lack of accountability as a criticism of JRJ’s 1978 constitution. But my question is – in what way does the 18th amendment address this problem? The requirement to attend parliament every 3 months does *not* make the president accountable to parliament – there is no requirement for him to respond to questions from the house, or make a report on the state of the country. Similarly, the 18th amendment does not make any modifications to Article 35 of the constitution which grants the president complete immunity from any legal proceedings. So the 18th amendment does not address the concerns of a party that is in the ruling coalition with respect to the powers of the executive, and yet every MP from that party voted for it!

    What this guy has done is amended it with the mandate received at an election to suit his agenda in this case which he claims is “Economic prosperity” !!!

    If Mahinda Rajapakshe only wanted to amend the constitution to support his agenda of stable government for economic prosperity, why did his amendment go beyond removing the term limits? Surely he doesn’t need to have power over appointments to the Elections Commission in order to deliver on economic prosperity? IMHO, if the President’s rationale for the 18th Amendment is stable government in the interests of economic development, he should have simply removed the term limits and simplified the implementation of the 17th amendment in a way that didn’t give him de facto control of the independent commissions.

    show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today which we complain we have lost

    Idealist has already responded to this question with the example of India, which I think is a good one. The other point to make here is that I am not complaining that we have lost an idealistic version of democracy. We have entrenched and legalised a system that invalidates a basic feature of a democracy – the ability of the people, through their elected representatives, to hold the executive to account! Not only that, we have made it entirely legitimate for the executive to control the one mechanism that allows the people to directly hold him to account – the elections!

    there is a 50% chance of SL ending up like Zimbabwe but another 50% chance of SL ending up with a developed economy… let’s say like Singapore!!

    We could have had a better than 50/50 chance of ending up with a developed economy if the president simply removed the term limits, made sure that the independent commissions could be appointed based on his recommendation but with the approval of the Parliamentary Council and strengthened the powers of the election commission. Had he done this, he would have no problem achieving his economic goals his popularity would increase and winning another election would have been a piece of cake!

  • Diffpersepective

    Arosha Bandara,

    No point writing long responses with irrelevant points… I need only one small example, One country!!!! …You guys have still not shown me any country where what you propose has succeeded… Even Idealist claimed India only as an “Enhancement” of the Economy (whatever that meant) but I take the point he did show it as an Example which you think is good… …. So here is my response to him on India which applies to you too–
    {“Enhancing development”… that is a relative term isn’t it??? Maybe they (India) would accelerate faster if they did not have all these ideals… who can tell??? Do you really believe that India is a developed economy???? Get real please …. in most economic and social indexes they are on par with SL or below in some cases…. (per Capita, Infant Mortality, Education, housing, electricity, health services etc…) yes they are progressing but far from being a developed economy by a long shot.. Bad example my dear!!!! Let’s talk once they reach that position of a developed nation…. not before!!!!… }

    “We could have had a better than 50/50 chance of ending up with a developed economy if the president simply removed the term limits, made sure that the independent commissions could be appointed based on his recommendation but with the approval of the Parliamentary Council and strengthened the powers of the election commission. Had he done this, he would have no problem achieving his economic goals his popularity would increase and winning another election would have been a piece of cake!” —— 🙂
    :
    Without just repeating the same thing… Please show an example of just one country that has developed their economy… to the ranks of being called a developed economy by following all these high ideals that you want implemented here !!!!! Then I will become a believer!!!! :)….Don’t just keep repeating it like a mantra just because those who have developed themselves Sans all these ideals… NOW… tell us that is the way we should be!!!!!! What you all say are just wishful thinking and ideals…. Noble one’s I will admit but nonetheless just ideals…. The fact that you are finding it so difficult to give a proper example proves the impracticality of your suggestion!!!!.. I repeat..India is not a developed economy… progressing maybe but not even the Indians claim they have a developed economy like the so called…First world countries…. So Please don’t quote India as the success!!! That will be disingenuous…. We can talk of India if and when they reach that state and every one acknowledges it is a Developed (First World) Economy!!!!!

    So still there is no example you can show anywhere in the world where your theory has worked!!!! 🙂

  • dnh

    I think 18 Amendment is the best think happen to Sri Lanka Mr Bandara if you ask me one eg: i give you two Singapore and Malaysia; i used to live and work in those countries for many years.Singapore developed because stable government with strong vision.Since Mr. Lee Kwan yeo come in to power he removes all the opposition obstacles and keep one opposition party just a name of democracy but kept them under ruling party controls, I was listening to   many Parliament debates during late 70 tees and early 80, every point that the opposition leader (Mr Rajarathnam) has raised ruling party teamed up and make him laughing subjects. Those debates, never being published because, Star times the only the news paper in the country controlled by the government.  Mr Lee governs the country in the manner of dictatorship, because he realized too much democracy is obstacle to executing his plan developments and law and order.  That what happen to our country in the first place, hundreds of political parties, even in the schools universities, they all dominated by various political tugs, there were no control what so ever. Thousand of news papers everyone can write anything they like weather true or false.  You just read some articles specially in Sinhala news papers (mainly none government support) the news just published without any proof  Lu” attitude ( I want point out ; Unalu’ kiwwalu, keruwalu’ ) this type of childish behavior only happening  only in Sri Lanka.Other country is Malaysia tell me about what happen to the man who came very close to defeat Dr. Mahader and what short of fate he is got in to?. (Same thing will be happen to SF unless he respect the defeat and back off ‘no one can save him) I admire Dr. Mahader only the man in Asia who stands up against the west at the time. In one time because he did not  listen to the west and Americans they made monetary manipulations and made his country almost bankrupt, but he did not bowed down to them and he made his own rules which is best for the country, eventually west now dancing to his tune. That’s what Mr Rajapakse should do whatever necessary to make Sri Lanka one of self sufficient country in Asia. We need strong leader with strong government and low and order to create new generation who can be proud of.                                                                                                                                                                                               

  • Arosha Bandara

    Diffperspective,

    I apologise for my long response before – it was only because there were several things in your original post that I felt warranted a reply. Here is a shorter response to your challenge.

    I echoed Idealist’s view that India is a country that has achieved economic growth whilst maintaining democratic freedoms and accountability, because your claim is that development is not possible while these things exist. The consistent growth rates of India suggest that democratic freedoms are not a barrier for economic development.

    However, since you are only interested in a country that is already classified as ‘developed’, which operated under democratic principles from the outset – what about the USA? From its very first version the US constitution had clear separation between the powers of the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The executive has always been accountable to the legislature and the judiciary, with clear procedures for the president to be removed if the people so wish. There were checks and balances in place to ensure that one branch of government could not ride roughshod over the basic rights of citizens. Of course US history is rife with examples where these rights were violated in various ways, but by sticking with the basic principles of their constitution, over time most these wrongs have been put right and America has been able to maintain a stable system of government that has helped their economy. It is also worth noting that only FDR held the office of US president for more than 2 terms and he didn’t do this by changing the constitution to give him more powers over the electoral process.

    It seems the core of this argument is about which form of government is best for economic prosperity of a nation. You (and others who support the 18th Amendment) are arguing that this cannot be achieved under a democratic system of government, and therefore autocracy is the way to go. I don’t contest that autocracy *could* create rapid economic development. My argument is that there isn’t enough evidence that basic democratic institutions, such as an executive that is accountable to the people’s representatives, are a barrier to economic development. Futher, the dangers autocratic government leading to tyranny that will favour one part of a nation over others is sufficiently large to outweigh the possible economic benefits.

    Finally, I would close by saying that I am completely in support of developing Sri Lanka and ensuring prosperity for all of her citizens. I am also immensely grateful to Mahinda Rajapakshe, his government and our armed forces for defeating the LTTE. However, the way the 18th amendment was pushed through without room for discussion and reflection is an indication that the ruling coalition wants this gratitude to translate into unquestioning loyalty. However, gratitude does not equate to unquestioning loyalty – we must always be willing to question our leaders and force them to reflect on their choices. Otherwise we are doing both them, and ourselves a great disservice.

    Winston Churchill is credited with saying “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”. Well, in Sri Lanka we are embarking on an experiment in trying one of the others – let’s see if we can be the exception to Churchill’s observation.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Arosha, Diffperspective,

    Arosha, well said! Diffperspective, your argument is a hollow one. For starters, you are merely forwarding the Lee thesis, that democracies get in the way of economic development and authoritarianism is the way to go! Please demonstrate that this is in fact a valid thesis on a large scale. You are taking one or two data points and extrapolating to all countries, which is simply not correct.

    Several studies have indicated that there is either no correlation between democracy and growth (http://links.jstor.org/pss/2138442) or a positive correlation (http://www.jstor.org/pss/194125). Even in the Asian region, where the Lee thesis is most likely to be applicable, the empirical evidence just doesn’t support it (http://www.statsvitenskap.uio.no/konferanser/nf09/kp2/chk.pdf)

    I trust your query has been addressed adequately (see above survey papers for details). If you continue to insist on your view, please provide solid studies to backup your claim, because the evidence is contrary to it.

    Secondly, you still have not indicated, apart from sheer opportunism for personal gain, why a “genuine” MR would need to
    a. Extend the term limit before demonstrating his effectiveness
    b. Go beyond merely extending his term to challenging the independence of several institutions
    c. How an absence of democracy and centralization of power to a dynastic regime is more conducive to economic development.
    d. How any of the changes he’s made, apart from extending the term limit, were a hindrance to development
    e. What you are going to do when no constitutional safeguards are present when some crazed despot is elected to power? Or as I asked earlier, does a constitution revolve around one man and one party?

  • Diffpersepective

    Arosha Bandara,

    “I apologise for my long response before”—No worries!!!

    “what about the USA? From its very first version the US constitution had clear separation between the powers of the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The executive has always been accountable to the legislature and the judiciary, with clear procedures for the president to be removed if the people so wish. There were checks and balances in place to ensure that one branch of government could not ride roughshod over the basic rights of citizens —

    Here is a brief history of how the US was developed…. Grabbing the land of the natives… Breaking all the treaties these democratic institutions you claim were accountable to the people signed with the Native nations….(Wrongly labeled as the Red Indians) they broke them through the power of the Gun!!!!! Not one treaty they signed was honored!!!! Is this not riding –in your words –Roughshod over the people??? Indentured /Slave labor…(Is this not Riding Roughshod over the people???) Chinese indentured labor to build the rail roads that connected East to West and opened up new markets and expansion…and Slave labor in the South till 1860’s nearly 100 years after independence!!.. (Is this not Roughshod over the people???). …. disenfranchisement of the non white people specifically those of African Descent and the Native American .(that means no vote) ..almost until the 1960’s because they had biased tests to pass after the 1860’s if they wanted the vote…… Is this not Roughshod??? and the descendants of those Chinese that built the railroad not even made citizens till the 1940’s ….Not Roughshod??? (Mind you we are now over nearly 200 years after independence in the US) Robber Baron mentality in business and industry where the workers sold their soul to the company store (as that song goes) without any labor rights and often poor exploitative working conditions and prevalent use of cheap child labor….. Is this not roughshod????? This is only a brief history lesson…I can go on and on… So please don’t tell me the US developed their economy practicing proper democratic principals and individual rights and such!!!… 🙂

    But sure my friend, there was democracy and human rights and accountability on paper at that time in the US……. But at best it was for a selected group ….But for the others who were unfortunate enough to fall outside that selected group… it was quite a different story!!!

    If you believe all you read in the Western Media and their Propaganda like the “land of the free and home of the brave” and such hypocritical statements… and think the US built their economy all the while practicing the noble concepts of Democracy, Individual Rights, Accountability and such that you are espousing for Sri Lanka…. You are Naive!!!! They plundered, killed, trampled and yes ran Roughshod over the people and did what they had to do to get where they are today…. However, once they got there… They developed a conscience and evolved in to practicing at least to some extent those noble concepts you espouse!!!!!

    “My argument is that there isn’t enough evidence that basic democratic institutions, such as an executive that is accountable to the people’s representatives, are a barrier to economic development. Futher, the dangers autocratic government leading to tyranny that will favour one part of a nation over others is sufficiently large to outweigh the possible economic benefits.” —

    Once again,,, show me the evidence where it has been successful and i will be a believer!!! Again the fact that no one has achieved what you claim can be achieved makes your argument improbable and unachievable other than in the realm of Utopia!!! However, do not get me wrong I am not arguing about the desirability of what you propose…. But since no one has been successful in doing so…. what makes you think it can be done????however much we may desire it?????
    I agree on the dangers of an autocratic rule and where it may lead to…. I have accepted that in my earlier posts too…

  • Arosha Bandara

    Diffperspective,

    I don’t see that this discussion is going to go anywhere really – you have one perspective and I have another. Our time is probably better spent making sure we do our bit to help with Sri Lanka’s development

    For the sake of Sri Lanka, I hope you are right about how Mahinda Rajapakshe will use his authority.

    Best wishes,
    – Arosha

  • Diffpersepective

    Somewhat Disgusted

    You can call my argument what you want!!! That is your prerogative. 🙂

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating..not in studies that you call evidence…. so my evidence is very simple and irrefutable….at least up to now—– There is no country in the world that has developed their economy to the level of what we call “developed” or “First World” nations by following the precepts you advocate…. But on the contrary… all countries that have developed their economies to that level of what we call “developed” or “First World” have done so to varying extents by not following these precepts.

    Therefore…

    I do not need to waste my time looking up studies on this as it is clear and present… Statistics can be manipulated to support any argument but Facts and living examples are incontrovertible!!!! I repeat…. show proof of a country that has developed their economies following all these good things!!!! If what you say is correct as you claim with all your evidence and those nicely written papers…. it cannot be that difficult !!!!!

  • Diffpersepective

    Somewhat Disgusted

    Please refer my explanation of the US to Arosha also…. Tks.. 🙂

  • Travelling Academic

    Japan, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia and even tiny little Mauritius did not need unaccountable dictatorial powers in one man over an extended period or a colonial past to develop, while the list of places where the “give me power I’ll develop you” tactic has gone badly wrong is very long. I cited three extreme examples earlier, you can find several more by looking at African account holders in Swiss banks.

    In recent months I have travelled a lot in Sri Lanka and observed that it is not the lack of power that is inhibiting development; it is, as my good friend Krishnapillai once said with brilliant accuracy about the Tigers, the lack of purpose! Do we really need so much executive power in one person to (a) build a few more yards of railway lines than what the Suddas left us; (b) build a few toilets in public places and make sure they flush; (c) change the curtains in public buildings every 25 years or so; (d) cut the grass around university buildings inside which we teach most modern techniques in molecular biology or (e) make sure the buildings in which the most recent theory of structural engineering is taught don’t leak when it rains? These are the elements of development that will bring us to the 21st century, for when we pay attention to such detail, other innovative things will automatically happen (partly because good people won’t leave the country in utter frustration with their environment). In my travels, I found no convincing reason to believe that it is the lack of strong and stable central government that is stopping us from doing these little things. Indeed, it is precisely because power is so centralized that nobody is willing to take responsibility locally where it matters, everyone adopting a culture of blaming everything on the guy one level above him/her, waiting for a command that never arrived. (That, in my view, is actually the strong case for devolution in our governance, not the ethnic issue that has been a 60-year distraction to our country.)

  • justitia

    There is a story going round:-
    The american told the sri lankan, “In america we have complete freedom of expression. I can stand in front of the White House and shout ‘Obama is corrupt’. Nothing will happen”
    The sri lankan replied:- “So what? I too can stand in front of Temple Trees and shout ‘Obama is corrupt’. Nothing will happen”

  • Diffperspective

    I hope I am right too Arosha… Let’s leave it at that…. and spend our time on more useful things and develop this beautiful land.

    Ciao 🙂

  • Hari Narendran

    Singapore seems to be a favorite comparison point for many of those supporting MR’s constitutional shenanigans. While it may be apt from a freedom of expression/democratic space aspect, the big difference is Singapore’s system is firmly based on the rule of law – something noone can claim about MR’s government with its corruption and a police force and judiciary that acts not on defense of the law but in defense of the ruling party.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Diffperspective,

    RE: “You can call my argument what you want!!! That is your prerogative.”

    I called it the way I saw it because what you’ve presented is not a solid argument. My prerogative has nothing to do with it. Ask Britney Spears if you’re not sure.

    RE: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating..not in studies that you call evidence…. so my evidence is very simple and irrefutable”

    What evidence is that? 2 data points – Singapore and Malaysia? What I gave were studies published in reputed journals, and they are actually meta studies. If all you’ve got to counter that is shrill insistence, I agree there’s no point in prolonging the discussion.

    RE: “– There is no country in the world that has developed their economy to the level of what we call “developed” or “First World” nations by following the precepts you advocate”

    I say again. Please back up that claim with facts. The studies say otherwise.

    RE: “But on the contrary… all countries that have developed their economies to that level of what we call “developed” or “First World” have done so to varying extents by not following these precepts.”

    Says who? Please provide the evidence. The evidence as I’ve shown, is to the contrary.

    RE: “do not need to waste my time looking up studies on this as it is clear and present… Statistics can be manipulated to support any argument but Facts and living examples are incontrovertible!!!!”

    What are you saying? Are you saying that academia can now be formally ignored, no need to look at the studies published in reputed journals (which *are* an analysis of facts BTW) and your personal opinion and a deep-seated need for authoritarian governments will suffice? Well, that at least seems to be the attitude of the Rajapakses, so you’ll certainly be in their good books there.

    RE: show proof of a country that has developed their economies following all these good things!!

    That’s precisely what these studies show. That in over 30 analyzed countries in one study and a meta-analysis of many papers on the subject, your claim does not hold up. Travelling academic has given some fairly clear examples. Many Nordic countries are good examples.

    But the overall point here though is that you’re missing the point! No one is suggesting that we need to be a paragon of democracy. Nor is anyone suggesting that Rajapakse extending his term limit is the problem. It is the absolute abolishment of all democratic norms and the entrenchment of authoritarian rule that’s the problem.

    Remember one thing, diffperspective, sooner or later, we will need to remove these clauses. Do you agree with that or not? We can never call ourselves a free country if we must live in perpetuity under the tolerance of “kings”. So the question is, why give up rights that do *not* hinder the “kings” but completely remove our ability to remove or control them, should they prove incompetent?

    We still haven’t been able to revert JR’s constitution. In fact, the guy who came to power promising to abolish the executive presidency is now expanding his powers. How ironic is that?

    My question remains unanswered: why sacrifice rights that are *good for the people* and in *no way hinder the incumbent president*. The only person it would hinder is an incompetent rulers ability to preserve power and also, our ability to remove that ruler. Can you please address that issue?

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Diffperspective,

    Let me clarify my own stance. If you’ve read what I’ve written on this subject before, you’ll know that I’ve personally supported the Rajapakses because I believe they are the only viable candidates at the moment. That does not mean however, that I or anyone else should wag our tails and acquiesce to all their whims and fancies. The changes he has made do not help *us*. It helps him and his family alone. Our job, if we have anything close to intelligence, is to use bad rulers to our advantage, as best as we can, not to pray to the Gods for a Lee Kuan Yew!

    I personally think that Mahinda Rajapakse will develop this country to a certain extent. That’s a good thing! However, he will also institute an autocratic government that will essentially create a feudal monarchy of sorts, with our freedom as citizens being curbed to suit his continued rule. The signs of his rule are not all positive! Remember that. He is doing development projects, but also treating his friends and relatives at state expense and appointing incompetent people to high positions. That may very well place an upper limit on our development. Once again, I say, I’m not convinced Rajapakse is a Lee Kuan Yew.

    If that happens, we also need to preserve some ability to remove him. We can’t engage in wishful thinking or pray to the gods for help if that happens. That’s why we as citizens should not give up more rights than we must!

  • dnh

    if anyone know what is the dectatorship plese refere to Singapore law of ISA

  • Diffperspective

    Somewhat Disgusted,

    Out of Colombo on holiday…. Did not want to waste it sitting in front of a computer….will revert with my comments probably tomorrow… Monday!!!

    However, just for your info, I am not only talking of Singapore and Malaysia only… . I will expand tomorrow time permitting and hopefully we can agree or we can agree to disagree!!! 🙂

    Take care!

  • Diffpersepective

    Somewhat Disgusted.

    Let me at the outset make myself clear as I may not have been previously … I do not argue with the desirability of development with Democracy and proper individual rights.. nor do I not see the dangers entailed in taking a path of authoritarianism..I have accepted both these points previously…I am only speaking here as a matter of practicality not of desirability…..

    My initial post was on the practicality of having a 5 star democracy and individual Rights AS IS EXPECTED TODAY while also developing the economy to the level of a country today accepted as a “developed nation” .. Hence my original post and question — ”

    “Can some one please show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today???”

    Here are the historical reasons for that question.. very briefly—–

    If you look at the North American Continent – US and Canada – they developed their countries during a time there was Military expansion by the govt. (Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii ..etc) Land grabbing of the Natives by not honoring any of the treaties signed by the Govt through the Gun, Slavery, indentured labor, Segregation, Disenfranchisement of a large segment of the population, Robber Baron mentality with no labor rights and child labor, etc… Segregation ended and proper voting rights were given in the US only in the 1960’s to the Colored people… and the descendants of the Chinese who were indentured to build the Railroads which expanded trade, land and opportunities and connected the Atlantic to the Pacific.. which is also cited as a primary reason for the economic development of the US given citizenship in the 1940’s, over 100 years after their forefathers built the rail roads that gave so much prosperity!!!

    If you look at Europe and UK as a whole.. during the period they developed their economies, they practiced Colonization, almost all had absolute Monarchies, Buccaneering, practiced slavery in some form or serfdoms which was basically indentured labor in another form, Child labor, deplorable working conditions for the labor in industries…. and there was a ruling class and the peasants.. voting was limited to a few.. actually i think Switzerland gave the women the right to vote only around the 1970’s…and limited land ownership etc… Now I agree all these conditions do not apply to every country but at least one or two conditions apply to each!!!! Yes they did practice democracy after a certain stage and yes it did help them to grow more… but that was after they had achieved immense growth of their economies through Colonization, Buccaneering etc…

    Japan was mentioned somewhere but Japan was developed long before democracy came to be in Japan when they were having an Authoritarian Rule,
    colonizing other countries, having ruling classes and peasants…. all before before WW2… They were developed enough to take the US on and give them a good run!! I agree that after WW2 they became more democratic and developed fast from the ruins of WW2… But a reason for that maybe the large amounts of US Aid, expertise, markets and Administration than democracy and the fact that they were already developed before the destruction!!!

    If we take Australia the story is very similar to the North American experience.. when they were developing…Massacre of and grabbing Aborigine lands, Indentured labor from India and China, Denial of citizenship to Aborigines, Asians and Africans, white Australia policy, segregation of aborigines etc…

    Then we come to Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia though one can argue Malaysia is still not fully developed. – I don’t think I need to elaborate there.

    However, the note worthy thing in almost all of these examples with the exceptions probably of Singapore, is though they start being very authoritarian and extremely low on rights and freedoms, as the country progress economically through the decades, we see a decline in the level of authoritarianism and more freedoms and rights because the people get more and more powerful and evolved and would demand the changes and they will succeed because of their economic power which the rulers cannot ignore. A country is not one generation or two, like in the countries aforementioned, our generation may have to endure the lack of freedom to ensure a better economic future for our kids and grand kids and so forth and like it happened in the countries mentioned before it will be them who may evolve with economic power to experience the freedoms that we bemoan we have lost today!!! Saying all this I will also admit… this journey is fraught with Danger… and as I said before… we can end up like Zimbabwe too….

    I am sure there will be exceptions to what I am saying and there is one somewhere here too…. but if you look at it …..the rule seems that development has been achieved by countries during times they did not practice the 5 star democracy and individual rights WHICH ARE TOUTED TODAY. This is not to say it cannot be done, But History seem to say something different!!!! At least the way I see it!!!

    That is all I have to say!!! We can agree… or .. agree to disagree!!!

    Ciao!

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Diffperspective,

    I’m quite willing to buy your argument. The problem is, we appear to be arguing on two different issues altogether.

    I never expected Sri Lanka to be a paragon of democracy. Indeed, no country in the world is, and I have no problems with the fact that freedom and democracy at its best can only be expected in highly developed societies. Why do you think I thought the Rajapakses were the best option to finish the war and still think they are the best option considering the lack of choice?

    My argument is not against temporary losses in democracy, but a permanent destruction of the constitution and the institution of dynastic rule, which we will not be able to remove as easily as you suggest. As I said earlier, we need not take this all or nothing gamble you are suggesting for the simple reason that it’s not *necessary*. I invite your comments on whether you think the changes made to the constitution are *necessary* for development. All it helps to do is to keep the Rajapakses in power, *even if they under-perform*.

    If they perform well, they will automatically get the vote, as demonstrated in the last election. With these additional changes (not the matter of extending Rajapakse’s term limit), they don’t need to perform at all to keep their power.

  • indonicus

    Diffperspective said,

    “Can some one please show me one country in the world that developed their economies practicing the same level of democracy and freedom of expression etc.. that is espoused as the ideal today???”

    Diffperspective,

    Since you like asking such cool questions here is one for you. Please answer this:

    “Can you show me one country that has achieved economic prosperity and social progres with a regime where one family holds the reigns of economic, political and miltary power”

    If you can think of a country, then you can see where we are probably heading.

    Cheers

  • Diffperspective

    Dear Somewhat Disgusted,

    I agree we seem to be looking at this from different views… so let’s agree where we do and disagree where we don’t…

    with regard to the following—-
    “I invite your comments on whether you think the changes made to the constitution are *necessary* for development. All it helps to do is to keep the Rajapakses in power, *even if they under-perform*. —–

    I don’t think it is necessary for development.. there are always alternatives given the right conditions. Saying so, however, in the present context I think it may accelerate because they have control and can circumvent the petty party politics which has been the bane of this country for the past 60 + years … But as I said before I acknowledge the danger it entails…

    It was nice exchanging ideas… and thank you.. I learnt something today from you as well!!!! 🙂

    Ciao..

    Dear Indonicus –

    You asked —

    “Can you show me one country that has achieved economic prosperity and social progres with a regime where one family holds the reigns of economic, political and miltary power” —

    That is easy….
    The United Kingdom or England with the Royal Family from way back in the middle ages till mid 20th century when they were the world’s Super power….Japan with the Yamato dynasty also known as the imperial family up to WW2….where they were Asia’s super power… and more recently the first family of Singapore… I think the Patriarch’s name is Lee Kwan Yew??? 🙂
    Actually if we are heading in the way these three countries have evolved and are today…. I am all for it!!!! 🙂 Lol

    Thanks all and I am outta here!!!

  • indonicus

    Diffperspective,

    Japan under the Yamato dynsaty would be a great time to go back to! I am thinking, Mervyn can be one of the Daimyos!

    Your superficial reading of history would have been shocking, had it not been so amusing. LOL

  • Idealist?

    Oh, you forgot Zimbabwe under Mugabe!!!

  • “The timeline… reflects both the genesis of the heinous 18th Amendment and also the occasions mainstream press reported that the President attended / “visited” Parliament.

    It was no easy task to compile this. Only a handful ordinary citizens would have the expertise to search for this information online, or elsewhere. There is no easy record retrieval of the President’s attendance in Parliament on its official website. But what is immediately obvious when the scattered media reports are taken as a whole is that the 18th Amendment has in no way at all contributed to a more accountable Executive. ”

    Excerpt from ‘Months after the 18th Amendment: Is the Executive really more accountable to Parliament?’, http://groundviews.org/2011/06/11/months-after-the-18th-amendment-is-the-executive-really-more-accountable-to-parliament/