Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera
Parliamentary democracy is a system of governance through which people share resources, provide for their own needs, enhance their own interests and deal with unexpected contingencies, as far as possible on their own. Since an entire population cannot be set aside to do this, they appoint representatives to do so on their behalf.
When these representatives disregard or abuse this mandate, the people pay a heavy price. Life in Sri Lanka today is about this price.
A major problem with our home grown parliamentary democracy is that national constitutions favour representatives in power. This is partly because people’s representatives exercise the most influence in shaping constitutions, partly because the taste of power creates an appetite to stay in control and mostly because both the constitution and the appetite have been manipulated to endow one person with more power than the rest of them.
Then, power is abused, accountability falls by the wayside and the esteemed democratic tradition of stepping down when those who appoint you want you to go becomes a myth.
This is the crux of today’s crisis in democratic governance. An impoverished president and government, despised by the people for the unimaginable collapse of all things normal, continue to cling unto power.
What continues when the right to represent the people is withdrawn by the people is ursurped governance. Worse still, when any such government, unable to make a difference, continues to harass and crush its own, parliamentary democracy is mocked. This is not all.
If, when the costs of essentials increase by as much as two hundred percent and the people stand night and day for gas and fuel that is often not there, those who messed up rise as saviours, parliamentary democracy is mocked again. And when the constitution imposes a complicated, long drawn procedure that requires the coooperation of those responsible for the missing dollars to be tried and deposed, parliamentary democracy is mocked again and again.
As a shattered nation watches in disbelief, parliamentary democracy permits real offenders to hold a sovereign people to ransom.
Betrayal not failure
Failure least describes our current predicament. What the nation feels is betrayal. But in parliamentary democracy, the betrayed nation must wait. It is only at the next election that today’s life threatening trends can be addressed and offenders dealt with. In the meantime, the people are to patiently put up with worsening financial and mental torture and a never ending queue culture.
Betrayal draws the lines; the rejected among the 225, desperate to stay on and reintepret history versus millions of exhausted women, men and children dreaming of normalcy as the best of times.
This contestation is not equal and those who must go know it. This is because parliamentary democracy offers them advantages and humilates those already victimised by political arrogance, incompetence and corruption. It places state machinery and its administrative history, as well as the police and armed forces, at the command of the very ones whose devious record has disqualified them from clean governance. Essential for social recovery and stability, these democratic institutions will grind in favour of those who have much to explain and much more to protect, while a sovereign people are to wait for justice, fearful of the law.
Two priorities not one
The current economics first emphasis is a diversion. It subverts the primary governance issue and shifts public attention away from those responsible for our tragedy. It glosses over the culpability of a set of self-centred representatives responsible for the endless suffering of the people and deftly makes a case for these representatives to continue in power. It is all about how the economic crisis is to be fixed and nothing about how the rule of law shoud appply to those who stripped a nation of hope and stole our children’s future. That governance and economics, intrinsically connected, are not being addressed together suggests intrigue. Promising to reduce the queues, it is nothing short of cover up and bait, in that order.
Two in one
Nothing has changed. The much acclaimed new government is the same old deficient government in different clothing. It simply cannot perform beyond its tendency to be callous and mean. The president, cabinet culture and governmental parliamentary rhetoric are the same. The previous prime minister is not going away and the new prime minister has always been around. If the one who was is allowed his say, the one who is will be allowed to stay.
The crux of today’s crisis is not about human frailty or unavoidable circumstances. It is about the calculated exploitation of parliamentary democracy by a devious set of people’s representatives.
It is nothing short of a governance of entrenched accountability with statutory periodic reviews and democratically regulated provision for the expulsion of corrupt people’s representatives that will lead us, however slowly, out of the mess.
With peace and blessings to all.