Category Archives: Politics

Gough Whitlam didn’t make roads, harbours and ports, but he changed Australia: Lessons to Sri Lanka

Australia as a nation is in tears about the loss of Gough Whitlam, a much better legend than a Prime Minister. Irrespective of party differences, it is surprising to see how all Australians believe that the country would not be what it is, without him.

As the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had led a chaotic big-spending government for less than three years between 1972 to 1975. That was not to make high-ways, new ports, new harbours, beautify Australian cities or to maintain the world’s biggest Cabinet of Ministers. He is a legend in the history of this country for ending the White Australia Policy and the Vietnam War, opening Australia to Asia, ending discrimination against women and Aborigines and for opening doors for the poor people to access the university education.

As www.bbc.co.uk[1] highlights it is interesting to understand what are the biggest reforms he introduced to be someone more than a Prime Minister of this state. He had pioneered in introducing a universal health insurance scheme targeting the low income earners which later developed to be Medicare. As a brand new migrant to Australia, I am privileged to enjoy this facility and thankful for the policy he fought for the betterment of the people of this country.

Education has been a core area of reform for the Whitlam Government, where he had taken all necessary steps to abolish the university fees and establish greater equity in the way state and private schools were funded, through the creation of a Schools Commission.

Whitlam government had been capable of breaking the previous system of government control over nearly every aspect of the daily lives of the Indigenous Australians and introduce reforms in the area of ‘self-determination’ for them and land rights.

The next most progressive reform he has introduced in 1973 had been ending the white Australia policy that intentionally favoured immigrants from European Countries, in particular the UK, dropping all references to race in its immigration policy. Since then, immigrants were chosen on merit and eligibility for various categories rather than on the basis of race, colour or religion.

What can Sri Lanka learn from this legendary personality? Recognising the significant damage caused to our lives and livelihoods from an array of conflicts since independence, including the protracted armed conflict that spanned three decades and the mistrust and insecurity generated between and among the peoples of Sri Lanka, our first focus would have been to take measures to build up a collective Sri Lankan identity, affirming the equality of all citizens irrespective of their ethnic, religious or any other differences with a commitment to ensure that all peoples have the right to preserve and promote their respective identities and live with dignity in one nation. My wish list towards this is not too long:

  1. As we have realised that we cannot win the rights of any community through a violent means of conflict, it is imperative to build consensus among all political stakeholders towards a governance structure that will protect the rights, dignities and responsibilities of all communities.
  2. Full implementation of the National Languages Policy assuring the right for any citizen to use either of the two national and official languages of Sri Lanka: Sinhala and Tamil as pronounced in Chapter IV of the Constitution whilst promoting trilingual competence amongst the entire population.
  3. Sri Lanka to have an education policy where the access to quality education for all is assured with no political interferences in the system. Sri Lanka as a nation will not be able to move forward without sufficient allocation of resources for education and research where we encourage generation of knowledge and skills of the next generation of the country.
  4. Stressing the importance of sustainable economic and social transformation to eliminate poverty and meet basic needs with a commitment to work towards realising adequate standards of living for all citizens including adequate food, clothing and housing, the full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities can complement the process of reconciliation and national unity.

 

Sri Lanka has commenced post-war development from the last point of my wish list of which also was not a priority of the late Whitlam government. Having read the work done by this great personality within a very short period of three years, only reminds me the sinhala idiom “hitha ethnam patha kudada”. Its time!

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-29699576

Sri Lanka is missing the 17th Amendment

An year ago, we had the funeral of the independence of the judiciary with the repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution and with the introduction of the 18th amendment. Present Chief Justice led bench gave that milestone judgement that was heavily criticized even in the Commonwealth law journal, when she was in the good books of the ruling coalition. Unfortunately or fortunately she is facing an impeachment led by the same coalition today. Judiciary was part of that killing of the 17th amendment and here we see its repercussions today.

 

This is the second best case study in the most recent history in Sri Lanka where the citizens have evidenced how Chief Justice has been shifting the interpretations of law based on the change of favorite position of the executive. Yet, the one who came to bench during these two, who was appointed due to seniority with no political favourations managed to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

 

Supporting or not-supporting the current impeachment for me will not make any change to ensure the independence of the judiciary in this country. The present government will pass this impeachment as they say ‘constitutionally’ with a 2/3 majority in Parliament. However, another political friend will fill in that position: within or outside the hierarchy. Irrespective of the seniority. This cycle will continue while the international community and the opposition will continue raising their concern at every appointment, at every favourable judgement and at every impeachment.

 

Once we were happy that we kept the ‘full stop’ to this vicious cycle. We kept a democratic step forward by adding a 17th amendment to our constitution where the political appointments by the executive was constrained believing the fact that an impartial and an apolitical person needs to be heading the judiciary to ensure its independence for the betterment of this country.

 

At this juncture, I personally do not want to stand with or against the impeachment against the CJ. The political power struggles are such the friends and enemies are never permanent. If she goes back to good books, we will become the jokers and she might even give a judgement against you and I.

 

I strongly believe that the ideal citizenry demand at this juncture therefore should be to bring back the 17th amendment into the constitutional framework and to the practice. Let the ones who play politics face the music as the independence of the judiciary cannot be maintained by making the Supreme Court a favourite of the politicians.  Therefore, in order to maintain the independence of the judiciary, it needs to be kept away from the political power struggle.

 

Im sure the citizenry of this country will continue missing the 17th amendment to the constitution every time the appointments are made and impeachments are brought it. Hence, the broader demand of each and every moment of this should be to bring the 17th amendment back to practice.

 

 

 

 

Returning sovereignty to the people?

The general assumption of ‘the return of sovereignty to the people’ implies that Governments across the world regularly call upon sovereignty to demand that the international community “mind its own business” while they will manage their own state of affairs. They declare that the sovereign rights to be free from international intervention and to permit the countries to carry out their domestic affairs subject to their own discretion. This has also been one of the famous arguments articulated by the Sri Lankan government in the present context. We hear them blaming the USA and various European states about their intervention on Sri Lankan affairs.
What is the sovereignty that we are talking about? Relying on classical interpretations of sovereignty, it is understood as the power of the people. Hence, sovereignty ideally lies in the people and any government is entitled to sovereignty rights only as the legitimate representative or a mere trustee of the people. Therefore, the government is bound to fulfil its duties to the people that they have promised at the time of the social contract made during a democratic election.
However, through-out history and even today, we have seen how governments manipulate the emotions of the people in order to claim sovereign rights and maintain power. Creation of Pakistan, 1983 ethnic riots in Sri Lanka and Ayodhya incident in the recent past in India are some of the ideal examples where the power holders manipulated the emotions of the people for petty power agendas. In fact, the question that I am trying to race via this article is, whether the finger should ideally be pointed at the power holders or the people who claim to hold sovereignty but who has no proper sense about the powers they hold for being citizens.
In that regard, the key issue to address is whether these new nations really have ‘citizens’ for that matter? If these countries actually had people with civic consciousness, how possible would it be for the power holders to manipulate them based on petty power agendas? One may argue that the sovereign rights are lost when governments commit less than the most egregious manipulation of human emotions and needs. For me it’s not the case. It is ideally lost due to ‘stupidity’ of the people themselves, who claim to be the owners of the same sovereignty.
What is the plight of a state when the governments are waiting to manipulate the sovereignty rights and when people are not with a civic consciousness, not to understand that their rights have been manoeuvred? The present situation in Sri Lanka or India or any other South Asia state for that matter is not different to the above context. A country of that nature is like a fleet of ships that has no direction.
In this context, I strongly believe the biggest challenge for new nations through-out is lack of a civil society. West may say it’s our ethnic conflicts or corruption or mismanagement etc. But the bottom of the problem is that we have no people with civic consciousness in this part of the world. They will vote at elections based on the gifts they get from the politicians beforehand. Once elected, they are not bothered at all about what their representatives do. Even though they have a concern they will never stand against it. This shows how an ideal pale society functions. Therefore the answer lies in not demanding to return the sovereignty to the people, but for ensuring that we understand the meaning of the sovereignty that we hold as peoples.

Thinking of Freedom of expression: But not forgetting the emotions of the people

The debate on freedom of information in Sri Lanka has come to a forefront once again. The contemporary discourse takes me back to the dilemma I was in when Salman Rushdie was not permitted to attend Jaipur literary festival. I recall a discussion with a Norwegian journalist in India. She strongly believed banning Rushdie’s novel “the satanic versus” was a threat to freedom of expression in India. In fact, I always looked at it with a question mark…

While we understand and of course agree that the essence of free expression is the ability to think and speak, write or communicate freely and to obtain information from others through publications or public discourse or any other means without fear of retribution, restriction, or repression by the government and that it is through free speech, people could come together to achieve political influence, to strengthen their morality, and to help others to become moral and enlightened citizens, I have a simple question. Are we talking about a radical freedom here? Or are we adopting it within the cultural framework of the society that we live in?

My thesis is simple. Let me not complicate it here. It is a fact that people in our part of the world are very emotional about certain things, out of which religion and ethnicity are probably their primary concerns. These are the people who burn or attack the cricketers and their property when they fail matches. We are very well aware about how they have reacted to various incidents based on ethnicity or religion: Ayodya incident in India and 1983 July in Sri Lanka are some of the best scenarios with this regard.

How do we really draw the line between these incidents and the freedom of expression in this part of the world?

My personal belief says the nature of people and about the fact that they are extremely emotional on their religion or ethnicity cannot be ignored. To make things worse, politicians through-out history have successfully manipulated such emotions as well. In such a context, a deeper sensitivity on that is to be considered in making new laws or updating the existing ones. Most importantly it is to understand the context in a western developed country with a greater political maturity is far more different to India or Sri Lanka.

Women are essentially realpolitikal …

I accidently read something different from a more contemporary liberal, Francis Fukuyama who is famous for his “End of History?” argument. He employs a reasoning that attributes a central role in politics to ‘masculine values’ that are rooted in biology. Based on a number of studies with the use of chimpanzees he claims that female and male ones demonstrate different behaviour. According to him, males are more prone to violence and domination while females form relationships. Based on these, he argues that world can be separated into two spheres: a cooperative “feminised” zone composed of advanced democracies, and a brutish world beyond this pacific zone where the masculine pursuit of realpolitiks pre-dominates.
In fact, the little politics I know have brought me an understanding that women are good in forming relationships as they are biologically and essentially multi-dimensional. It is this character of multi-dimensionalism that made the man in hunting era to accompany her always behind him. So that while the man who is single dimensional by nature is chasing an animal the woman who is behind and who is multi-dimensional could see all other aspects that facilitate his hunting. This little example further re-confirm one saying I happen to hear in a movie named: ‘My fat Greek wedding’ where it was said ‘if the man is the head, woman is the neck that controls it’. To think about it again, it sounds biologically rationale and politically correct as well.
In that sense, while I may agree with Huntington up to a certain degree to believe in the fact that biologically males are more prone to violence. In fact, what he probably missed was that females encourage it most of the time. The day today experiences in life have not brought any supporting evidence to prove that Huntington’s thesis is right. But it proves the other way around. We have experienced the war during 3/4 of our lives or more. We have seen how mothers, wives and daughters are proud about the fact that their son, husband and father is fighting in the war front. It brings them great pride to say that he died for the country. While a majority of them are worried about the soldier who is fighting the war, it is on the other hand encouraged by them as well.

 

Where I do not agree with Huntington’s argument is that although males are more prone to violence, does not mean that women are essentially cooperative. As men are naturally single dimensional democracies are essentially possible with them, mainly given the fact that they will continue to have a black and white picture about most of the things. On the other hand, although women are not actively participating in direct violent behaviours, does not mean they are essentially peaceful. For me in person realpolitks is a reality only when women are engaged in it. With their multi-dimensional characteristic it is practically not possible to bring about democracies with their participation. Hence, Huntington’s thesis ideally should be “…that world can be separated into two spheres: a cooperative zone composed of advanced democracies with single dimensional males and a brutish world beyond this pacific zone where the feminine pursuit of realpolitiks pre-dominates”. A step beyond this thesis I would further argue that the ’64 charms’ (heta hathara mayam) that are given to females are for this purpose: the purpose of a realpolitikal animal.