Is ‘Democracy’ at Death’s Door?
By PALITHA SENANAYAKE
Whenever the government in a democratic country like Sri Lanka opts to assert control over a socially fluid situation, the opposition groups tend to question such efforts posing the question, ‘Is this democracy?’ The manner in which this question is posed infers that the government of the day, by its effort to assert itself, is attempting to impinge on the rights of a democratic society, where freedom to express and to demonstrate are upheld as ‘sacrosanct’. This, however, is not only a misconception but also a subliminal notion that opposition groups, in their politically expedient endeavours, try to inculcate in the minds of the people; much against the spirit of what a democratic society should really be.
The irony about democracy today, in relation to many developing countries, appears to be that everybody knows what democracy is and how good a system of governance it is, but nobody seems to know how to deploy it to pull their countries out of the woods.
The concept of democracy and constitution, as a form of government originated in ancient Athens, circa 508 BC. In ancient Greece, there were many city-states with different forms of government, and many intellectuals and philosophers as well, who evaluated the best form of governance for a state. They coined ‘democracy’ from the Latin lexicon to mean the ‘Government of the people’. It was in contrast, and was also an evolved form of the past forms of governance; monarchy- of one person, and aristocracy- of the elites, and to democracy- of all the people. The thinking at the time was that, the broader the base of governance, the more representative it would be of the peoples’ needs and aspirations. Yet, since the question of responsibility taking, and execution of power, was central to any form of governance, they realised that the broader the base, the weaker would be the execution of power and the responsibility for actions.
The problem of exercising power was overcome by electing a representatives’ Government for a particular period, entrusting them with the power to enact laws and to execute peoples’ power. Then, the last but not the least issue of responsibility, meaning the responsibility for the laws enacted and for the power executed. The fact that a government is appointed from time to time, does not exonerate the responsibility for the laws enacted and for the execution of power, from the true owners of the state; the people, as sovereignty lies with them and hence also the responsibility. Thus, it behoves that, if the king is held responsible in a monarchy, and the Council of noblemen in an aristocracy, it is the people themselves that are responsible for the actions and governance and also for the conduct of the democracy. A citizenry that is not responsible enough in his/ her conduct to ensure a democratic society, does not deserve to enjoy the democratic system, and hence will degenerate back to either a junta type governance or dictatorship; the current version of the monarchy.
Accordingly, if an elected government is not keeping up to its election manifesto, not transparent in its activity; financial and otherwise, the people have the right to demand that it carry out its election undertakings and exercise transparency in all its affairs. In this respect, it is more the duty of those who voted for the prevailing government that should question these aspects of democratic governance; because failure on the part of the current government on those, could lead to a debacle at the next election.
Having established the rights and responsibilities of those who voted for the Government elect, it is necessary to consider the responsibilities of those who voted against as well, because there is no democratic system of governance anywhere that enables all its citizens to win at an election. In this, that section of the people who voted against, have to assimilate into the mainstream whether they like it or not. Just as the government that is elected pledges to run the country for all its citizens, those who voted against too have a responsibility to abide by the rules of the new government. The emphasis this point deserves could be bestowed by stating that ‘just as a government that is not equitable and accommodative of all its citizens have no right to govern the country, those countrymen who are not prepared to concede the majority’s right to elect and govern will also have no right to enjoy or to be protected by, the democratic system’.
That invariably, has to be the stand to take, because the alternative is simply, anarchy.
In that light, how could we view the recent demonstrations conducted by the JVP and other trade union affiliated organisations in this midst? Their main point of contention was that the ‘pandemic curfew’ should not be used to suppress the democratic rights of the masses. Considering the fact that the JVP and certain other unions always had some demonstration or the other, there never could be a time for a pandemic lockdown, as it was a never-ending series of demonstrations since the current government assumed power. Another argument is that the government is using the pandemic to pass legislation that is unpopular and socially inimical.
Well, since the current government was elected with an extraordinary popular mandate, how could these trade unions and the JVP appoint themselves as the arbiters of the popularity or the socially inimical nature of a particular legislation? This makes the current demonstration scenario an attempt to sabotage the democratic right of the current government that was elected by the majority, thereby undermining the right of the majority in this country. This is simply because the trade unions and the JVP are organized, whereas the mass of people who voted are rather unorganized, and hence being reduced to the position of mere spectators. In any case, it is not a socially responsible act for the Government supporters to stage demonstrations in support of the Government at the current times.
Therefore, it should now be clear that the current conduct of the JVP and the trade unions is in breach of the core principle of democracy, and also it is the JVP and the trade unions that are taking advantage of the pandemic to stage their irresponsible demonstrations, reducing the responsible majority to be mere spectators. Sooner the people and the Government realize this, amidst all that rhetoric, coupled with prompting action, the Sri Lankan society would bring the most socially inimical action perpetrated on it in recent times, to an end.
Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso visits Sri Lanka in May
by Nanda Pethiyagoda
The next month, soon to be upon us, is of special significance to the majority of Sri Lankans since we Sinhalese and Tamils celebrate our New Year, with festivities continuing for a week or more in mid-April. The month of May is significant to Buddhists as the three major events of the Buddha’s life are commemorated at the Vesak full moon poya. This year, May carries another significance, joyful and to be grateful for. Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso arrives here towards the end of the month for about two weeks. The Ajahn Brahm Society of Sri Lanka (ABS) has completed all arrangements for the visit which is full of great good happenings.
The last time Ven Ajahn Brahm was in Sri Lanka was 2017. I well remember the day long sessions of his speaking to the audience in the BMICH, delivering so easily and absorbingly the Word of the Buddha and conducting meditation. 7000 persons were present to listen to the venerable monk from Australia, spreading themselves in all the BMICH halls and a few even seating themselves in the corridors. The sessions, with Ven Ajahn Brahm moving from hall to hall, with of course TV presentations in them, were deep in significance and of immense benefit to us. However, as is his manner of presentation, the gravity of what was being imparted was tempered by Ven Brahmavamso’s informality and constantly smiling, benign face. One indication of his informality is shortening his religious name to Ajahn Brahm.
This time it is one session on May 30 that the monk will conduct at the BMICH. Passes were available at announced venues from the 15th of this month. I am certain they were all snapped up, so eager are we to listen to this great teacher.
His programme, most efficiently arranged and made widely known by the ABS under the guidance of Ven Mettavihari, includes a resident meditation retreat from May 22 to 30 in Bandarawela for 150 participants inclusive of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and lay persons.
A singularly unique forum will be held exclusively for professionals and business persons at the Galle Face Hotel on May 29. These sessions are by invitation, sent out well in time by ABS.
The much looked forward to Dhamma talk and meditation instructions for the public will be at the BMICH from 7.00 to 11.00 am on May 30. Anticipatory of the large crowds that will flock to the BMICH on that day, the ABS has organised sessions with the venerable monk moving from the Main Hall to Sirimavo Halls A and B so all can see and hear him. He will speak in English, followed by summarizations in Sinhala.
More information could be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For WhatsApp messages the number is 0720735837. The filled applications are to be submitted before 10th April 2023.
It seems superfluous to give details, even brief facts on Ven Brahmavamso, as he is well known in this country of ours. However, it appears pertinent to mention facets of the life of this very blessed Bhikkhu.
He was born in London in 1951. Having read widely on Buddhism, at the tender age of 16, this promising student and keenly interested teenager considered himself a Buddhist by conviction. When in the University of Cambridge following his undergrad course in Theoretical Physics, his strong interest in Buddhism and gravitation to meditation went alongside his studies. After earning his degree he taught for one year, He then decided to follow his greater interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice and so proceeded to Thailand. He followed meditation under a couple of Thai masters. Convinced of his future as a Buddhist Bhikkhu, he was ordained a monk at the age of 23 by the Chief Incumbent of Wat Saket. He then went for further training to the famous meditation teacher – Ajahn Chah. He spent nine years studying and training in the forest tradition. In 1983 he was invited to help establish a forest monastery near Perth, Western Australia. Within a short period he was Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth. He is also the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia and Spiritual Patron to the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore. These are but two of the spiritual responsibilities he undertakes. His pragmatic approach and his deep conviction in Dhamma have made him a much sought after Buddhist teacher throughout the world.
We Sri Lankans are truly blessed to have him visit our land and share his knowledge, his conviction in the Buddha Word and his encouragement to meditate.
The team that calls itself the Ajahn Brahm Society Sri Lanka of multi-talented and multi-skilled men and woman are all deeply dedicated to helping us, the public of Sri Lanka, benefit from Ajahn Brahm, acknowledged as an excellent teacher and exponent of the Dhamma. We are most grateful to them and Ven Mettavihari who guides the ABS.
Aragala in US
It was recently reported that Philadelphia would pay $9.25 million to a group of protesters over police use of tear gas and rubber bullets during 2020 unrest in which lots of hardships were caused to the protesters who quite rightly protested against the brtual killing of the black youth, George Floyd.
That is is how the social justice or the democracy are respected in the US. The American authorities are answerable for injustice caused to the general public.
I don’t have to elaborate on the gloomy and undemocratic situations prevailing in this country at present. Two persons have been killed and many others injured in protests during the past several weeks. According to the media there were doubts about the quality of the water and tear gas used on the protesters.
The whole world is well aware of the present state of affairs in our country.
The rulers’ undemocratic actions make use wonder whether ours is a “Democratic Socialist Republic’.
One of best development administrators SL ever had
Mr. K. Thayaparan (KT), who retired from the government service after serving as a development administrator for more than thirty years passed away on Jan 05 at the age of 86. He was born in 1937 in Malaya, which was then under the British rule; his father had migrated there in 1916 for employment. His father was employed in the Malayan Railways, and the family was living a happy life. In the late 1940s, there erupted a terrorist movement launched by Communists of Chinese origin. To fight with the terrorists the British Government had issued a conscription order for all school leavers above the age of 17 years to join the military. Many families with male children over 17 years fled to Ceylon to avoid conscription. Since KT’s family also had a male child who had been noticed to report for military duty, his family members too other than his father left Malaya in 1951 and came to live in Ceylon. In Jaffna, KT resumed and completed his school education. In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya to undertake studies in geography, economics and history.
During the university days, KT had won university colours in badminton. He graduated in 1961, and served as a school teacher in the Matara district. In 1962, after sitting a competitive examination, KT joined the Government Divisional Revenue Officers’ service. In 1963, together with the other officers of the DROs’ service and comparable services, KT was absorbed into the Ceylon Administrative Service that had been created in place of the Ceylon Civil Service, which had simultaneously been abolished.
Till 1975 KT served in the district administration in the northern districts, first as DRO, then as Asst. Government Agent and as Addl. Government Agent. From 1976 to 1979 he worked in the Ministry of Fisheries as Deputy Director Planning, and contributed to the development of the National Fisheries Development Plan 1979 – 1983. The Fisheries Development Plan, among other activities had concentrated on exploitation of the fish resources in the Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, which was proclaimed in 1977, and utilisation of irrigation reservoirs and village tanks for development of inland fisheries. The Government made a policy decision to implement an accelerated programme to develop inland fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, a new Division called the Inland Fisheries Division was set up in the Ministry, and KT was appointed its director.
The accelerated development programme had a number of activities to perform. Establishment of fish breeding stations in different parts of the country, recruitment and training of scientific and technical officers to serve at fish breeding centres, import of exotic fish species suitable for culture in Sri Lankan inland waterbodies, training of youth in inland fishing and aquaculture, promotion of investments in shrimp farming, etc. Funding agencies like UNDP, ADB and individual countries on bilateral basis came forward to support the accelerated inland fisheries development programme by providing funds for development of infrastructure, providing technical assistance, providing foreign training for the scientific and technical staff who were mostly young people without experience, and providing advisory services. It was heavy work for KT, but he managed the Division and its work smoothly.
KT was a firm believer in team work. He knew workers in all outstation inland fisheries or aquaculture establishments by name. He distributed foreign training slots offered by donor countries or agencies to every scientific or technical officer on an equitable basis. He listened to everybody, and was quite loved by his staff. KT was quite neutral in politics. However, in spite of his hard work to develop the inland fisheries sector, he was transferred out of the Ministry in 1985 to the SLAS Pool.
In 1979 when KT took over the responsibility of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture in the country, the total national inland fish production in Sri Lanka was 17,400 tons. During his tenure of nearly six years, the national inland fish production steadily increased and in 1985, the year he was transferred it had increased to 32,700 tons, showing an increase of nearly 90%. Also, there were 4,500 inland fishing craft operating in reservoirs, and the number employed as fishers, fish collectors, fish traders, etc. was over 10,000.
After leaving the Ministry of Fisheries he served different assignments such as Director Regional Development, National Consultant or the World Bank funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and Secretary to the State Ministry Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Addl. Secretary Development of the Ministry of Fisheries, but his stay in this post was brief since the then Minister replaced him with one of his political supporters. His last government assignment was as Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, National Integration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1997, he retired from the government service, but continued in a few foreign funded projects as institutional development consultant. He once told that his most productive period in the government service was as Director Inland Fisheries. After retirement he authored several books, Reminiscences of Malaya 1937 – 1951, Stories of Some Brave Men and High Achievers, and Introduction to Some Known High Achievers.
Although he was quite suitable to be appointed the Secretary to a Ministry, he was never considered for such a post. In the final years of his career, he was compelled to serve under his juniors. But he carried on regardless and did the best in whatever the capacity he served.
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