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Monday, 05 November 2001  
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Government - Gazette

Sunday Observer

Budusarana On-line Edition

Democracy and co-existence in a pluralistic society

Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike Memorial Oration delivered by Anura Bandaranaike

I consider it a privilege and an honour to deliver the Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike Memorial Oration this evening at the invitation of Mrs. Lakshmie Dias Bandaranaike, Chairperson of the Memorial Trust, named after her distinguished late husband.

I accepted this invitation with pleasure, for more reasons than one. I have known Felix Dias Bandaranaike both personally and politically for over 25 years. I had associated with him closely, admired him as a politician and respected his multi-faceted talents and skills which made him an outstanding politician and a controversial and colourful personality. There were times that I disagreed with Felix, yet we remained close friends at all times.

Felix hailed from a brilliant and outstanding family. His father was a distinguished Judge of the Supreme Court, his brother Prof. Michael Dias held the Chair of Jurisprudence at the University of Cambridge for over 25 years. Felix was an outstanding scholar at Royal College, at the University of Ceylon and at the Law College, carrying away most of the prestigious prizes. It was in the portals of those great seats of learning that he began and developed his brilliant oratorical and debating skills, which he later used with devastating effects on his opponents in Parliament and in the political arena. Resourceful and sharp in argument, devastating wit and repartee and an incredible sense of humour made him one of Sri Lanka's most formidable Parliamentarians.

I have heard form the public gallery many times, Felix at his best, especially under adversity, fighting back like a true gladiator, within the Chamber of Parliament, sometimes single-handed against his numerous opponents, either in Government or in Opposition. It was a singular pleasure to listen to him, an opportunity I rarely missed.

Felix chose the path of politics after my father was assassinated in 1959. My mother was reluctantly compelled to lead the Sri Lanka Freedom Party at the general elections of 1960, only a few months after my father's death.

Felix was persuaded to leave a lucrative legal practice to contest Dompe, a demarcated part of my father's electorate of Attanagalla, which my father represented since 1932, and our family represents even today. This is an unequalled record for any Parliament anywhere in the world.

Since his first entry into the world of politics, Felix became the youngest Minister of Finance in the Commonwealth, at the age of 29, and held many important portfolios for twelve years, in my mother's two governments. Whichever ministry he held, Felix left an indelible impression. He was a demanding administrator, workaholic who did not suffer fools gladly, and he was acutely sensitive of the need for drastic change in the process of administration and the judicial services. Apart from his brilliance, as a Scholar, a Lawyer, a Minister of the Cabinet and Debater, Felix's hallmark was his absolute and total loyalty to my mother. In every crisis he stood by her with unwavering and absolute loyalty.

IN 1962, this nation was threatened by a military coup d'etat for the first time, by a few disgruntled, disoriented senior officers of the armed services, and Felix took charge and restored order. Again in 1971, when we were faced with a leftwing insurrection, again for the first time, Felix played a major role in assisting my mother in restoring order and peace, and put democracy back on track. He was the quintessential loyalist whose unwavering faith and dedication was in fact, the cornerstone of my mother's governments.

Felix was defiant in defeat until he was relentlessly pursued by an administration hell-bent on vengeance and personally motivated revenge. Special Presidential Commissions were set up, hitherto unknown in Sri Lanka. Laws were introduced and some changed over-night, a system was created used ruthlessly, with one objective - depriving my mother of her civic rights and keeping Felix out of politics. They were ridiculed and humiliated and they both fought back with courage and grit. In the midst of his courageous fight back, Felix was struck by an incurable cancer, which eventually claimed his life. During this period, Felix turned to religion and to God and fought with his customarily grit, never losing his sense of humour, now turned bitter and sardonic....

During all those turbulent and eventful years it was his loyal and devoted wife Lakshmi who stood by Felix, supported and sustained him. With deep affection, care, intellectual companionship and above all understanding, Lakshmi devoted her entire life to Felix. Today, and indeed for the past 25 years, the Felix Dias Bandaranaike Memorial Trust is carried forward by her with commitment. His memory is kept alive by her continuous dedication.

Today I have been invited by this Trust to address you on 'Democracy and Co-existence in a Pluralistic Society.'

More than 10 million lives were lost between 1945 and 1975 alone as a result of ethnic violence. That total has probably risen by a another 2 million since 1975, and is almost certainly on the increase. Hundreds of thousands died in Rwanda and Zaire in the 1990's. The Government of Croatia reported that the country has suffered 14,000 deaths and nearly 40,000 injured in the war of 1991 - 1995, and neighbouring Bosnia Hercegovina experienced perhaps 200,000 deaths in the same period. 2000 died in 1989 alone in ethnic violence in the Punjab and in Sri Lanka an estimated 60,000 died during the last 17 years. Deaths and injuries because of ethnic violence has been common in Palestine, Kashmir, and Northern Ireland to name only a few. Nationalist passions are probably the strongest in the whole political spectrum, and are generally stronger today than those aroused by religion, class or caste.

The subject of todays talk 'Democracy and Co-existence in a Pluralistic Society' is thus not only apt but also timely, particularly in today's context.

Our nation has been in existence over a long period of recorded history. A nation is a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of history, culture and common ancestry. Nations have objective characteristics which may include a territory, a language, a religion or common descent, and subjective characteristics, essentially a people's awareness of its nationality and affection for it. In the last resort it is the supreme loyalty for people who are prepared to die for their nation.Most modern nations are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural as in Sri Lanka. Uni-ethic nations are but very few, perhaps Denmark, Iceland and Japan, to name a few. Thus, the classical nationalist ideal of one nation one state can only be achieved by a process of nation-building to assimilate all citizens into one nation or by domination or expulsion of the citizens who do not belong, viewed as an historic ethnic community. This is the aim of integral or exclusive nationalism, and its effects have been unfortunate in those States whose social basis is multi-ethnic or multi-cultural such nationalism is highly intolerant of national minorities and in history it has been linked with Fascism and Nazism and with those States which have repressed slaughtered or expelled the national minorities within them. Yet, it is possible to see other forms of nationalism in a more positive light and to find nationalism which does not stick at the classical formulation of national homogeneity within one State. This nationalism, and we in Sri Lanka, accept; that a stable and free society can be based on cultural pluralism in a multi-racial State based on political accommodation and democracy. In this context, all governments of Sri Lanka have allowed for the peaceful co-existence of all ethnic groups in the state and of equal partnership rather than the domination of one group over another. This has been the case, at least in words, if not in deeds!

It is easy to find example of divided societies in many parts of the world. They include Northern Ireland (Catholics and Protestants); Lebanon (Christians and Muslims); Malaysia (Malays and Chinese); Canada (Francophones and Anglophones); South Africa (Blacks, Whites and Coloureds in the old apartheid system); and in Sri Lanka (Sinhalese and Tamils).

A leading political scientist, Lijphart invented the phrase "consociational democracy" or consensus democracy to describe a special form of democracy devised to cope with the problems of extreme 'cultural pluralism'. In the context of politics of ethnicity it provides a model government which allows for the peaceful co-existence of more than one ethnic group. He considered whether consensus democracy could be a solution to the problems of deeply divided societies such as Northern Ireland and South Africa where majority rule was unacceptable to the minority. Lijphart himself acted as a constitutional adviser in South Africa, Israel and Northern Ireland.

Some political scientists and sociologists have followed his lead in defining and assessing consensus democracy and it is now possible to look at the model in terms of ethnic politics generally to see what its features are and what conditions are conducive to its success. Consensus democracy is an ideal form of political accommodation in plural and multi-ethnic states and in the real world there are many versions of it. In the ideal consensus democracy, the following institutional arrangements are found.

1. A 'grand coalition' in the Government of the State constituting of representatives of all segments.

2. A proportional representation electoral system.

3. A 'mutual veto' system whereby a segment can veto government decisions in matters of vital concern to it.

4. Autonomy for each segment, either through a territorial government in a federal or devolution system, or through institutions which confer some self government on the segment.

These are the institutional features which typically characterise the system of consensus democracy. Such systems have operated in 'divided societies' - some divided along the lines of ethnicity and others on ideological and religious lines, or some combination of the two. We are concerned with the former and the principal examples are Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Nigeria, Malaysia and Northern Ireland.

Despite some successes, the history of consensus democracy has been marked by tensions and breakdown. Belgium has continuing strife (mostly non-violent) between Flemmings and Walloons, to the point where most despair of its future; Switzerland had a civil war in the 19th century and a separatist movement in the 1970s, but is now stable; in Northern Ireland power sharing collapsed in 1974 after a brief existence but the 'peace process' continues, and aims to establish power sharing again; in Lebanon, Nigeria, Malaysia and in Sri Lanka there are only echoes of consensus democracy while civil wars rage or have just recently ceased. Of the consensus democracies perhaps only Switzerland is - entirely politically stable. Yet, the system remains probably the best way to combine several ethnic groups within one nation on the basis of partnership rather than domination or assimilation to the majority nation.

Rather than wallowing on the history of our conflict, I have purposefully developed my theme to address the issue before us today. It is easy to point fingers at personages, decisions and political misadventure, of the past, for the situation we are now faced with. In my view, this is not important, viewing any crisis from a historical point of view though most useful will not bring a result any closer. It will only remind us of the ugly past, of hurt and of acrimony of the turn of events that culminated in the present crisis.

If Nelson Mandela was unwilling to forgive and forget the personal humiliation he suffered at the hands of his apartheid Afrikaner progeny, modern south Africa would still be unborn.

The racial segregation policy of the government of south Africa, was legislated in 1948, when the national party gained power. 23 million non-whites did not share full rights of citizenship and only the 4.5 million whites were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections.

Many public facilities and institutions were until 1990 restricted to the use of one race only. It was only when state president Fredrick de Klerk took steps to dismantle the Apartheid system by lifting the ban on the 'ANC' a multi-racial constitution was born and the majority Blacks liberated. With all its trials and tribulations, Mandela was big enough to give and take and to resolve the issues that faced his people placating his personal feelings on the backburner. It is poignant, at this point to ponder and reflect on the events that brought new South Africa its freedom.

Nelson Mandela was born in the Transkei in 1918, rebelliousness at university and his refusal to settle for an arranged marriage dashed his ambition to become a court interpreter and brought him, in 1941, to Johannesburg, where aristocratic Mandela came up against the continual humiliations of racism.

The experience took him beyond historic perspectives: he met Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo and together they formed the association that would eventually provide the leadership to overthrow White rule. Up to then the 'ANC' these young men joined, was reduced to petitioning an increasingly deaf government.

Mandela moved between the magnet poles of an emotional nationalism fuelled by anger at the way Africans were treated and his realisation that to move forward he must band together with Indian and Communist activists.

`heavy optimism that in 1958 when the man later to be named the architect of Apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, was made Prime Minister. Nelson Mandela was confidently predicting that Verwoerd's Fasicst autocracy was 'soon due to make its exit from the stage of history. What happened instead was the 1960 sharpville massacre.

The declaration of a state of emergency, the banning of the 'ANC' and the decision by them to take up arms. Mandela had only 2 years of freedom left. This call for a multi-racial society had no parallel anywhere in the continent. Mandela and the 'ANC' were simultaneously shunned by a West who saw the Apartheid government as an ally against the spread of global communism. Sentenced in 1964, for life.

Black prisoners

Nelson Mandela would later say, 'you have no idea of the cruelty of man against man until you have been in a South African prison with White warders and Black prisoners'. When Nelson Manedla finally re-appeared, man and myth had merged.

He was the picture of a royal who learned to be a democrat, of an angry man steeled and hardened by his experience that he could so publicly outgoing and yet at the same time so personally remote.

The fact that Mandela is such a living legend sometimes obscures the depths of his roots in a political movement which flung up not only a Mandela, but also a Walter Sisulu and an Oliver Tambo - all three men in their different ways bear out the principle - 'That a person is a person because of other people'.

The negotiations between Mandela and De Klerk and of the changing relationship between the two men, from hesitation and dislike to trust was another example of the magnanimity and forgiveness of great leaders.

His lack of bitterness, his refusal either to humiliate his opponents or to compromise his principles are the things that has made him a universal hero.

To resolve conflicts, especially racial or ethnic leaders like Mandela are necessary - leaders who lead from the front and can be seen above the head.

A peace process depends on leaders who can control extremists and speak for the entire segment.

Clearly, the inability of any leadership to control their followers makes the whole system difficult, if not impossible. When moderate nationalists are faced with the opposition of extreme nationalism, the segment fragments. We have a similar situation here in Sri Lanka.

The moderate Sinhalese and Tamil leaderships, are faced with a relentless civil war by extreme factions of the Tamil populace. The cases of Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka point to another major problem for consensus democracy - the presence of outside loyalties and some external interference.

It must become evident at some point in time, even as late as of now, that this war is unprofitable and unproductive and from the point of human lives lost, both destructive and devastating the time has therefore come to enter into a phase of accommodation.

The alternatives are domination or civil war, as we have seen. It is in this light, consensus government can appear an attractive alternative to exclusive nationalism in a culturally plural society. This may not be the perfect answer but nevertheless, this and other mechanisms for conflict reduction are probably the best political tools available to produce peace in divided societies.

Co-existence in a plural society is the next topic I wish to take. At this point let us turn our minds to a most successful plural society in Asia - Singapore.

People might argue that considering the size of singapore it is easy to control ethnic diversity. This really is not the case.


Some 72 per cent of Singaporeans are of Chinese descent, about 18 per cent Malays and the balance constitutes Indians and Caucasians, from the time of her independence in 1965.

Its leader Lee Kuan Yew was determined to make Singapore a Meritocracy and not dependent upon where you came form or to which ethnic group you belonged to.

What successes one achieved only mattered. Lee Kuan Yew could easily have espoused the cause of the majority Chinese at the behest of the others but he knew this would cause a social imbalance of great propensity in time to come.

He decidedly avoided this path to destruction. He had a vision of a Singapore for Singaporeans, and nto a Singapore for Chinese, Malays, Indians or Caucasians.

In his vision, everyone born to Singapore had first to be Singaporean before considering allegiance to their ethnic breed. Today, you alight a cab in Singapore and ask the cab driver in a 'Turban' from where he is and he will reply proudly that he is from Singapore.

All resources of this island sate belong to all its citizens. Education, health, job opportunities are available equally to all and merit and merit alone counts everywhere you go.

People are proud to call themselves Singaporeans. Communalism is banned in modern Singapore. Inciting racial tension meet with severe punishment. Did all this happen by chance? Certainly not. Its leaders, particularly former Prime Minister Lee, made sure through judgement and political fore-thought, backed, by stringent laws to ensure an equal and considerate society for all its citizens.

This way he ensured peaceful co-existence between differing ethnic groups with tolerance for each other taking pride of place. If there is a country where differing ethnic groups co-exist together in perfect harmony and tolerance enjoying one anothers culture and religion, then Singapore must come high up in that list. Permit me to quote Lee Kuan Yew from his memoirs of Sri Lanka. "Ceylon was Britain's model Commonwealth country. It had been carefully prepared for independence.

After the war, it was a good middle size country with fewer than 10 million people.

It had a relatively good standard of education, with two universities of high quality in Colombo and Kandy.

A Civil Service largely of locals, and experience in local government starting with the city council elections in the 1930s when Ceylon gained Independence in 1948, it was the classic model of gradual evolution to independence. Alas, it did not work out.

During my visits over the years, I watched a promising country go to waste." He continues, about the late 1970s when President Jayawardene invited him to visit Sri Lanka (in 1978)." He said he would offer autonomy to the Tamils in Jaffna. I did not realise that he could not give way on the supremacy of the Sinhalese over the Tamils, which was to lead to civil war in 1983 and destroy any hope of a prosperous Sri Lanka for many years.

"If not generations", he goes on to add "the fighting goes on. It is sad that the country whose ancient name 'Serendip' has given the English language the word 'Serendipity' is now the epitome of conflict, pain, sorrow, and hopelessness'.

I do not agree that all is lost, but let me digress at this point to touch one matter Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew mentioned in passing about the then civil service in our country.

This is important because, even for Singapore that has reached high standards.

Public administration

There needed to be good 'implementers' for policies designed by their political leaders. The breakdown of our once proud Civil Service no doubt has brought us catastrophic results. Singapore has succeeded because of good government and an able and effective public administration. With the advent of the 21st century, they recognised the need for able civil servants, who are good thinkers.

Conceptualists, entrepreneurs and implementers to create favourable conditions for Singapore to stay ahead, their civil service looks for capable, innovative and forward looking people who would make Singapore a better place. Singapore's civil service is reputed to be one of the best in terms of professionalism, efficiency, integrity and public service. They must not only change in step with development, but also have to move ahead, point and lead the way forward, create and facilitate programmes for national growth, be a model of efficiency and above all, have the responsibility to create conditions to stay ahead in the competition tomorrow. We in Sri Lanka must emulate the Singaporean model of public service and re-create an efficient and able public administration, like the one we once had devoid of political interference if we are to survive in this globalised world, without capable people to implement the many policies of government, the entire system comes to a grinding halt.

The world is so dynamic today that it will not wait for Sri Lanka to pull her socks up. We have to move with the times and in tandem with the rest of the world into modernisation, the technology revolution and the global village. We cannot go it alone.

Change isn't what it used to be. The dynamics of the 21st century are recognised by the worldwide revolution of information Technology and Biotechnology.

In the current context, all countries that seek progress need to be proactive to beat the threats of competition, domestic barriers will be penetrated by technology, by global banking, E-commerce and the internet. The weightless economy of financial markets circling the globe in just seconds and the environmental responsibilities require us to view the future more seriously than the past.

After the severe recent financial and economic setbacks nobody in Asia has got the time for ideological or expansionist vissititudes. Currencies were massacred.

Asset values more than halved, shares and property values dived, and sound companies went bankrupt.

The emerging divide is not longer between the 'haves' and the 'havenots' but between those nations that are 'wired and connected' and those that are not. "The pursuit of wealth is now largely the pursuit of information and its application to production," former Citibank Chairman Walter Wriston observed. "The rules, customs, skills and talents necessary to uncover, capture, produce, preserve and exploit information are now humankind's most important assets" that neatly encapsulates the world's new divide; between those who make, or make use of, technology and information, and those without such capabilities."

Let us ponder about the present status-quo in Sri Lanka now, with regard to our topic today democracy and co-existence in a pluralistic society and see whether we are any closer to achieving a pluralistic society of democracy and co-existence. We have made a mess of it.

Pluralistic society

Have we not? Democracy yes we have a one-man-one-vote system - but it has not solved our many problems. Have we got a pluralistic society? Yes, much so and for centuries too. How about co-existence? In name, yes! but, we could do much better.

We had no choice but be born Lankan. we are all here just by chance. But now that we are here let us all try to make the best of it and make it our place to live, with dignity, peace, and harmony. Let every single person born to this country be free to follow any religion or culture he chooses to perpetuate.

What has happened is now history and what is important now, is to see it in the light of today and where it will take us tomorrow. Pointing fingers at others for our misguided past and for the vast miseries we face now is not going to help. We have only ourselves to blame for the sad predicament we are now in. Across the party divide everyone of us have to take the blame for the mess we are in!!"

I often reflect that in some future life by a cruel fate of Karmic circumstances, what a extreme Sinhala Buddhist brother would do, if fortune and fate played a reversed role, and he was born a harassed Tamil in an uni-ethnic Sri Lanka of the future? And on the other hand, should the same karmic force, make born a terror loving gun totting LTTE'er of today, as an innocent Sinhala by-stander minding his own business who is blown into smithereens by a bomb explosion in some future life.

Again by a fateful reversal of roles - I have no doubt, that the current hardened attitudes and ego on both sides would give way to reason and accommodation.

We are all Lankans. We are born here in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lanka belong to all of us - North, South, East and West - every grain of its soil. We cannot carry parcels of it to wherever we are destined to go. To my Sinhala brothers I say, please stop and ponder. You and I could be born Tamil in some life and vice versa. To the terrorists, I appeal, lay down your arms, sit down and let us talk. Stop this carnage.

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