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Military regimes

A third world phenomenon:

Idi Amin Dada

Military dictator and President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979

Amin held the rank of Major General and Commander of the Ugandan Army

Charges:human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption and gross economic mismanagement.

General Sani Abacha

Nigerian military leader and politician

The de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998

Accused of human rights abuses,controlling the press and inconsistent foreign policy

 

Gamal Abdel Nasser

The second President of Egypt from 1954 until his death

Led the bloodless coup which toppled the monarchy of King Farouk

 

 

The democratic politics in this country began with the introduction of the adult suffrage in 1931, the consequences of which were many, and the entry of Sarath Fonseka, who shed military garb a few weeks ago, into active Presidential politics, has introduced a dangerous element into the whole process of democratic politics in this country. It portends a great danger for the very survival of democratic politics; therefore the magnitude of the political danger needs to be analyzed from the point of view of the experience of the military regimes which were a third world phenomenon.

The Opposition, which is in disarray due to the absence of a leadership capable of coming to terms with the Sri Lankan political culture, wanted a military man to challenge the incumbent President and the basis for his selection was the popularity which he commands as a person who led the Armed Forces. This person, who was in a military garb a fortnight ago, is now a candidate for the forthcoming Presidential poll.

Executive Presidency

The Executive Presidency is an institution of Government with enormous power, and the plenitude of power, which an Executive President wields on the basis of the 1978 Constitution, is so enormous that the holder of this office can eventually become an all-powerful dictator, and this feature, with its plenitude of power, needs analysis in the context of the emergence of Sarath Fonseka as the so-called common candidate.

He says that he is an ordinary citizen, in the garb of an ordinary politician but the fact remains that he donned a military uniform for more than forty years and carried a gun. He, in my view, still remains a man trained in the military tradition and derives inspiration from it. He, because of his vast military experience in the last four decades, is certain to get himself guided by those traits, and this has been the experience in all regimes which came to be led by men in uniform.

It is at this point that I propose to examine the current political scenario in Sri Lanka from the point of view of the experience of military regimes in different part of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

All military leaders emerged on the basis of the slogan that their services are required to restore democracy and good governance and political stability; today Sarath Fonseka, wearing a white national dress, is making similar rankings along with the entreaties of a divided and disorganised opposition, which, apart from its common platform for the purpose of promoting a common candidate, remain utterly confused and divided.

The whole Opposition is a bundle of contradictions. A common front cannot be constituted by an Opposition which remains divided on the basis of ideas and strategies.

No democratic alternative could be built by the Opposition by promoting a military man, and it is in this context that I would like to quote C.E.M. Joad, according to whom ‘the life of the citizen of a democracy is like the life of man, the individual, in the sense that its successful conduct requires the constant exercise of vigilance and initiative, the vigilance to ensure that the gains of the past are not lost.” It is indeed inevitable, a necessity, that people of this country need to exercise constant vigilance and initiative to prevent the eventual emergence of a military dictatorship through the installation of Sarath Fonseka into high office in Sri Lanka.

The military interventions, direct or indirect, have been a phenomenon in many a third world country, and they became a form of political intervention in most of the less developed countries (LDCs).

In these countries, in the first ten years after de-colonisation, charismatic leaders who took over power as the first generation of leaders in the post-independence period, were ousted by military leaders in the name of democracy, good governance and stability. Stability and continuity were treated as major slogans of the military aspirants to high office. In Sri Lanka, a military leader is being promoted by a civilian political leadership because of their absolute political bankruptcy.

The nature of civil-military relations in the developing countries is a special feature that needs discussion and elaboration as it impinges on the role of the State in these countries.

In certain countries, there is an unique pattern of civilian control of the military, whereas there are countries which have been ruled by men in uniform. In Sri Lanka, the Army began as a small ceremonial Army which has now been transformed into a professional Army with combat experience and since independence the Armed Forces were under the control of the civilian authorities.

Over-estimation

They were never given opportunities to penetrate into the civilian affairs of the country and it was only in the context of the humanitarian offensive against the LTTE that it got certain opportunities to penetrate into certain segments of the civilian life. Still it was under civilian control, and this is something unique for Sri Lanka, and no attempt has been made to deviate from the historical tradition.

The over-estimation of the contribution of the Armed Forces and the unwanted publicity which the Armed Forces got in the aftermath of the war created an unwanted impression that the Armed Forces have an independent role, from which power-hungry and ambitious Sarath Fonseka would have derived some inspiration. It, however cannot discount the need for civilian control over the Armed Forces. A military man cannot be allowed to assume high office as it portends a great danger for democracy and Constitutional Government.

According to the classical theory in the West, the military is neither expected or is it oriented to intervene in electoral or representative democratic politics. It was this tradition of the West which influenced the role of the Armed Forces in all the countries with Westminster style of government.

Sri Lanka Army was nurtured in that tradition though an attempt was made in 1962 to take over power. Most of the elements which were present in the early sixties are present in the existing political scenario where the same old forces have begun to play a conspiratorial role.

The common belief is that military emerges in the context of a weak State, and this kind of analysis is based on praetorian model, according to which military interventions are characteristically associated with less developed countries which are described as ‘praetorian societies’. In such societies, the characteristic feature is the ineffective political leadership and the absence of instruments to channelise political support.

Voting is a democratic right often suppressed under military regime. AFP

According to Samuel Huntington, who formulated the idea relating to ‘praetorian societies’, stated that such a regime is dominated by the military or by a coalition of the military and the bureaucracy.

This happens in the context of a situation where the civilian institutions are not strong enough to assert control over the Armed Forces. In the weak states, there are opportunities for military domination, and the only instrument available to them is force.

But everything depends on the political and social environment in the given country. Huntington’s argument was that the rise of military professionalism resulted in the military take-over of power, and this thesis has been expanded in Huntington’s work titled ‘The Soldier and the State.’ Both Huntington and Finer saw some relationship between the military take-overs and the level of political development.

Praetorian society

Huntington’s analysis about the praetorian society was that its civilian political institutions are always weak, and it was in this environment that men in uniform take over power to achieve their own ends.

This analysis was true in the context of military take-overs in Africa, but the Latin American experience was linked to the level of economic development. In most states, there is a casual link between military interventions and the levels of economic development. There is yet another argument; military groups exert considerable social and political influence in a society - the reason for this kind of development was the fact that military leadership came from the privileged classes in the country, and this was the case in Sri Lanka immediately after independence.

The 1962 coup leadership came from the upper strata of the Sri Lankan society, and they, as a class, resisted the changes that came along with the political change of 1956. They were largely committed to the preservation of the old privileges and social relationships.

In other words, they were committed to defend the old social order. In certain social situations, the Armed Forces largely because of training and technical competence, maximise their power as patriotic elements in society; this badge was attached to the Sri Lankan Army after the demolition of the LTTE.

This, unknowingly, gave them opportunities to penetrate into the civilian political life, and this I saw as a dangerous development from which an ambitious man could emerge to taste political power. In this context, the solution lies in the strength of our own political and social institutions which still value non-military political secularism.

It would be interesting to examine the role of the Army in Asian and African countries where they have set up military regimes. A military dictatorship is a regime where the power resides with the military, and it is a State directly under the rule of the military.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of third world countries were plagued with coups and counter-coups; in the subsequent decade there was some kind of a reversal of this dangerous trend with which many a State became ungovernable. Certain countries, despite this trend, alternated between civilian and military regimes.

Military intervention became an important phenomenon in the third world. It would be useful to import the Marxist analysis into our discussion. Fredrich Engels once noted the divisive and independent role of the Armed Forces within the State; he, in his work ‘Role of Force in History’, stated that ‘in politics there are only two divisive forces; the organised force of the State, the Army, and the unorganised, spontaneous force of the popular masses’. This, in other words, meat that an Army has a dual role.

The role of the Army in safeguarding internal security has grown appreciably, and the Army in the developing countries realises its supremacy over all other organisations.

For instance, in an economically backward country, an Army represent the most significant, unique force, having an effective vertical structure and social and cultural homogeneity. In the Asian and African countries, the Army is not at all homogenous. In developing countries, the Army can become a force promoting capitalist or non-capitalist development and this depends, to a large extent, on the aims of the given political leadership.

The Armed Forces took over power - in Egypt in 1952, Iraq in 1958 and 1963, Yemen 1962, Pakistan 1958, Burma 1962, Turkey 1960, Sudan 1958, Nigeria 1966 and Syria 1961. All these countries, in the subsequent years, alternated between civilian and military regimes.

Ruling elite

The conditions which motivate the Army to take over power varies from country to country, depending on the nature and ability of its ruling elite. The take-over of power by the Army is limited to the restoration of order and stability in a society, and as Edward Shils says ‘military men are neither businessmen nor civil servants striving for economic development.’

In other words, their role is very limited and time bound. Without a political organisation, no military regime can last long; it needs the support of the masses.

If these factors are not available, they run the risk of taking the inevitable path of self-destruction. Nowadays the military dictatorships in the developing countries find it difficult to sustain themselves in power as they have failed to address the urgent tasks facing these countries. In certain cases, the military regimes have transformed themselves into social regimes with mass political base. Still they find it difficult to come to terms with internal contradictions within the regimes. In most instances, they have failed to ensure speedy economic development.

Professional corpraivism

In the early sixties a new wave of military coups took over power in Latin America, and these regimes in this region resorted to Bonarpartism. Such regimes were based on a kind of social demagogy. Yet another factor was the professionalization of the Armed Forces and they, as a result, began to have a say in various aspects of the State.

The use of Army men to perform civilian and administrative responsibilities lead to professional corpraivism. In most cases, the khaki - clad men try to settle the issues among contending politicians. Mobutu in Congo came on the scene as a saviour in 1965. By 1984, 16 countries in Africa came under military rule; since 1963 coups in the region averaged three per year.

Military was seen as an instrument of post-colonial governance in the countries in Africa. Some regimes sought to acquire legitimacy by presenting themselves as defenders of the nation against foreign intrigue. There are ideological and stylistic differences between military regimes, and this was the pattern in Africa. Most military regimes tend to justify their military interventions on the ground that their presence was necessary to clear up the mess left by the politicians.

An excuse

This kind of agenda provided an excuse to military leaders to usurp power. Many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America experienced variants of military regimes, and there is little evidence to support the contention that military regimes have been more successful and effective than the civilian counterparts.

In addition, they were responsible for the ‘failed States’ where the economic record has been extremely poor. Yet another characteristic feature was the personalisation of power, and this was seen in the autocracies of Idi Amin, Sani Abacha and Gamal Abdel Nasser whose power was based on a personality cult.

 

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