The spirit of democracy and
In a democracy which is as robust as that of Sri
Lanka, taking the people unawares on crucial national issues
could prove exceedingly counter-productive. The
controversy-ridden Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 is one of
the latest cases in point. Earlier we had the Indo-Lanka accord
of 1987 which too met with a stormy public reception, to express
In both cases, we did not have in this country a wide
consultation process featuring the state, the public and other
relevant sections on the accords and the issues of the moment
which stemmed from them. Instead, they were adopted by the
governments of the times in unilateral fashion and this
accounted, among other factors, for the public resentment with
which they were greeted. In both instances, the governments of
the day gave the public the impression that they had no choice
but to adopt the accords because they were under duress to do
Therefore, it should not have come as a surprise if the
agreements were doomed to failure. The fundamental flaw in both
agreements consisted in the fact that the people were not
allowed to debate them prior to adoption and implementation.
Nor were public views on the matters in question sought and
deliberated upon. In the case of the 1987 accord, we had a
second bloody Southern youth upheaval coming in its wake which
thoroughly shook Sri Lanka. In the case of the CFA of 2002, it
was arguably so one-sided that it enabled the LTTE to inexorably
strengthen itself and pose an unprecedented security challenge
to the state, besides according tacit recognition to
‘LTTE-administered’ areas in the country.
Accordingly, it should not have come as a surprise that both
initiatives ended in disheartening failure. Whereas, the public
needed to have been consulted if the spirit of true democracy
prevailed, the decision was taken, instead, to keep the public
in the dark virtually and the repercussions which followed were
grim and unsettling in the extreme for the country.
The two accords in question which ran aground are a reminder
that the democratic process cannot be side-stepped or aborted
when governments are confronted with the task of making
difficult political decisions.
Consulting the people or their representatives is very much
part of the democratic ethos and way of life and a tendency to
violate these time-honoured requirements could have a
deleterious impact on the state concerned.
These reflections are occasioned by some observations on
these and related issues which were made by Minister Dullas
Alahapperuma, which we highlight today.
Speaking on the present government’s efforts to address and
resolve the issues faced by our communities, he said that Sri
Lanka ‘needs the time and space to discuss these issues in depth
and find solutions to them.’ In other words, solutions just
cannot be forced down the throats of the public. The proper
democratic procedure is to deliberate on them with patience and
Likewise, it is of crucial importance that Sri Lanka
transforms its current, mainly, adversarial political culture,
which prevents constructive discussion and debate between the
government and the Opposition, to one of constructive
cooperation on issues of national importance. We need hardly say
that thus far in our post-independence political history it has,
largely, been a case of the government ‘proposing’ and the
Opposition ‘disposing’. Destructive politics of this kind have
prevented far-sighted and wise decisions being taken by
governments for the country’s sake.
It is time to take stock of the damage unwise political
postures and decisions have engendered in this country.
Apparently, this country needs to get back to basics. If
democracy has to be developed, then, we cannot remain mired in a
species of politics that has as its end power and power alone.
Politics, which is a most precious activity, must be geared
towards serving the national interest and that too in a most
inclusive fashion, which means that it must provide for informed
public debate and discussion prior to the taking of crucial