Foreign Affairs

Reading Election Manifestos

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Tariq Ali, when informed us that democracy will perish even before capitalism reaches its finish. Does it imply a new phase of capitalism with the absence of democracy? In a way it is not a novel phenomenon considering that in its brief history, not going beyond 300 years, capitalism and democracy have not often co-existed. Contemporary democracy was invented under capitalism, but it has not been an outcome of capitalism. It has been an outcome of numerous struggles waged by various social layers of society invariably against capitalism. Sri Lanka has witnessed a robust tendency towards authoritarianism since the advent of a constitution with executive presidential program as its constitutional architecture and neoliberalism as its economic framework. Even though the presidential program facilitated the introduction of neoliberalism the latter in its turn reinforced the executive presidential method. This has created it less complicated us to picture a life without having democracy but not a life without having capitalism. Nonetheless, as soon as once more, democracy has become a crucial concern in the forthcoming presidential election in Sri Lanka ambiguity prevails over what democracy really signifies notwithstanding.

The forces that have been mobilized against the incumbent president have rightly raised the problem of democracy as a central concern facing the nation today. Democracy signifies different things for various individuals, for different social groups. Nevertheless, practically all the oppositional forces, except Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) had come to a consensus that in order to reestablish democracy in Sri Lanka a single of the vital prerequisite is the abolition of the executive presidential technique. It was explicitly states what is needed is to abolish it and replace it with a different program. There was a debate on the option method but the majority of the opposition wanted to go back to the Parliamentary method. Will the democratic aspirations of the men and women fulfil after the presidential election? Let us evaluation the election manifestos of the candidates. At the moment, I have three manifestos with me. I will focus 1st on the Manifestos of Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) and candidate Maithripala Sirisena (MS). It is not uncommon to have some degree of rhetoric in election manifesto. Figure 1 summarizes proposals in two manifestos on the situation on constitutional alter. ( Click right here to read MS manifesto and here to MR manifesto)

SumaneIt is exciting to note there is no fundamental difference amongst two candidates as far as the constitutional change/ amendment is concerned. Even though MR leaves the adjustments for the proposed constituent assembly only submitting his ideas on certain troubles, MS has offered detailed list of alterations he is arranging to make within 100 days hence leaving present constitutional architecture intact.

Hence, my conclusion is that with regard to the problems that have been raised by a variety of democratic fora in order to enhance democratic governance in the nation have been either marginalized or neglected in the two manifestoes. Considering that its inception, particularly given that the late 1980s, folks in this country voted for the abolition of the executive presidential system. Constitutional drafts and proposals submitted by citizens’ initiatives reflected this aspiration of the individuals. Nevertheless, the people who began to taste and take pleasure in the energy of the EP refused to adjust it. Ironically, Candidate MS has refused to adjust it following generating a guarantee to that respect even before tasting and enjoying it. In such a circumstance, can we count on democratic governance right after January 8?

The existing democracy discourse in Sri Lanka is marred by a quite narrow definition of democracy. This definition that was advanced for the specific needs of neo-liberalism following in the context of developing nations the Augmented Washington Consensus focuses principally on issues like governance, rule of law, non-interventionist state. Freedom of established media and so on. In other words, the basic objective of democracy is lowered to the operational needs of neo-liberalist phase of capitalism. It would be fascinating to evaluate the definition of democracy adopted right now with that of pre-1994 period. Before 1994 election, democracy included as an inseparable element the power-sharing arrangement although what it meant was not explicitly stated. At least it meant going beyond the 13th Amendment. It also included supplying a ‘human face’ to capitalism. Above all, the abolition of the executive presidential program as an intimate element of comprehensive constitutional redesign was integrated as a pre-requisite of the reestablishment of democracy. This clearly shows the degradation of democratic discourse in the final 20 years. What does it imply? Jairus Banaji, an Indian Marxist, when informed us about 3 meanings of democracy.

1. Democracy in the sense of the formal framework of a constitutional democracy with the rights to freedom and equality, the correct to life and individual liberty, to freedom of religion etc that it guarantees.

two. Democracy as a culture of resistance grounded in the constitutional rights offered beneath my 1st meaning.

three. Democracy as an aspiration for manage. One can see the Communist Manifesto as a generalization of democracy in this third sense (of the mass of workers aspiring to handle their own lives, economically, politically and culturally) and as a culmination of democracy in each the prior senses.  As a result for communists (in Marx’s sense) the mass element in democracy is crucial, it is what defines democracy in its most complete sense and historical form.

In the last twenty years we witnessed two types of democratic struggles. Democratic struggled initiated and led by numerous ‘citizen’ democratic groups operated inside economico-legal structure of neoliberalism with the primary objective of achieving these formal democratic rights. These struggles fell beneath the rubric of very first meaning cited above. And numerous of these movements are fundamentally urban and elitist. In restricted sense, some of them went beyond the first which means falling at the boundary of the second meaning.

The second sort of democratic struggles were not even depicted democratic struggles as they had questioned the standard economico-legal structure of neoliberalism. Here, I include, Tamil struggle for autonomy, the Free Trade Zone struggles against proposed pension bill to integrate EPF into accumulation method, struggles against forceful eviction of urban folks, protests by rural masses on numerous issues connected to their day to day living and the student struggles against commodification of education. In these struggles, even in restricted sense, peoples’ aspiration for control was expressed. It is also exciting note that these struggles were led by subaltern layers of the Sri Lankan society.

Two main candidates have failed in their manifestos to address even essential concerns raised by elitist citizen groups. As indicated in the Figure 1 above, both have refused to touch the unitary character of the Constitution. Although MR have said that he would recommend to the proposed constitution assembly to maintain the unitary character of the state, MS have informed he would not TOUCH the unitary and non-secular nature of the present constitution. Therefore ensuring majoritarian rule over numerically tiny nations would stay unchanged.

It was in this back drop, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has also refused to present an option. It has taken an opportunist position to show that it has not yet broken from its coalition politics that began in 2004. Similarly Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been silent on the principal democratic demands of autonomy. The same can be described on the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). All three parties have clearly capitulated to parliamentarism claiming that only two alternatives are open. The ideal selection opened for TNA and SLMC in my view is to field candidates on the basis of their key demands or to type a front with other subaltern forces on a minimum widespread plan. In the absence of those 3 forces, the only light at the end of the tunnel is the manifesto of the Left Front that comprehensively address the problems of democracy in its all 3 meanings. The Left Front led by 34 year old former student leader with consistent track record, Duminda Nagamuwa, proposes a setting up of a constituent assembly comprising not just Parliamentarians but the representatives of trade unions, peasant organizations and many other peoples’ organizations. He guarantees autonomy for numerically small nations and guarantees what has been currently provided for then will not be allowed to take back. A robust and vibrant social movement of subalterns dealing with all three meanings of democracy cited above is crucial if the Sri Lankan need democracy following January 9 whatever the outcome of the election.

*The writer is the co-coordinator of the Marx School. e-mail: [email protected]

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