Signs of genuine Democracy?
A police officer
apologises promptly to demonstrators who were accidentally sprayed by an
anti-riot water cannon, a government ministry secretary is summarily
transferred out of post and, two other, more junior, government officers
are also transferred from their posts and, the country's streets and
walls yet remain remarkably un-festooned with (illegal) election
Is this 'Third World' Sri Lanka or, some developed democratic
country? Citizens, looking forward to next week's elections, must now
surely do so with some hope of new things to come rather than that sense
of deja vu that citizens have lived with during successive elections
over decades that routinely feature violence, fraud and abuse of power.
Is the Prime Minister's recent promise of elections 'UK style' holding
These remarkable new features of Sri Lankan political life are
concrete demonstrations of the value of laws and legislation, of the
possibilities of practically useful and active bureaucratic machinery,
of how politicians and government can create and activate new styles of
living democracy. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution may have been
ridiculously diluted in a most transparently opportunistic manner by
power blocs in Parliament hostile to political reform. Nevertheless, the
value of this piece of legislation, even if diluted from the more
comprehensive reform package it was originally meant to be, is now
It is the 19th Amendment that restored power and administrative
autonomy to the Elections Commissioner and his Department to a degree
that he can notify the President - once the all-powerful office - and
the President moves promptly to transfer a Ministry Secretary.
The President has acted in accordance with newly legislated
requirements, but there have been numerous instances in the recent
decade, especially, when the incumbent President has blithely ignored
Similarly, the Police in the Fort, Colombo, when they apologised to
surprised medical students for accidentally spraying them with an
anti-riot water cannon, were not abiding by any new law but merely
behaving in a civilised and responsible manner within the ambit of
existing laws that had long been ignored previously.
What Sri Lankans have begun to experience in recent months is that
crucial conjunction of laws and voluntary best practices. It is not just
obedience to the law but voluntary and spontaneous behaviour according
to its spirit.
These developments last week are a fascinating revelation of how
people, although long used to brutalisation and unthinking lawless
behaviour, are beginning to function strictly according to their duties
and, even better, going beyond duty to a more sophisticated level of
civilised official behaviour.
Has Sri Lankan society begun enjoying the flavours and ambience of a
genuine good governance?
Some veteran political activists, long engaged in pro-democracy
action over the decades in the face of many discouraging down-turns in
the past, may insist on a 'wait-and-see' approach. Given the bitter
experiences of the past, this is probably the most pragmatic approach.
But citizens waiting to exercise their vote next week may be forgiven
if they are thrilled with these small signs of a reviving civilisation.
Perhaps the 'Wonder of Asia' is to come - minus the false exhortations
and pretensions of those denizens who exploited people's hopes with
The newly empowered Commissioner of Elections must be congratulated
for his 'no nonsense' approach to the conduct of the elections. New
powers have not been carelessly used. Neither do we hear bombastic
statements about the meticulous work of government officers
administering the elections process.
The new 'best practices' are being practised without unnecessary
fanfare, perhaps duly noted by the teams of visiting foreign election
Are we also experiencing a shift away from pretensions and false
heroism? Readers and voters may wish to hold their breath rather than
presume anything too soon. There are yet loud roaring noises by 'lions'
and their sundry fellow-travellers. Hopefully, those 'tigers' of
yesteryear will not think to copy such histrionics.
All citizens will look forward in hope that this new style of
politics and government will be keenly experienced and observed by the
emerging generations - the younger voters and future voters - so that
their outlook will be more optimistic and visionary rather than cynical
Civil society groups must take note of all these little upsurges in
good governance and civilised politics so creative inputs could be given
to ensure that these are not momentary flashes but will become
entrenched in institutions and ways of political life. Both politicians
and government officials will need to absorb these 'best practices' as
normal functions and not exceptional behaviour. The education system may
need to incorporate a curriculum that instils such modern civilised
political behaviour in future citizens.
The new generations of the future will, hopefully, know of elections
violence and abuses as features of a dark moment in our island's