Opinion: Peopleizing governance – Acute need of the hour

Return to the roots of Democracy – Athens & Sparta …

By Chrishmal Warnasuriya

Proposed Constitutional Reforms – “Grama Raajya”:

So, almost 70 years on since our independence we are now discussing the need to return sovereign power back to the grassroots, thus it has taken us all this time to realize that bit-by-bit, the power to govern ourselves has been carefully and continuously removed from us; notwithstanding Article 3 of the Constitution that proclaims that sovereignty of this Republic lies in us, its People and is inalienable.

If one were to carefully peruse the constitutional amendments proposed following the committee deliberations (we are reliably informed that the document itself is being carefully crafted beyond closed doors), it casts a critical overview on the present system of power sharing to the periphery; finding fault with the present divisional secretariat, district functions, even some concurrent list subject allocations and restrictions on raising finance in the provinces as reasons for its failure of purpose.

They advocate the recognition of local authorities as a third-tier of government and furthermore the establishment of a “grama raajya“ as an independent body at community level to advise and navigate the activities of these local authorities – very good!

Nothing new – Democracy began in this manner:

A student of this science (of politics) will argue that what the pundits have realized now is nothing new to the discipline; if one looks at the nation-state concepts of ancient Greece, widely accepted as the birthplace of modern-day democratic models; those citizens met together and exercised their legislative, executive and even judicial functions in a manner agreed by them; hence the term “direct democracy”.

Over the effluxion of time and what we call evolution of man we have moved to a “representative democratic” model, from that under-developed state (that we are supposed to have been in then) to this sophisticated age of modern living (that we are credited to having achieved now). We have slowly but surely alienated that “direct authority” we had over decisions that affect our lives (or governance), mostly for reasons of capital-driven economic and time convenience; delegating more and more of that authority on institutions to do the job for us, paying for their subsistence with our taxed monies.

Those Institutions or rather the crooks that we have “elected” into them have quickly realized that other than the occasional comment on facebook that the majority of us will post, that too only if we are really frustrated with the government over something affecting us personally and except for a handful of civil-conscious fellows who are constantly shouting (insignificant in number to make any real impact, except perhaps at a time of elections) they have a free hand to carry on as they desire with their merry-governing and globetrotting, all at our taxed expense and no one really seems to care!

So if we assume that this is what has prompted the “select few” who have apparently been handed over the task of drafting our supreme law (to govern all of us) avoiding public debate or consensus for some silly reason, to recommend that democracy must be returned to the people at the grassroots, it is an admission that the system has failed by removing those powers from us; very good, again!

Global Trend – People’s participation in governance:

The “grama raajya“ model or empowering the People at the lowest level of political interaction is also nothing new to Asia, if you consider Gandhi’s concept of democratic decentralization in our very own big-brotherly neighbour, which stemmed from the passionate belief in non-violence, truth and individual freedom of this great-small-man; the father of modern India. He advocated the Panchayati Raj (or village Swaraj) as a little village-republic, self-sufficient in its vital wants, non-hierarchically linked with the more politically advanced institutions but enjoying maximum freedom of deciding their own affairs. The concept was for political power to be distributed amongst these villages, hence the term ‘Swaraj’ or what Gandhi ji described as true democracy based on individual freedom, which he postulated could only be achieved in autonomous, self-reliant communities with the fullest participation by its People.

We could perhaps look at our own “home-grown” model by accommodating Local Authorities driven by such Gram Raj concepts at the Centre which will certainly boost our national development. Perhaps an electoral system that will return the Head / Chairman of such a local unit ex officio to the central legislature will alleviate the acute need to have real People participation in the day-to-day running of affairs. This will also remove that “political party cancer” that we have, to divide ourselves into colours and fight during any election only for the party hierarchy to get their family and friends into public office at our cost.

We could perhaps accommodate a Bicameral Legislature with equal number of representatives returned from the regions, thus making a meaningful “Upper House” similar to the German Bunderstrat, which may then also pave the way for a limited Cabinet to be inclusive of the concerns of all our regions or provinces (regions & ethnicities) in central decision-making.

Do we not need to change the system?

The present regime appears to have accepted that the present system is not working. That is why they are looking at models of returning the power to the People.

WHEN will we realize that our present system only returns a majority of clowns as our Representatives who thereafter behave as if the Peoples wishes are the furthest of their considerations?

WHY do we not mobilise ourselves as a People in whom this Republic has vested its absolute sovereign power and start acting in the role of Masters of that authority?

HOW do we stop our servants, to whom we have delegated our power abusing their office?

WHERE do we draw the line and say enough is enough or do we go on like this without changing the system and at the next election as well, pick another bunch of cronies and permit them to carry on for a further term, enjoying and partying the spoils of our taxed rupees with their royal jet-sets and families?

(Chrishmal Warnasuriya is a life member of the Bar Association of SL (BASL), a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) & the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers UK (ASLLUK). He obtained a Master’s Degree in Laws (Hons) from King’s College and was thereafter granted conversion to the UK Bar.)