Sri Lanka civil society leader calls for justice, freedom
COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – A senior civil society leader has called for rule of law and freedom in Sri Lanka and a system of just rule where all people would be able to get fair treatment without political interference.
A T Ariyaratne, founder of Sarvodaya a large civil society organization in Sri Lanka said the current system of politics has led division, corruption and deteriorating rule of law and freedoms.
Ariyaratne said Sri Lanka has failed to build a nation that transcended barriers of caste, religion and power politics, but his organization sought to create a single Sri Lankan identity.
His organization which was founded nearly six decades ago had initiated work among people who not even priests visited due to being considered to be of ‘low caste’, he recalled.
Rule of law was undermined and there was a suspicion among the people about the impartiality of the judicial system. There were concerns over fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of expression and the right to assembly.
There were cases of large-scale bribery and corruption.
There was a concern about citizens’ inability to get fair treatment from state institutions because of politicization, Ariyaratne said.
In Sri Lanka ‘politicization’ refers to a situation where elected rulers in power have been able to break down institutions of liberty including the judiciary, so that people, including those working in them are treated unjustly and arbitrarily.
Analysts have traced a root cause of the problem as stemming from the intentional breaking up by the elected ruling class of a strong institution of liberty that earlier existed in the form of permanent secretaries of ministries who were appointed by a civil service commission of their peers and sacked only when they did something wrong.
The system was broken by two constitutions in the 1970s.
They were replaced by politically appointed ‘impermanent secretaries’ who were forced to obey the elected ruling class in order remain in office and who were sent to a ‘pool’ as soon as they defied an unjust or wrongful order.
In Sri Lanka an attempt was made to re-build an independent public service again with a ‘constitutional council’ but that institution was also abolished recently by a recent amendment to the constitution.
Ariyaratne said his organization did not get involved in politics except in ensuring that free and fair elections were held and had supported civil organizations that worked to ensure that elections were held freely.
Now he said there was violence and obstructions to free campaigning with violence and destruction.
He said voters should be allowed to vote without exposing themselves to violence.
"We should always work for non-violence and peace before during and after elections," Ariyaratne said.
Ariyaratne said he was not in favour of the current system of party politics which was promoting fear and hatred but that was the system the society had to work with.
Sarvodaya itself promoted ‘Deshodaya’ principles involving village level.
Other political philosophers have pointed out that after feudal rule ended in Europe and the popular vote began, countries went in two directions.
Some countries where liberal philosophers were able to spread their message, abolished slavery, gained religious emancipation and became free with strong institutions.
But others – particularly in Eastern Europe until World War II – fell victim to fascist-nationalism, and a strong state where individual freedoms were taken away, through the popular vote which has a natural tendency to majoritarianism when unchecked by values of human freedoms.
Analysts say constitutions in Europe evolved on two principles: to restrant the state and rulers and to give absolute guarantees of equality to citizens, but in Sri Lanka from the 1970s the opposite had happened.