Stability needs deconstruction | Sunday Observer

Stability needs deconstruction

18 September, 2022

What is the rule of law? It’s said to be the opposite of the rule of men, but to put it as simply as possible, when the rule of law is used to promote the rule of men, what is the result, and where does the rule of law stand when the lack of judicial review of legislation, for instance, legitimises rule of law that is in the end the rule of men for all intents and purposes?

No Government that has liberal tendencies is able to advance an agenda that’s self-serving and claim that it is in pursuance of the rule of law. But today it’s difficult to distinguish between a liberal government that is tolerant, and any regime anywhere in the world, of arch manipulators pretending to be liberal and democratic.

This absurdity of liberals being oppressive and conservatives being enablers has occurred in Australia and so many other countries for instance, that it’s difficult today for organisations or nations even, to decide whether a government has democratic credentials or not.

There were governments that in the bad old days supported the apartheid regime of South Africa, but claimed democratic credentials in those early days.

Whatever may be said about the Queen of England who passed away last week, one thing that’s entirely positive about her that history records in a very flattering light, is that when her own Government was propping up the apartheid South African regime, at least obliquely if not directly, she was steadfast in her own quiet and understated mission never to visit that African nation until the apartheid regime had been dismantled.

That record of various governments that ostensibly stood for human rights supporting or at least not standing in the way of the apartheid regime late into the 80s, stands as testimony to the fact that there is some distance between what the world considers at a given time as a liberal democratic dispensation, and what in reality is a liberal-democracy.


Today’s focus in this country is to bring back economic sustenance and revive the economy which went into a death spiral during the past few months, and now has barely turned the corner. When the economy is the main concern, obviously other issues such as whether we are building a democratic polity that has true democratic credentials, is being pushed into the background.

This is curious, because the current regime is by reputation at least, democratically credentialed. It’s leading lights we are told have been brought up in the liberal democratic tradition. Not just that, they also loudly say hurrah to various liberal-democratic dispensations and are quite in awe of such liberally credentialed countries.

Such a regime should when in Government, even when putting the country in economic recovery mode, have more than an eye on how the democratic process works, and on how the rule of law is respected and preserved.

But while Amnesty International warns that democratic safeguards should be respected, or promotes causes vis a vis Sri Lanka that help to preserve some measure of democracy in the midst of some unprecedented tumult, it doesn’t appear that in any other quarter, there is any serious effort to ensure that anybody is serious about the country’s democratic credentials.

It’s true that there is a developing dissident group in Parliament, but this is also a very tentative force, that is extremely watchful about its own image i.e. any possibility about them as dissidents being branded as saboteurs that are attempting to block the economic recovery that is very gradually taking place.


But, there must be a reason that bad as the country’s finances are, everybody is concerned about the economy alone these days and not about how the country’s dissidents, it’s many conscientious objectors, it’s civil society agitators, would have their rights respected and protected.

One may say, it’s usually the other way around. The common complaint is that there are too many folk agitating about the issues of democracy, and this fact is time and again highlighted by the regime in power and those who want the economy to function, and the goods to be delivered.

But it’s as if nobody wants that ‘luxury’ now, least of all the oversight bodies that normally holds the feet of a regime to the fire, to ensure that democracy is functional, and the rule of law respected.

The problem with this attitude is that when people get around to realising that the freedoms they took for granted have all gradually been eroded while the economy was being revived, it may indeed be too late.

Look at what had happened to Myanmar, for instance. The military regime there, has sentenced the only real democrat in that country to a stiff jail term, but there isn’t enough support forthcoming for her nationally or internationally, perhaps due to the perception that she was in cahoots with the military junta in suppressing the rights of the Rohingya minority that led an utterly wretched existence in the country’s peripheries.

But the Rohingya issue, bad as it was, and bad as former leader Aung San SuuKyi’s attitude towards that problem may have been, is no reason to turn a blind eye when the junta is using the tactics of suppression, and undermining democracy on steroids, as they say.

It is a ridiculous situation and it’s moot as to why the world’s governments for instance are so absurdly selective when it comes to condemning obvious rights violations.

Not so in this regard, organisations such as Amnesty International that have constantly attempted to keep the feet of the rulers to the fire, be it in Myanmar, or any other part of Asia or the world.

But, they can’t do the job alone or with a few like-minded organisations and entities. Within the country, democracy has been suppressed to such an extent in Myanmar that the resistance movement that was beginning to mount a formidable show of dissent has been now reduced to shambles.


In other parts of Asia, the same should not be allowed to happen even if it’s happening in slower motion and less dramatically than in Myanmar. The rights of protesters and dissidents have been hard-earned.

Respect for rule of law per se in countries such as ours has been on the whole hard-earned. Issues such as post-enactment review of legislation for instance, should be in far greater focus at this moment in view of all that’s happening despite the fact that all focus is on economic recovery in the current conjuncture.

But more importantly, there should be room for dissent and for reasonable use even of the devices of civil disobedience in the furtherance of democratic expression — of what use are the tenants of rule of law otherwise, if such democratic fundamentals are not respected?

The dissident group so-called in the Sri Lankan Parliament has not shown its direction, or any resolve, and there is no indication that it’s helping either in the economic recovery, or in the preservation of the rule of law or the right to dissent.

The people would be watching, and would probably brush aside such ‘dissidence’ that is for the most part concerned with the passing of time.

Of course there is much to be done on the issue of getting the economy back on an even keel. But, the people of this country do not want to be herded through that process as if they are being led with a cattle prod.

They would want to be stakeholders — it’s their futures that are being decided, and they do not very presumably want the same governance mistakes that brought about the recent economic meltdown to be repeated with or without minor variations, in the near or distant future.

But the problem is that nobody apart from a very few people and organisations seem to be interested at the moment, except in looking the other way, until the economy sorts itself out.

That’s thought to be a virtue — a sort of ‘productive’ disengagement of choice, because it’s supposed that being disinterested is the best form of assistance that the administrators can be given at this moment.

That sort of wishful thinking has had its consequences before. Those who are prone to ignore the lessons of history on the other hand, seem destined to risk repeating the rather tragic outcomes of the past.