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Sri Lanka: Like The Titanic Sri Lanka Democracy Sunk

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ART-111-2012
November 8, 2012

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Sri Lanka: Like The Titanic Sri Lanka Democracy Sunk

Basil Fernando

A comparison with the Titanic is most appropriate.

Titanic at the time was thought of as a wonder ship that could never sink. It was not expected ever to perish.

Sri Lanka also was considered a wonder. It was expected to be an example to other countries. It was expected to prove that democratization of a “less developed country” is possible and achievable. In granting adult franchise in 1931, long before many other countries, Lord Donoughmore said, the world will watch the outcome of this.

However, what everyone conveniently forgot was that they must be vigilant because of the possibility of hidden icebergs.

One such iceberg emerged in 1978. This was by way of a new constitution. It had been quickly created through the tyranny of a two-third majority that government had in parliament. It was a man-made iceberg that created a constitutional monster called the executive president.

However, the country’s affluent sections and the intellectuals were happily drinking and singing the praises of open economy and became oblivious to the danger that was looming.

Each group was pursuing their petty interests and lost sight of the whole.

While the legislature and the judiciary were also were having their parties with the executive, the iceberg got ever closer.

It finally struck. The final blow was on the judiciary, which was itself enjoying the party.

When and how will the sunken democracy rise again? Those are the only real questions now.

In Indonesia it took over 35 years to undo General Suharto’s attack on democracy. Burma, is still struggling to rise again after General Ne Win’s attack on that country’s democracy and there are many other examples which show how difficult it is to rise again.

It is, of course, possible, the sleep walk-by thinking nothing has happened.

Many may find ways to get something out of this tragic situation…… There are times when vultures have their festivals.

But, the truth now is that the ship has in fact sunk.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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