Executive President (benevolent dictator) no solution to minority woes

Mahinda To Hitler

MahindaToHitler_LnWIt is reported that the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) stands against the abolition of the Executive Presidency. This newspaper on Monday quoted the General Secretary of the SLMC, Hasan Ali as saying what the country needs is a benevolent dictator, who is capable of managing volatile ethnic relations. He argued that a ‘complete democracy’ would lead to the tyranny of the majority, thereby subjugating the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Hasen Ali was both right and wrong.
That the majoritarian impulses often curtail the rights of the minorities has been seen, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. While the colonial rulers were mulling about granting greater rights of self governance to locals of then Ceylon, the minority leaders – most notably, those representing the Jaffna Tamils feared an onslaught by the newly empowered Sinhala Buddhist majority, whose cultural, religious and linguistic sentiments had been disregarded by the British Raj and their anglicized local brown sahibs. Just after the citizens of Ceylon were granted the Universal Suffrage under the Donoughmore Commission in the early 1930s, the Jaffna Association and Tamil leaders such as G.G. Ponnambalam demanded 50-50 representation in the elected offices (50% for the Sinhalese; 25% for the Tamils and the rest for the other ethnic minorities).
Tamil political elites for both personal and political reasons feared the looming challenge posed to their status quo by the newly empowered majority. However, their demand for a 50-50 representation, failed to convince the Sinhalese leaders and the Lord Soulbury Commission and did not see the light of day.
However, the fears of the Tamil political leaders were proven correct during the latter years of the independence, when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike introduced the Sinhala only Act – and even before that when the first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake disenfranchised a large swathe of Tamils of Indian origin, with the support of some Jaffna Tamil leaders, who saw a threat to their traditional privileges in the increasingly active left leaning trade union activism of the Tamils of Indian origin.
However, to believe that a benevolent dictator would serve as a deterrent to the tyranny of majority is naïve and deluding.
In fact, the worst anti-Tamil pogrom in Sri Lankan history took place during the tenure of the first Executive President J.R. Jayewardene and had the active connivance of some members of the then President’s inner circle. Also, interesting to note is that the current government and the incumbent President have been appeasing the ultra nationalist elements within the ruling coalition.
The argument that the Executive Presidency would protect minority rights stems from the fact that he or she is elected from the popular vote, which requires him or her to reach out to all communities, in order to get elected. However, once elected the Executive Presidency tends to relegate Parliament into redundancy, thereby seriously eroding democratic credentials of the State. It has been seen that an all powerful President tends to uproot whatever the remnant of challenge to him, in order to acquire the absolute power of the State.
An Executive Presidency or a benevolent dictator to that effect is not the solution to the worries of the ethnic minorities. The solution lies in the creation of independent institutions and checks and balance mechanisms that limits the powers of institutions of the government: Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.
It is also important that the rights of the minority communities and the fundamental rights of all citizenry be enshrined in the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land. Also, minority political parties should integrate themselves with the political mainstream in order to campaign for their rights and the rights of all the citizens. The SLMC should learn from the mistakes of the Tamil political parties such as the TULF, Federal Party and the modern day TNA, who isolated their campaign from the mainstream and whipped up communal sentiments of their constituency. Such short sighted tactics proved to have disastrous consequences in the long term.

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