A forum on democracy held in memory of late Somesasunthary Krishnakumar, University of Jaffna Senior Lecturer in History, was held at the Trimmer Hall in Jaffna on 9 December.
Activists, students, academics, journalists, artists and others from different parts of the country, including Akkaraipattu, Kilinochchi, Kandy, and Colombo, discussed the ongoing political crisis, its historical origins, and what democracy should look like in the future.
Participants agreed the current crisis was not merely a confrontation between political leaders, parties and the three arms of the State, namely the Parliament, Executive and Judiciary. The discussion focused on what democracy in the country has been throughout its history (particularly for groups on the margins such as minority communities, women, oppressed caste communities and workers) and an exploration of systemic changes necessary to build a people-centred democracy.
The forum expressed concerns that the current situation could lead to further polarisation between regions and Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese and Up-Country Tamil communities. Many participants stressed the past failures of the Left and minority movements to come together to shift national politics in progressive directions.
Some highlighted the need to curtail the autocratic character of the executive presidency and work towards a greater devolution of power. Others called for linking economic problems and broader social justice issues facing the people with the rights of minorities.
The forum emphasised that when people are divided and unequally positioned, democracy is meaningless. Ensuring an end to caste, ethnic, gender and class oppression in everyday life is central to building a plural, equal and just society.
It concluded by calling for similar discussions in other parts of the country, encouraging people to participate in changing the system of rule and State structures in order to democratise State power.