If the postponement of local body polls means less democracy for some time, let it be so, and it is in the interest of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suggested that local government polls in Sri Lanka should be postponed in view of the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka. The government has explained the difficulty in mobilising the necessary funds to hold elections. The government printer, too, informed that it was unable to print ballot papers due to a lack of funds.
Instead of appreciating the issues and cooperating with the government, some political parties and some activists in Sri Lanka are demanding that local body elections should be held as per schedule. They are threatening to organise protests and launch an agitation to demand elections.
The entire world knows that Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented level of economic crisis, bordering on bankruptcy The country is facing the humiliating condition of having to 'beg' for loans from international financing institutions and appeals to those countries which have earlier extended loans to defer the repayment schedule so that Sri Lanka does not end up as a loan defaulter.
In such circumstances, Wickremesinghe was elected as the country’s president in July 2022. With long years of exposure Sri Lanka's political and economic administration and with a reasonable level of personal credibility, the president has been trying his level best to sail Sri Lanka out of the rough waters and restore its dignity as a vibrant nation in the global arena. The task is not easy, as the president has to start virtually from scratch.
Democracy on an empty stomach?
In such conditions, in a mature democracy, all political parties and citizens in various walks of life are expected to show understanding and support to the president, as the urgent task and challenge is to retrieve Sri Lanka from the brink of economic collapse.
Several elections have taken place in Sri Lanka in the past and delay of one more election for a few months in such an adverse scenario should not be viewed in any irresponsible manner as to state that ”such attempts to prevent elections mandated by law represent an unprecedented attack on democracy and the rule of law and pose a grave threat to the electoral process in the future”
The ground reality is that democracy in any country cannot thrive on an 'empty stomach'. Therefore, giving precedence to exercise people’s franchise, at the cost of the national economy which is on the brink and is facing distress conditions impacting day to day life of millions of poor people is absolutely unacceptable and against the national interest.
The commitment of some politicians and civil society members, and the members of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, to the nation’s interest and their capability to appreciate and understand the grim situation has created some doubts about their interests among discerning observers not only in Sri Lanka but across the world.
It is particularly disturbing to note that some politicians have written to Colombo-based diplomats seeking their intervention in ensuring the timely conduct of local body elections. What can one make of the mindset and approach of these politicians in Sri Lanka? Is it their case that international intervention is necessary to ensure local body elections? Can there be a more humiliating act for the people of Sri Lanka than the such an approach of politicians who want global intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs?
Focus on economic development alone
It is seen in many democratic countries that politicians are not the best people among the citizens and they occasionally cause havoc due to their self-centredness, parochial approaches and unethical methods to grab power. In such circumstances, many thinkers and political researchers across the world are veering to the view that a controlled democracy will do a world of good, particularly to developing countries, in place of an uncontrolled and chaotic democracy.
Today, if the elections were to be held in Sri Lanka, there would be acrimonious debates, hate politics, corrupt methods to win elections, and perhaps even violence due to political clashes. These are the possible developments that Sri Lanka needs to avoid at any cost.
The focus of the country has to be on economic development and economic development only.
Sri Lanka has the most experienced person as the president and he needs time and support to restore Sri Lanka’s glory. This is the time for less democracy in Sri Lanka. If the postponement of local body polls means less democracy for some time, let it be so, and it is in the interest of Sri Lanka.
(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. Views are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)