Our Perspective

‘Liberal Democracy’ - Too Overrated?


Sri Lanka’s youth has had a troubled relationship with regard to political involvement. The 1971 insurrection which had a communist outlook and the following and preceding uprisings which were fuelled by vain nationalism and youth at its peak did actually contribute towards the lack of peace in the country. According to the National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2014, the violence the country has experienced in the past is why youth feels discouraged when it comes to most avenues of political participation. However although the roots of these uprisings and issues definitely have a longer story, pundits might argue that all these seem to prove that if Sri Lankan society was a flourishing liberal democracy or had liberal democratic principles in governance, many of these problems could have been lessened or at its best; resolved. This argument might be true but it also might not be true.


I think it’s important to discuss liberal democracy with regards to Sri Lanka for a couple of reasons. At present we, by and large have a government which leans towards liberal democracy mainly because the main political party (the UNP) led by Ranil Wickramasingha is known for its promotion of “western style” liberal democracy (Noting importantly however, that the UNP per se is not a liberal democratic party. Leaders such as Dudley Senenayake and R. Premadasa had largely social-democratic principles in play). Coupled with this (or due to this) there seems to be an over-glorification of ‘liberal democracy’ in parts of Sri Lankan society especially among the youth. It may be due to the new energy and excitement caused by a change in the political party governing the county after a long time and the role the youth played in bringing it into power. Nevertheless, it could be acknowledged that this development can be seen from a positive perspective. For example, the promotion of liberal democratic values among Sri Lankan youth can contribute and is contributing towards the slow but steady end of the ‘ragging culture’ prevalent in local universities. After all, who would want someone to get ragged or see someone get ragged and claim it to be a positive and enlightening experience except for a lunatic? The NHDR (2014) mentions how youth in Sri Lanka may not always engage in mainstream politics, but as stated before, are attracted to alternative, more liberal ideologies.


However, democracy as we know it, is not perfect. So is any other man made system of governance. Thus, it could be dangerous to over glorify democracy as a perfect system. After all, even Adolf Hitler rose to power in a democracy with a highly liberal constitution. Even Donald Trump might in the ‘democratic’ United States. Thus, we the islanders should be kind of more careful when trying to promote ‘democracy’ blindly and spontaneously. The people of this country has had a horrible time experimenting with ideologies. Not to forget, that the over glorification and pontification of certain ideologies and vain nationalism are precisely considered an integral part-and-cause of our troubled post-independence history.


So I would like to remind myself and yourself this: Democracy is fine but remember it is not perfect.


But you might ask, what’s the option left? Anarchy? Certainly not.


This brings me to the exact point which I wanted to make in this piece, and I will sum it up in a global context and hence not limited to the Sri Lankan context. Across human history people have created various systems to govern themselves. Most of the forms are far from perfect. The idea of importing a certain notion of governance such as the western notion of liberal democracy is not feasible in the sense that factors such as culture and tradition plays into the adoptability and homogeneousness. In a global context, fighting wars over imposing a certain kind of system is redundant in itself given the empirical evidence of failure. Majority of the forms of governance has its share of positives and negatives. Usually the aim of any form of governance is to achieve goodness for the people under its rule. Thus the main way to reconcile various forms of governance be it the democracy practiced in the United States or communism in China is to achieve a standard based on the lowest common denominator. That standard should be based on for example on a universally agreed declaration such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In this way we can appreciate the different ways governance is practiced in different countries according to its own history, religion, culture or tradition whilst preserving and safeguarding the basic human rights based on the common standard. This I believe is the way forward rather than the over-glorification and pontification of the supremacy of a single man made ideology. After all, remember, some of the greatest disasters to occur to mankind were due to ideological battles and the need for vain supremacy. 

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