On Politics
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On Politics


From First Principles

What is #CoupLK about? What do you think?

  • A. The “Crisis” is all about the constitution. The President @MaithripalaS ‏ violated the constitution appointing #FakePM @PresRajapaksa. He mustn’t be allowed to do that.
  • B. The “Crisis” is about getting rid of the incompetent @officialunp. The @MaithripalaS has the right to get rid of them. We should support his actions, and vote in a new parliament. #LetMeVote
  • C. This “Crisis” is about rotten politicians. It shows that all our parliamentarians (@officialunp, @SLPP everyone), are rotten. We need to get rid of all of them, and vote in some new faces.

90% of opinion and discussion on our (Sri Lanka’s) constitutional crisis (a.k.a. #CoupLK) fall into groups A or B — split firmly along partisan lines. There is a small minority who purport C. While the options are true to some extent, not one represents the whole truth.

But then, what is the whole truth about #CoupLK? How should we think about it? What should we do? If you’re interested, read on.

Which hat is the President wearing?

Laws (including the constitution) are paradoxically circular. Citizens elect legislators. Legislators pass laws. Laws govern citizens.

Since citizens (through their elected representatives) pass laws, citizens are the masters of laws. But since said laws govern the said citizens, the citizens are also servants of the laws. Hence, citizens need to wear two hats: MASTER and SERVANT. To complicate matters, when a citizen is allowed to be MASTER and when they should be SERVANT is also defined in the said laws.

At the core of the #CoupLK is a particularly special citizen, the President, and it is not clear which hat he is wearing, or should be wearing.

  • A. If you believe A, your claim is that @MaithripalaS is playing MASTER, when the constitution says he should be playing SERVANT.
  • B. If you believe B, your claim is he’s indeed playing SERVANT, or that he should be allowed to be MASTER.
  • C. If you believe C, your claim is that all this is irrelevant. Everyone is playing MASTER when it suits them, and rotten politicians are solely to blame.

Why be SERVANTs?

For laws to work, all of the following must be true.

  1. Definition. Citizens need to know what the laws are, either individually, or through the help of experts (lawyers).
  2. Transparency. Processes must be in place to know who is obeying the law, and who isn’t.
  3. Enforcement. Citizens breaking the law need to be punished.

All of the above require the support of citizens and institutions made up of citizens. For example, transparency needs a free press, and enforcement needs an honest and efficient police force. For laws to work, all the citizens who are part of these processes must agree to be SERVANTs of the law.

But, why laws?

Why go through all this trouble to be SERVANTs of the law?

After all, why did I have to waste 90 seconds at a red light, at 1 am, with no other vehicles anywhere to be seen? Why obey rules that innately curtail our freedoms?

This is true. All rules curtail our freedoms. But on the other hand, they also create freedoms which we might not have. For example, if no one adheres to road rules, it will not be safe to drive. Hence, effectively, stopping at a red light gives us the freedom to drive.

We shouldn’t think “Why do I need to obey law X?”. Instead we should think, “What if everyone disobeys law X?”

But, why care?

Why would an ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka care about the constitution being violated?

Despite a lot of hype in the press (particularly the international press), things are surprisingly normal in Island. Except for the odd protest (and the ensuing traffic jam), for most people, it is business as usual. This is likely to change in the new year, particularly with a budget needing passage, but for now, it is what it is.

But back to our question: Why care? Even if I did care about laws, the powerful (especially politicians) of this country don’t. So even if I do care, is there anything I can do?

(Disguised) TODO List

I’m not going to list a TODO list. It’s not because I don’t have any TODOs in mind, but it’s because I don’t want to come across as “a person who tells other people what to do”.

Instead, I’m going to describe “types” of citizens in this country. You will (probably) fall into one or more of these types. As for TODOs, with a little bit of reflection, it should be evident what you need to do.

Types of Citizens

  • The Legal Alien. You are a Sri Lankan citizen who doesn’t care about politics or government or civics. While you have the right to vote, you have never voted in an election. All the laws you obey have been enacted by politicians who were voted in by other people. Hence, effectively, you are an alien forced to conform to an artificial set of laws. You might as well be in another country, or another planet. But then again, you don’t really care about this country. Your birth here was mostly a random event, beyond your control.
  • The Alien who loves Sri Lanka. For most part, you are just like “The Legal Alien”. However, you have an emotional attachment to the country. All your close friends and family are Sri Lankans, and though you don’t actively think about it, there are many things about Sri Lanka, that you love — from food, to music, to culture. At the same time you wish life could be better in Sri Lanka, and you wish you could do something about it. But like “The Legal Alien” you are civically inactive, and you despair that there is nothing you can do.
  • The Armchair Citizen. Irrespective of your emotional attachment to Sri Lanka, you diligently vote in elections, and keep abreast of political news. You engage in robust conversations with your friends, and sometimes strangers. You can elaborate theories on fixing politically motivated problems. People often ask you if your interested in enacting these ideas — to which you reply that you have don’t have enough time at the moment. Unknown to you, people consider you a bit of a joke — all wind, and no action.
  • The Hopeless One. Like “The Armchair Citizen” you are a civically responsible citizen. You vote, you read, and you discuss. You also want to act, but don’t see how — after all, power and money is centralized in a few hands. There are some contradictions in your thinking — for example, while you believe that “All politicians should be honest”, you’ve often voted for politicians with dubious financial records. You justify this by claiming that there were no other options, particularly since the new candidate had no chance of getting elected.
  • The Party Hack. Elections are a formality for you. You’ve always voted for the Party X, and that’s how you will continue to vote. You are considered part of the “Voting Base of Party X”. In effect, you don’t have any political rights because your vote is a forgone conclusion. You think that the party considers you a loyal, even distinguished supporter. You are deaf to the title “sucker” voiced in your general direction.
  • The Child. You are not old enough to vote, so some of the above might not be relevant. At the same time you don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the older generation. They will soon die, leaving you to face the music.

What are you going to do? Comments welcome :)



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Nuwan I. Senaratna

Nuwan I. Senaratna


I am a Computer Scientist and Musician by training. A writer with interests in Philosophy, Economics, Technology, Politics, Business, the Arts and Fiction.