Facing realism and practicing pragmatism imperative for progress

| by Milinda Rajasekera

(September 28, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Most of the confusion and conflicts in this country evidently arise as a result of the failure on the part of concerned sections to be realistic and pragmatic in their attitudes and actions. They often are seen clinging on to their favourite ideologies, concepts and theories in their approaches to the country’s problems and issues without coming down to the world of realities. This tendency is observable particularly in the field of politics and economics. Tried and tested concepts and theories expounded by analysts and experts, no doubt, are important. But the need for taking into consideration the ground realities before they are applied to situations cannot be overlooked.

The unsatisfactory nature of the constitution adopted at the time of gaining independence began to dawn subsequently on most political leaders and other discerning citizens of this country.
Great thinkers and experts in political science have bequeathed to the world numerous political theories and concepts. Some of these have been adopted in certain countries with great success. But some countries that attempted to adopt them without proper study or understanding of ground realities in those countries have faced numerous problems. Ours is an example of a country that has failed to take the realities into serious consideration in adopting its system. of government. True, commissions and committees carried out studies and conducted discussions and different political systems were suggested but finally what they accepted and adopted was the Westminster model. Those responsible for that decision were undoubtedly influenced by the prevailing opinion that it was the only system through which principles of democracy could be protected and pursued.

Although that system was embraced and adopted with great fanfare at the time of gaining independence, over the years, it has paved the way for the continuation of the detested ‘divide and rule’ policy that was followed under the colonial rule. The party system that became part and parcel of the new scheme of politics succeeded in dividing and subdividing our people who belonged to different races, castes and religions. The party system so established proceeded on a destructive path and brought the country to the present parlous position.

The wiser course should have been to take the existing realities into consideration and adopt a system that would have been capable of keeping the disparate citizenry together, a system under which the much vaunted ancient tradition of assembling, deliberating and dispersing in peace and harmony could have been practiced. This is an idealistic proposition, no doubt, but an effort could have been made to get at a system that would at least have come close to the ideal. The system that was in operation prior to the adoption of the Soulbury Constitution, the Donoughmore Constitution, despite its drawbacks, provided for at least one positive feature, namely the active participation of all members of the country’s highest assembly in the country’s administration. That system obviated the need for a parliamentary opposition. A system similar to that could have been formulated. In fact, suggestions were made at the time of subsequent deliberations on constitutional reforms, for the adoption of a similar system modified to suit the existing needs. But they were thrown overboard and Westminster model was preserved.

The unsatisfactory nature of the constitution adopted at the time of gaining independence began to dawn subsequently on most political leaders and other discerning citizens of this country. They were all concerned about the growing disunity and enmity among different communities and among members of the same community under the operation of the Soulbury Constitution. What they saw were; the manner in which people were emotionally attached to different political parties; the occurrence of conflicts and clashes among parties causing death and destruction; the holding of undemocratic elections; the instability of administration delaying and disrupting national projects; the lack of support and cooperation from opposition parties and obstructing solution of national problems; the establishment and toppling of governments in elections or through political manipulations; the abandonment of development schemes and projects initiated by one government by the next and several other ill-effects.

Despite this disenchantment with the system, no meaningful steps were taken by the concerned leaders to bring about any drastic changes in the system. It was against this backdrop that former President J.R.Jayewardene proposed in the 1960 s the adoption of a system of administration that would remedy this situation. His proposal was to introduce an executive presidential system of government that would ensure stability and efficiency of administration and promote consensual politics. As to how he proposed the adoption of this system at the time of the promulgation of the 1972 First Republican Constitution and how he finally succeeded in achieving his objective in 1977 are historical facts.

Many motives were attributed to this move and many a criticism was hurled at the system. The manner in which political leaders and parties promised to abolish the system and how they reneged on them are well known. However, the fact remains that it was a bold attempt made by JRJ to take the country away from the Westminster model. The fact that the system survives to this day despite all the criticism demonstrates that it contains certain positive features.

So, it is for those who are seriously and genuinely concerned about the country’s future to make an impartial and objective assessment of the way in which the existing system operated during the last few decades and formulate a new political arrangement that would suit the present requirements of the country. This system should be able to obtain the active participation – not mere cooperation - of all political parties in the country’s administration. The fact that it has been made possible today for several parties to work together, proves that the achievement of such an objective is not impossible. What makes this possible is the commitment of political leaders and parties to the concept of realism and pragmatism.

The same concept needs to be followed in matters relating to the country’s economy too. It was attempts made in the past to apply and promote hidebound ideologies and theories in respect of measures taken to achieve economic progress that have made the country lag behind a number of other nations.