Photo from Mahinda’s Flickr
My father published an article on Constitutionalism vs. Feudalism which has the background on a lot of ideas I’ve tried to express. Basically, why I (we, I guess) support rule of law rather than men, and how the country is veering away from that. He cites a lot of the historical background, from the kingdoms up to the various iterations and reiterations of the Constitution, and how messed up things have got. Under Mahinda Rajapaksa I think we are transitioning to a feudal state. While that has certain benefits, I think they are far outweighed by the costs.
What is surprising is not that the President violates the law and disregards explicit directions from lawful authority, but that the citizenry seem to accept it. Not that the President tries to impress university teachers by inviting them to dinner at Temple Trees, but that most of them go, and some even kiss the hands of their host.
After much reflection, I have had to conclude that we are witnessing a head-on collision between Constitutionalism and Feudalism. Constitutionalism is respect for words on paper that say what power holders can and cannot do; it is basically about the widespread respect for law:
Constitutionalism as a theory and in practice stands for the principle that there are — in a properly governed state — limitations upon those who exercise the powers of government, and that these limitations are spelled out in a body of higher law which is enforceable in a variety of ways, political and judicial.
This sounds basic, but the idea that the government follows as well as enforces law has been largely lost. Ongoing Emergency Law supersedes the Constitution, and the Executive is in daily violation by not implementing the 17th and 13th amendments. You can disagree with those, but having a situation where they’re both on the books and ignored gives you a situation where nothing holds. Law enforcement is literally arbitrary, meted out by law breakers, and punishment is largely defined by proximity to power. It is really more of a feudal system based on connections than a constitutional one based on laws.
Some say that this is actually faster for development, which it may be. However,
As a colleague who read the first draft stated:
“A society embracing feudalism in whatever guise can no longer expect, at the same time, certain other cherished ideals including, but not limited to:
- meritocracy: the best performing persons assured to get best public/academic appointments
- fairness: everyone treated as equals, irrespective of wealth or family connections
- due process: transparent, consultative policy making and policy implementation in the public interest
- equality before the law, affording protection to everyone irrespective of social status or political affiliation
Feudalism, on the other hand, is inherently and fundamentally incompatible with all the above and other values. In fact, there can be no public interest whatsoever in a feudal society; only vested interests. Mervin Silvas, Sakvithis, Potta Naufers and their ilk will be the norm, not exception.
There won’t be a chance in hell for any bright, hard working, honest young man or woman with no family or political connections to rise in society professionally, intellectually, artistically or entrepreneurially — unless they sell their soul to the ruling oligarchy/family.”
Seeing as most Sri Lankans are not actually connected I think a system of equal opportunity might be better for all of us. Furthermore, I think systems based on merit, fairness and equality also lead to better growth. I don’t think there’s no growth under a feudal system, it can be quite fast. I just think a constitutional system is better quality growth, and more sustainable.
Mahinda is all about this feudal model, which is why I don’t support him. Sarath Fonseka is coming from no party or clique and proposing a return to Constitionalism, which is why I support him*. This is my personal preference and however you vote need not be connected to the ideas above. I recommend reading the whole article, there’s a depth to it that I skim. It makes no particular endorsement, that’s me.
*please note that I am contractually obliged to support SF in every post because I’m brainwashed by the UNP. Also note that I’m compelled to link to my father’s articles or I will not get dinner. I could not possibly be using this blog to say what I think and feel.