View from the back of a trishaw
Politicians pay about as much attention to laws as trishaw drivers do to traffic regulations. They cross lines, go the wrong way, cut people off – all in the name of getting somewhere faster. The end result, however, is chaos. Driving in Sri Lanka slowly drives you mad and lessens your faith in humanity. The politics can do the same thing. There are laws here, and a Constitution, but no one really follows them. There’s supposed to be a Constitutional Council for most appointments, but that’s just ignored. There’s also supposed to be devolution to the provinces, also ignored. Each of those points is debatable, but the fact that they’re just ignored leads to chaos.
It’s trishaw democracy, the politicians just go wherever they please. The Supreme Court, as well, did whatever it wanted under Sarath de Silva, and then the government began simply ignoring those rulings as well. Before blaming them completely, of course, I think part of the problem is cultural. Even in the private sector, the culture isn’t so much about rules as it is about proximity to the boss. Even to get the simplest thing done you reach as high as possible, contacting the CEO to make sure you get your phone connection. This reach is done through family and whatever hodge-podge of hook-ups and all manner of red-tape and regulation is expected to be dispensed with. When this works it’s great, everything is truly easy, friendly and often free.
Hence Mahinda Rajapakse is entirely comfortable giving free meals during election time, because it’s ‘our culture’. Even if this directly violates the Presidential Elections Act. And hence people aren’t that incensed by it. It’s hard to be when the Elections Commissioner himself is illegally appointed (without the Constitutional Council). So you get a system where the laws are there only in letter and the only real guarantee is proximity to power. So everyone ignores the lines on the road and only really pulls over for Pajeros and their escort cars, not even ambulances.
At some point, however, we may want to consider following some rules. As convenient as it sometimes is to drive down one-way streets or over curbs, at some point it becomes chaos. Perhaps lanes and working brake lights are western/NGO contraptions, but they may actually make our lives better. In the same way, following a few laws, beginning with the Constitution, may make life more predictable and rewarding. I will admit that it is often tempting to pass on the left and cut people off to get from point A to B, but on a national level this type of behavior is insanity. It’s how you drive a trishaw, but it’s no way to run a country.