Seeking Changes – Ideals to Follow

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The Parliament is considered the cradle of a democratic State. Some call the Parliament the pinnacle of a democratic State. Others say it is the heart of a democratic State.

Introducing democracy, Abraham Lincoln said it is a people’s rule by the people, for the people. Accordingly, in a democratic State, the Parliament is supreme. The Parliament of a democratic State represents the sovereign power of the people. Hence, the power of the Legislature is established by the concentration of sovereign power. 

It is said that the sovereign power of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka rests with its people. However, it seems that it is not so, and the rulers have robbed the sovereign power of people. Criticisms are now being raised that the Parliament does not represent the opinion of people and that the current Parliament is a distortion of democracy and people’s wish in this country.Instead of finding the root of the current crises and providing sustainable solutions, it seems that the rulers are engaging in their usual corrupt politics, by merely going behind the symptoms of the crises.

In view of the unpleasant political and economic situation we are currently experiencing as Sri Lankans in this country, I thought of writing something about Switzerland, which is considered an ideal system for the world. It is hard to find another country that has a governing system giving power to the people as much as Switzerland.

A journalist once asked the President of Switzerland, “why are you travelling in a third-class compartment on a train?”

“I am travelling in a third-class carriage because there is no fourth-class carriage,” he replied.

Switzerland is a beautiful country surrounded by mountains, and a first-class country where peace prevails. There are people who speak four languages ​​and devoted to many different religions. In 1838, Romansh, born from the combination of French, Italian and German languages, was named as the official language of Switzerland. Switzerland was the only country in Central Europe that was not involved in one of the two World Wars. It also has the longest written Constitution in the present political world.

There is no Cabinet system in Switzerland. There is no presidential system or executive system as well. It has a collective executive system. That is, its power is vested in an executive board consisting of seven members. Switzerland’s national government consists of seven members of equal standing. They are elected or re-elected every four years by the United Federal Assembly. Each federal councillor is appointed to serve a one-year term as President of the Confederation by the Federal Assembly in accordance with the principle of seniority.

Out of these seven, one is appointed as the President and another as the Vice President. The selection is made by the members. That is for a short official term of one year. After the expiration of one year, the Vice President becomes the President. The President of the Confederation is the President of Switzerland.

Elections are held every four years. That is according to the proportional system. Unlike third world countries in Asia, its clergy cannot contest for seats in the assembly. There is no bridge between religion and politics in Switzerland. Also, there are no religious monopolies to be seen. Religion does not exercise the power of control and repression. Religion only heals the people in Switzerland spiritually.

Although its duration is four years, it is dissolved when the two houses do not agree. They convene joint sessions and try to resolve issues through discussion. If the issues cannot be resolved, a referendum will be held. Switzerland has a tradition of direct democracy. For any change in the Constitution, a referendum is mandatory, and for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested.

There is no official ruling party or opposition party in Switzerland. It is the only country in the world where ‘members of the house’ do not sit separately as a ruling party and an opposition party. Indeed, they come together, sit together, work together, and leave the House together with a collective view of the national development, irrespective of their party politics. Thus, they all seem country-centric, policy-oriented, and development-focused.

Moreover, like in Sri Lanka, the practice of senior Members of the Parliament being given front row seats and new Members of the Parliament being given back row seats is not seen in Switzerland. Members are seated in order of arrival. The seating plan in Parliament is based around groups of like-minded Parliamentarians from one or more parties. So, we who study their political systems can clearly understand that they do not act based on ego, personal agendas, or party politics, but on common national plans, policies, and strategies.

Perpetual loud cheers, shouts, threats, thuggery like in the Sri Lankan Parliament are never reported in the Parliament of Switzerland. In view of the above, isn’t Switzerland a role model for us?

Today, Sri Lankan rules backed by the media terrorism moves behind the symptoms, not the real crises. Symptoms are not always the crisis, rather they are the ways in which the crisis comes out. Treating the symptom is not a solution to the crisis. As what we see at the surface level, the current situation is an economic crisis due to the foreign currency shortage. However, it is an unfavourable consequence of a severe problem over a time, not the real problem which has been emphasised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well in their recent conditions to Sri Lanka. So, what is that? It is all about the corrupt politics, deterioration of rule of law and justice. In a country where the rule of law has deteriorated, and justice is dead, anything can happen. First, rulers must identify that truth and take immediate action to ensure that the rule of law is in place which brings the order and discipline for everybody.

What do all these facts depict? Democracy is a curse where there is no discipline in rulers, and people. For democracy to be a blessing, first, there must be discipline in the rulers as well as in the people. Otherwise, sovereign power of people becomes a joke. It is a mere sovereign power framed for narrow political purposes of rulers as what we experience today in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, for true democracy to be established in a country, real discipline must first be established in rulers. That requires humanism. What is needed is a more humane approach that looks not only at power and leadership, but also at the people. Only where there is such an approach can democracy really succeed. For a country to be democratic, its leaders and people must embrace humanitarian democracy wholeheartedly.

That is why we say, democracy has no heart, but it must exist in the human heart.

About the author:

Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe, Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Kelaniya.

By Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe