The BBC news item reports that President Mahinda Rajapakshe revealed a plan to ban ethnic tags in party names.
He also said, more controversially, that “racial politics” would not have a place in future – a possible indication that he will seek to revive a recently tabled plan to ban parties with words such as “Tamil” or “Muslim” in their name.
Not sure we can rely on the accuracy of this news item, or even if the news item is accurate, the validity of an election rally statement by MR in Jaffna. I am wondering why MR never mentioned this proposed plan anywhere outside of that venue as yet. Anyway, if there is such real plan, then may be keeping it away from general vote block is south, until the elections are over, could actually be a wise move for MR. This idea can easily be distorted as a move to curtail the rights of the minorities. The bbc news only mentions “Tamil” and “Muslim”. Although “Sinhala” is conspicuously not mentioned, I believe that there is no way only “Tamil” and “Muslim” could be banned. So I would not care too much about BBC wording of it.
As someone who supports separation of ethnicity and religion from governance, I would always support such a move. If this can be followed by a law that bans religious tags on party names as well, that would be a huge step in the correct direction.
I believe religion is not present as a “tag” in any of the mainstream party names. There could be minor parties with religious names, but I do not remember hearing any. The influence of Buddhism is deep rooted and tags are no longer necessary. However, it is nice to have a ban on religious tags as well.
Though I personally would support such bans, I do understand that in a way it is a ban on freedom of expression. I however still would support race and religion ban on party politics as an overriding measure by the state to limit some of the “freedoms” in the interest of reconciliation between races and religions. I would argue that it is similar to a “drink and drive” law. Alcohol is not banned per se, but drink and drive is totally outlawed. People are still free to express their ethnicity and religion outside of party politics; just like they are free to consume alcohol in private.
Once the majority of the voters are matured beyond certain point, such bans would not be necessary. However, currently the vote-base is dangerously polluted with racial and religious fanatics. We can contrast this with ‘caste’. We do not need a special law for banning “caste” in politics. I have heard that a well known but minor political party leader openly states the supremacy of a certain caste. However such people are regarded as “nut jobs” by the majority voters.
There are people in the opinion that while we are at it, we should ban monks from party politics? I guess that is an extreme demand, and something which definitely curtails the freedom of expression. Monks after all, are full citizens of Sri Lanka, and they should have the freedom to do whatever a lay person could. If ones religious sensibilities put monks in a different category, they can criticize and refrain from supporting the political monks. However, demanding a legal barrier that prevents monks from doing politics does not make a lot of sense. Monks are not “government servants”. What if one demands a ban on lawyers to do politics?
It could be non-intuitive; but I believe monks and other religious clergy doing party politics and contesting elections is a step towards separation of religion and the governance. Why do I believe that having clergy in active politics is a positive step in the eyes of those who believe in separation of religion and the governance? The opposition from us with respect to religion in governance is something like this. It mostly refers to the situation of religious meddling coming from the exulted position, using their arbitrary/traditional authority. This can be compared to the relationship between Church and State in the pre-enlightenment era of Europe. The Church was behind every ruler, deciding the shape of the governance. Monks having to get off from that exulted position and having to contest elections to get their religious agendas in, indicates that they have come down to accept the authority of the law (obtained via parliament) rather than the traditional authority that they used to have. In that sense, a contesting monk becomes “just another politician with an opinion” which works well for those who challenge the traditional authority of the monks.
It is difficult argument to challenge the traditional authority religious establishments used to enjoy for millennia. However, it is easier to argue that a law maker getting elected using a religious base is not going make laws that is helpful outside of that religious interest. It is relatively easy to argue that monks leading a totally different way of life, and having totally different interests/worldviews than laypeople, are not going make a lot of sense in their judgment in matters of governance.
While monks in active politics is a positive sign (somewhat in the sense that “it gets worse before it gets better”), the Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka still has a huge say in terms of shape of the governance. Such power comes from the unquestioned allegiance Buddhist voters has for the “Sasana” (Church). This power will be there as long as the “slavery of the mind” continues. However, as more and more slaves are getting freed and start thinking on their own, such arbitrary/traditional power will begin to fade. It is a matter of time that people get disillusioned with structures that does not help them. However, such disillusions can make things worse rather than better. If the law and order is not something people can “believe in”, the collapse of religious structures will lead to anarchy.
Article by Prasad Mapatuna, Contributing Author to Religurd. [Article Link]