chanaka 2

The Liberal Party began as a think-tank called the ‘Council for Liberal Democracy’, the first institution to criticize the all embracing statism of the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods. In espousing free economic policies together with wide-ranging political freedoms, the Council, and then the Party, opposed both the authoritarian crony capitalism of the United National Party and the socialism of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Both major parties are now in theory in favour of wide freedoms, but to ensure that these are understood and entrenched there is still need of coherent Liberal activism.

Political Principles and their Practice 10 - Electoral Systems

To ensure that Parliament is composed proportionate to the will of the people, while at the same time allowing for constituencies that had individual representatives, the Germans developed a system that combines features of both the simple-majority system and the proportional representation system. In the German system, half the seats in parliament are occupied by candidates elected on a constituency basis. In addition, voters cast votes for a party and those votes are counted separately.

The number of seats a party occupies in the parliament must be in proportion to these votes. In order to achieve this, the remaining half of the seats in parliament, after the individual constituency representatives have been chosen, is allocated to each party to reflect the proportion of the votes they obtained on the party vote. This requires correction of any imbalance caused by the constituency vote, where one party may win a great many constituencies even though it has won each of them by a very small majority.

Political Principles and their Practice 8 - Democracy, Representation and Devolution

In Political Principles and their Practice, which Cambridge University Press in India published some years back, the 3rd chapter (after chapters on the State and the Powers and Functions of Government) was about the Law. However I thought that I would leave that till later, and move on to Chapter 4 because of current concerns about changing the electoral system. This chapter explores systems of representation, but before we look into that, it makes sense to consider what me mean by Democracy, and how it has developed over the years.

The origins of democracy

The word 'democracy' comes from two Greek words, 'demos' and 'kratos', which mean 'people' and 'power'. Thus, by democracy is meant a political system in which power belongs to the people. This is now generally accepted as the best system of government, inasmuch as it is the people who constitute the state, and therefore the government of a state should be in the hands of its people. However, numerous disagreements arise when we try to work out the best mechanisms through which people can exercise their power of government.

Clearly, all the people cannot rule together. Therefore, in a democracy, at any given period some of the people have to rule on behalf of the rest. But choosing some people as representatives of all the others has its problems.

Political Principles and their Practice 9 - Democracy, Representation and Devolution

In this section I look at how Democracy has evolved in the modern period, and glance at the methods by which people choose their representatives.

Democracy in the Modern Period

During the Renaissance, when classical (that is, Greek and Roman) learning was revived in Europe, there were a few Italian city-states that practised some forms of democracy. But these too eventually submitted to the rule of autocrats, or became parts of larger kingdoms.

As the world began entering the Modern Period, beginning in the sixteenth century, Europe, after reaching Asia and the Americas through its voyages of exploration, began to exercise power over the rest of the world At this time Europe was dominated by large empires and kingdoms ruled by hereditary monarchs. But as wealth increased, and more and more people began to feel the need to participate in government, demands for democracy developed. Study of classical authors helped to establish the idea that the state should be based on a social contract, whereby the rulers were bound to act on behalf of the people. If they failed to do this, they could be challenged. The Divine Rights Theory of Monarchy, which held that a state belonged to the monarch, lost credibility.

Political Principles and their Practice 7 - Other Functions of Government

We have looked thus far at areas where government has a major role to play. In other areas it must recognize that people should by and large be left to function on their own. Yet in the modern world, given the scale of activity that occurs, there is need of some state intervention. This however should be seen as:


Increasing involvement of government has become necessary for production and trade after the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern economic system. Before that, government had mainly to ensure physical and financial security. But even in early days there were requirements that could be met only by large-scale activity, and governmental involvement was essential for this.

Thus, going back to early Sri Lankan history, we find that the mark of a good ruler was promoting infrastructural development for irrigation purposes. In modern times, apart from irrigation, which is still of vital importance, research to promote productivity and preservation, communications networks to promote distribution, and credit schemes to promote investment, are essential for the support of agriculture.

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