As college students many decades ago, we were taught that Ceylon’s parliamentary system was largely based on the practices and conventions of the British House of Commons. The Commons, we were told, is the Mother of all parliaments. Boris Johnson, Britain’s current prime minister went to Eton College and Oxford University very much later. But [...]


Democracy in peril or what?


As college students many decades ago, we were taught that Ceylon’s parliamentary system was largely based on the practices and conventions of the British House of Commons.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks inside Downing Street in London, Britain on Friday. Reuters

The Commons, we were told, is the Mother of all parliaments. Boris Johnson, Britain’s current prime minister went to Eton College and Oxford University very much later. But he does not seem to have learnt the history of the evolution of the British parliament.

Nor does he seem to value the institution which is one of the oldest continuous representative assemblies in the world. Had he done so, he would not have dealt with the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ so cavalierly and  with such step-motherly treatment as he did last Wednesday.

By now most Sri Lankans would be aware of the happenings here and there is no need to use limited space to repeat it. But all this ‘koloppang’, as any good Sri Lankan would have described it, must surely be keenly interested seeing that their own politics is in a real ‘achcharu’ (pickle) so to say.

Sri Lankans who watched with shock and amazement President Sirisena make our own parliamentary system seem like an ineffectual pradesha sabha in action by suspending the elected assembly after dismissing the prime minister and installing another might consider Boris Johnson’s action civilised and gentlemanly compared to Sirisena’s conspiratorial in the ‘stealth of the night’ conduct.

Some might even think that Johnson picked up the idea of trying to neutralise the Commons from Sirisena’s more crude and secretive manoeuvres and wished that he was Head of State like our own head and did not have to write to the Queen seeking approval for his desperate deeds.

It is scant wonder that the British parliament took time to mature and grow in the course of which poor King Charles the First lost his head. That was long before Boris of Brexit lost his own, thinking that he could draw up his own Magna Carta and consign his critics to the political dungeons or the ‘Tower’ where some of Britain’s monarchs and consorts spent their last days.

We know that less than a year ago, Sirisena’s constitutional mantra blew up in his face when the Supreme Court dismissed the presidential antics as unconstitutional and the country returned to the status quo ante.

What Boris has done is to get Royal approval to prorogue parliament for five weeks instead of the customary three thus keeping parliament shut down, depriving the elected representatives ways and means of formulating strategies to stop Britain leaving the European Union on October 31 even without a departing deal and friendly wave.

There were several strategies being considered to stop Boris in his tracks. They include a no-confidence vote against him. As I write this, people in Scotland and elsewhere in the not very United Kingdom are waiting for a court to give its judgment on a legal challenge to Boris’s bruising bullying shutting down the democratic process that began some 400 years ago.

There are likely to be other legal challenges — if time permits — including from Northern Ireland where Boris’s “smash and grab”, it is argued, endangers the negotiated Good Friday agreement that brought much peace to the British territory where religious conflict led to vicious violence and British troops stood accused of human rights violations.

Strangely, the happenings in Britain’s former colony Hong Kong, where anti-government protests are in its third month, are providing an example for protestors in the UK where in several major cities demonstrations are gathering momentum.

In some cities protestors carried umbrellas like those in Hong Kong where the umbrella was not just a symbol of protest but a defence against on-coming projectiles such as tear gas shells.

While House of Commons Speaker John Bercow described what some called Boris buffoonery as a “constitutional outrage” others were far less kind. Someone referred to Johnson as another blonde egomaniac “taking care of democracy”.

The other blonde hinted at is from the other side of the Atlantic and known to many as the trumpet blower who loves to blow his own instrument in praise of his so-called achievements.

Had our own leader who loves to sustain himself with utter self-righteousness blonde hair he would surely have been included to turn the duo into a terrible trio. But then blonde wigs are always available and could be picked up during his numerous travels abroad that earn Sirisena air miles and the country zilch.

Shortly after Boris’s letter to the Queen became news, a petition was launched in the parliament website. Before the day was done over one million had signed it and was still being signed at this writing.

If you look at this whole Borisian political brigandage from a different perspective, as has been suggested, it all seems so funny. Here we have a prime minister who has not been elected by the people who had to seek approval from a Queen who was not elected by the people who then together decide to suppress everybody who was elected by the people in order to push through a course of action that nobody was invited to vote on.

Now if that is not democracy in action one should turn to Trump and ask him to improve on it even if he has to sack the whole of the White House staff and pack the judiciary with his favourites and tweet the news before anybody else could wake up.

It is not that there are other leaders around or will be around in our part of the world who cannot improve on the British performance if asked to do so or even without a by-your-leave.

But one thing emerges from all this political mess. No longer can the United Kingdom or whatever will be left over, go around preaching democracy and respect for human rights to everyone else as though it had propriety rights over human conduct.

It might be recalled that in the famous “Miller case” in 2017, the judges were in total agreement that parliamentary sovereignty remains the foremost and overarching principle of the British constitution.

Interestingly, the other day, somebody reminded me that in two days’ time — September 3 — is the anniversary of the day Britain and France declared war on Hitler Germany.

Now that Hitler is very much discussed in Sri Lanka these days by Buddhist monks as well, it is perhaps significant to remember that Boris Johnson has done single handedly what Hitler could not do during the entire war years — suppress British democracy.

Court refuses to grant interim interdict
A Scottish judge on Friday refused to order a temporary halt to Boris Johnson’s plan to shut down the UK Parliament.
A group of 75 parliamentarians were seeking an interim interdict — similar to an injunction — at the Court of Session ahead of a full hearing.Their request was declined by Lord Doherty, who said he was not satisfied there was a “cogent need” for an interdict.
However, the full hearing will now be heard next Tuesday, rather than Friday.

Lord Doherty said this was because it was in the interests of justice, and in the public interest, for the case – which is opposed by the UK government – to proceed as quickly as possible.

But he said: “I am not satisfied that it has been demonstrated that there is a need for an interim suspension or an interim interdict to be granted at this stage.”

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.