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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

Significance of power in politics

By Oscar E V Fernando

Power is defined as control and influence exercised over others—also as strength, vigor force and effectiveness; among several other definitions, power is also defined as political control.

Human behavior and conduct justify creation of a government. If there is no government each human being would deem it his right to have access to every resource in nature and that he is free to own those resources. As such community living can lead to chaos, human beings have so grouped themselves together to give up these absolute rights and form a central authority for their own survival and protection. This entity is called a government.

The business of government is done by politicians. Politics therefore can be construed to mean a tool created by man for its survival. By this creation power at the disposal of each individual is given up and given over to a central authority where this collective power resides. Politicians therefore are creatures of power. Power is the essence of politics.

Politics has been defined as the science or business of government—it is also defined as moves and maneuver concerned with the acquisition of power or getting one’s way as in business, and if politics is business of governance then power has to be the essence of politics. Politics is also connoted to be the administration of government. Can anything be administered without it being motivated by power—by nature can the universe spin without intelligence and power behind it?

Whether a government be tribal, monarchial, feudalistic it has always been motivated by power. So should be a democratic government consisting of politicians.

Authority is the ability to enforce laws, to exact obedience, to command, to determine or to judge—all of which connote power and a government is central authority inherent in politicians to make and enforce rules and laws.

Generally power is considered integral in politics although there are a great deal of debate and definitions of it. It is a form of social control and no control just happens without power to motivate it. Decision making by an individual or a group needs power—this power in parliament is effected by taking a vote. It is when power resides in an individual that he would initiate ideas that come to him and lay down an agenda for discussion by a group, say like the cabinet in parliament. Over the years in Sri Lanka itself we have seen individual politicians laying down their agendas for cabinet and parliamentary discussions and thereafter implementing these ideas, such as;

Free education by C.W.W. Kannangara—Gal Oya Scheme by D S Senanayeka—Gam Udawa and Jan Saviya by Ranatunga Premadasa—Mahaweli Scheme by Gamini Dissanayeka—CWE by T.B. Illangaratne—State ventures and language policies by S W R D Bandaranaike—SARC preparations and Land Reforms by Sirimavo Bandaranaike—Mahapola scholarships by Lalith Athulathmudali—Liberal Economy and Tourism by J R Jayewardena: this list is from among those politicians now not living.

Cabinet has power and this power must reside in each individual minister. Any politician who says he can serve the country without power borders on hypocrisy, and other politicians and political advisers who decry those who do want this power to govern—and say that patriotism is sufficient to govern, should have hidden ulterior motives. Given the chance they would grab power.

It is not wanting power to govern that is detestable—but abusing this power. In today’s competitive and corrupt society where power has been abused especially by politicians, most people jump into conclusions when sincere and honest politicians openly insist on power sharing to govern.

Some politicians knowing the mind set of today’s society on abuse of political power, may shun to request for power in public and some of course will be desirous of power to abuse it for self gratification. The bottom line is that there will never be that perfect political utopia but that power is needed to run a country and implement one’s ideas.

In today’s context of politics in Sri Lanka where the president who is the chief executive has invited the major opposition party to govern the country, the power sharing formula that resides in him has to be used with prudence and discretion to enable the invitees to share this power. A guest in one’s home is not expected to request hospitality. Expecting those who joined the government to take merely an advisory role will not be playing fair by nearly fifty percent of the voters who voted for them: neither is it fair for those who joined to remain in the government without the cloak of power as they will be letting down their own voters.

Now that this historical and bold step has been taken to form consensual governance, an unhesitant power sharing formula should be worked out for the betterment of the country that has suffered enough turmoil with the past political division that showed no ideological differences.

The president will have to be statesman enough to realize that for the sake of the respective voters, the separate entities of the two parties will have to be maintained and that each will try to score points to get political mileage in the future—unless the politician is so self renounced, that the parliament is not his place.

The president and the two political parties will certainly have to be aware that the present political arena will be closely watched by the electorate to form their own opinion as to future voting. They will certainly be watching as to which minister of which party did what and a sincere minister will do much to serve the people and get this power next time too in order to serve the people. The voters would then decide which party has to govern next.

Whatever be the notions of academics concerned with politics and those other grass root politicians who voice their opinions to suit their own political agendas, today’s Sri Lankan Cabinet of ministers must have an almost a fifty-fifty level representation in keeping with the respective vote bases. It has also to be contended that the cabinet will be large and the cost will be heavy—or even very heavy. But what has to be compared is the cost of devastation of the country by war if the division of the two major political parties were to continue, and for other political parties to fish in troubled waters pending the country sliding into a fast failing state—such a day will be rued by both major parties and the people of this country!

Power in the hands of a majority brought about with this amalgamation, may lead to absolute power that in turn may lead to absolute corruption. One way this trend may be controlled is if private sector is made the engine of growth, for then, ministries will deal less with commercial matters.

From the looks of the amalgamation it can be hoped that the private sector will come to stay---but, let it not be unbridled capitalism. Also it is hoped that other checks and balances will be introduced such as 17th and 18th amendments to the constitution and more power to the Auditor General and COPE.

Among other checks and balances: A powerful opposition is a must—and what more powerful opposition could there be other than the JVP. Why not the JVP if the TULF had it one time. Also JVP should be brought in further into main stream democratic politics. With a powerful majority in the government why should there be any fear of an opposition, if motives are sincere. Even with all the power the new comers to the government could withdraw support and perhaps force the government to go for an election—will the president is happy with that? This is power politics.

Also it has to be contended that with electoral reforms it could be ensured that proper representation is made in parliament without the existing trammels of intense proportional representation mechanisms that often do not reflect the will of the people pragmatically. In such a situation minority parties will have to be cautious, diligent and work on their own to get the vote.

How selfless and statesmanlike our President would continue to be, can be seen in the next few days!

- Asian Tribune -

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