Belgium and Sri Lanka and Majoritarianism in Sri Lanka

  • Belgium is a small European country. It has borders with France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. Brussels is the capital of this country.
  • The ethnic composition of Belgium is very complex. Of the country’s total population, 59% lives in the Flemish region speaks Dutch langauge. Another 40% people live in the Wallonia region and speak French. Remaining 1% of the Belgians speak German.
  • In the capital city of Brussels, 80% people speak French while 20% are Dutch speaking.
  • The French-speaking community was relatively rich and powerful. The Dutch-speaking community who got the benefit of economic development and education much later resented this situation. This led to tensions between the Dutch and French communities during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • The tension between the two communities was more acture in the capital city of Brussels. Brussels has a special problem: the Dutch community constituted a majority in the country, but a minority in the capital.
  • Sri Lanka is an island country, it has a diverse population.
  • In Sri Lanka, 74% people speak Sinhala and 18% speak Tamil.
  • Most of Sinhala people are Buddhists, while most of the Tamil are Hindus or Muslims. There are about 7% Christians, who speak both Tamil and Sinhala.
  • Sri Lanka got independence in 1948. After independence, Sinhala leaders took majoritarian measures to establish Sinhala supremacy.
  • In 1956, an Act was passed to recognise Sinhala as the only official language fo Sri Lanka, thus disregarding Tamil.
  • The Sri Lankan governments followed preferential policies that favoured Sinhala applicants for university position and government jobs.
  • The new constitution stipulated that the state shall protect and foster Buddhism.
  • The leaders of the Sinhala community sought to secure dominance over government by virtue of their majority and thus, the democratically elected government adopted a series of majoritarian measures to establish Sinhala supremacy.
  • These majoritarian measures to establish Sinahala supremacy gradually increased the feeling of alienation among the Sri Lankan Tamils.
  • By 1980s several political organizations were formed demanding an independent Tamil Eelam (state) in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
  • The distrust between the two communities turned into widespread conflict which resutled into a Civil War.
  • Democracy : A form of government which literally means ‘rule by the people’.
  • Majoritarianism : Under majoritarianism, majority community rules the country in its own way by disregarding the wishes and needs of the minority.
  • Legislature : A kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend and repeal laws.
  • Federal Government : A general government for the entire country is usually called federal government.
  • Community Government : In which different social groups are given the power to handle the affairs related to their communities.
  • Civil War : A violent conflict between opposing groups within a country that becomes so intense that it appears like a war.
  • Ethnic : A social division based on shared culture.
  • Indian Tamils : The Tamilians whose forefathers came from India as plantation workers during colonial rule and settled in Sri Lanka are called ‘Indian Tamils’.
  • Sri Lankan Tamils : Tamil natives of Sri Lanka are called ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’.

Accomodation in Belgium : Forms of Power Sharing

  • The Belgian leaders recognised the existence of regional differences and cultural diversities and amended their Constitution four times between 1970 and 1993, so as to work out an arrangement that would enable everyone to live together within the same country.
  • The Belgian Constitution prescribes that the humber of Dutch and French-speaking ministers shall be equal in the central government. Some special laws require the support of majority of members from each linguistic group.
  • Many powers of the Central Government have been given to state governments of the two regions of the country.
  • The capital city of Brussels has a separate government in which both the communities have equal representation.
  • The arrangement of the third level of community government has been made. This ‘community government’ is elected by people belonging to one language community – Dutch, French and German speaking – no matter where they live. This government can make law related to cultural, educational and language-related issues.
  • A strategy wherein all the major segments of the society are provided with a permanent share of power in the governance of the country is known as power sharing.
  • A government in which different social groups are given the power to handle the affairs related to their communities is known as Community Government.
  • Power sharing is desirable because:

i) It helps to reduce the possibility of conflict between social groups.

ii) It is the very spirit of democracy.

  • In modern democracies, power sharing arrangements can take many forms:

 i) Power is shared among different organs of government, such as the legislature, executive and judiciary. It is known as horizontal division of power.

ii) Power can be shared among governments at different levels – a general government for the entire country and governments at the provincial or regional level. It is known as vertical division of power.

iii) Power may also be shared among different social groups such as the religious , social and linguistic groups.

iv) Power sharing arrangements can also be seen in the way political parties, pressure groups and movements control or influence those in power.

  • Power Sharing : The division of power between different stages of government, different organs or different communities in a country in order to ensure smooth running of the government and to check that all powers are not concentrated within one hand.
  • Prudential : Based on prudence, or on careful calculation of gains and losses. Prudential decisions are usually contrasted with those decisions based purely on moral considerations.
  • Checks and Balances : A system, in which each organ of the government checks the others, which result in a balance of power among various institutions.
  • Coalition Government : A government formed by the union of two or more political parties.
  • Pressure Groups : Pressure groups are those organizations that attempt to influence the policies of the government to safeguard their own interests.
  • Legitimate Government : A legitimate government is one where citizens, through participation, acquire a stake in the system.
  • Horizontal Distribution of Power : Power is shared among different organs of government such as legislative, executive and judiciary.
  • Vertical Divison of Power : Distribution of power between higher and lower levels of government such as between central and stte governments.