From People’s Councils to Participatory and Deliberative Democracy in Sri Lanka – Call for Articles

‘Balaya diyawannawen eliyata!’ or ‘taking power out of Diyawannawa’ was one of the rallying cries of the aragalaya, porattam, struggle that we witnessed from April to August 2022. This idea subsequently found expression in the demand for People’s Councils that can include citizens in political decision making processes as a way to hold elected and non-elected officials to account, and as a means of reforming our political system and deepening democracy. There have been many debates and discussions on the idea since then, with a spectrum of opinions expressed on the concept, the structure of such councils, as well as their viability. Today this call assumes more salience and urgency in the context of the violent repression of the aragalaya and the continuing repression of peaceful protests related to the aragalaya as well as other protests around the country including in the North and East. These protests are themselves evidence of the absence of a forum/forums in which concerns of citizens can be articulated, heard,  debated, discussed, and addressed in a peaceful manner. In this context, Polity invites submissions that can make a contribution to this conversation, while contextualising the idea of People’s Councils within the much longer tradition and older scholarship, debates, discussions, and experiments around participatory and deliberative forms of democracy in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The idea of citizen participation in democratic governance is one that can be traced to the Greek polis. The more recent debates around participatory democracy can be traced to the 1960s, where the imperative emerged in the context of a crisis of faith and legitimacy between citizens and the State, deep disillusionments with institutions of governance because of corruption, lack of transparency, and lack of responsiveness to the needs and demands of people. These debates have since manifested in a dizzying array of institutional mechanisms such as gram panchayats in India and participatory budgeting in Brazil. Sri Lanka is not without experiments in participatory decision making processes, particularly in development related projects. Consider Farmer Organisations relating to the Gal Oya Irrigation and Resettlement Project and the Mahaweli Development Project; the Local Authorities Participatory Development Plans drawn up by Local Councils; and owner-driven housing reconstruction projects in the North and East. We believe there is much we can learn from a robust engagement with the scholarship as well as the institutional experiments on the issue.     

Suggested sub themes include, but are not limited to, exploring the following questions:

  • What are the institutional forms through which democratic politics can be deepened and made more participatory?
  • What sorts of issues are best dealt with through such institutional mechanisms? What has worked and what has not?
  • Are there preconditions that are necessary for such experiments to work? If so, what are they?
  • How do advocates in Sri Lanka conceptualise People’s Council?  
  • How does one ensure that hierarchies of power and domination based on class, caste, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc., that characterise our institutions are not reproduced in People’s Councils? What kind of People’s Councils can privilege the participation of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our communities?
  • What comparative experiences of participatory democracy can we draw on?

Send your pitches and drafts to the Editors at                                 

Share This