Power without honour in our Parliament
Posted on March 14th, 2020

Dr D.Chandraratna

Countless are the pieces written lamenting the madness at Diyawanna Oya in the past so many years. Editorials, opinion pages and features in this daily alone demanded a proactive approach to stem the declining standards of our Parliament.  There is no denying that if unchecked constitutional democracy becomes unworkable because the system rests on honour, dignity and morality as much as on rules and legalities. It has been noted even in western countries that declining standards have the tendency to promote authoritarian streaks in parliamentary regimes. Belying the democratic principle that every person has the right and the capacity to govern himself, this unencumbered right to choose the representatives is snatched by a plenitude of forces that have access to wealth and power. Where taxation systems and legal scrutiny are weak the criminal elements rush in, and Sri Lanka is the archetypal example on that count.

When standards have slipped, the sands of morality shifted the electors settle for less a fresh cycle of corruption becomes the new normal. Over the past decades it has become too hard to call the dishonorable out and instead of punishing them we have rewarded them with luxuries out of the public purse. The politicians we elect are not what they claim to be prior to election. Socrates may have said that ‘the greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be, what we pretended to be’, yet what we have are people in power not becoming what they pretend to be. The legislators of scant honour have forced their way and become successful through public life. The car park at Diyawanna Oya is a mirror to the world how the parliamentarians have taken the art of dishonorable activity to a nakedly new level, not seen in any other parliament in the world.

Sri Lankan politicians have become masters in buying their way to the Parliament except for a few men/women of honour. In 2020 we are asked to elect a different cohort of deputies, instead of the current lot who are described by our readers in colorful language.   In the last two days in this paper alone our so called ‘honorabilis’ have been called crooks, ruffians, antisocial, black monied, bond scammers, drug dealers, rejects, who inhabit a place called Diyawanna Oya, breeding as “mosquitoes” like in the marshes of Bellanwila. Dr Amaratunga wrote, (24/2) ‘(T)hey have squandered the country’s wealth, robbed its banks, made it almost a subject nation, brought it down to its knees and finally sold its assets’. Even those who shouted aloud-reestablishing democracy brought in political rejects through the National List, retrieved from the dustbin of politics, and appointed them Ministers. One can truthfully say that even the Parliamentary debates stank to high heaven in the past few weeks thanks to Ranjan Ramanayake’ antics. We Sri Lankans must be mad to spend so much of national wealth to hear such inanities and bring shame on those persons who decorated our Parliament in the past and set decent standards not second to the mother of Parliaments. The illustrious persons of the past who were universally accepted as luminaries are remembered fondly with gratitude.

Can we ever succeed in this parliamentary system in the future? My guess is that it can be changed but only gradually. Draining the swamp has to be in stages. For a start the current leaders cannot obviously avoid nominating the existing lot who helped to bring about the change. To reject some of the unsuitable to retire is not that easy without losing their vote banks. No sensible leader at the moment will knowingly commit hara-kiri. Secondly, the election law has to be tightened as to control election expenses but in doing so there are other hurdles to overcome. While you may ban the environmentally polluting stuff there must be ways of educating the public who do not access the print media as in the past.  If the election material is not advertised in the papers and the electronic media it will be unfair to those who run this essential public service on shoe string budgets. The electronic media has to be used however expensive it may be. The current system of electing deputies to the Parliament is therefore heavily skewed in favor of the monied rich and the temptation to make up the losses while in office is abundantly obvious. Understandably the parliament becomes a training ground to learn the art of robbing just as much Welikada is the school of criminal arts and psychedelic drugs.

The first step towards a possible change is the right implementation of the provisions pertaining to the National List.  If the National list is not abused in the manner of the previous President we can be a bit hopeful. I am dismayed by the EC chief’s illogical comment confusing the much-needed change to rid of the defeated entering through the back door, which seems to receive support from all parties. This provision as intended in our constitution can strengthen intelligence and professionalism required of parliamentarians and improve both legislative and executive efficiency and honesty. They will add substance to debates, improve policy discussion and contribute to national advancement. Also, the future may be brighter if the electoral law can be changed to reduce the number of parliamentarians both at the center and the periphery. We need to enact legal provision to prevent crossovers, which destabilizes democratic governance and party discipline.

Our life has been an exhausting long wait.

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