Elect good, honest, educated, and morally upright people as MPs
Posted on August 4th, 2020

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy The Island

Elect good, honest, educated, and morally upright people as MPs” is not a new slogan. It has been heard at least over the past half a century without any indication of its being heeded by the average voter. This is usually because the voters have no choice over the matter. It is the parties that nominate their candidates for election subject to various considerations having little to do with their formal education and moral character. The main criterion they seem to consider is how good is a candidate’s chance of winning; a candidate’s acceptability to a particular section of the general electorate does not necessarily depend on its perception of the person’s education or moral rectitude. If one party does not nominate a person of less than ideal qualities who nevertheless stands a chance of winning votes for it in a particular constituency, then the party runs the risk of losing that electorate to a rival party which fields a candidate with questionable but ‘winning qualities’ in that particular setting. For voters in such a context it is a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee as in the nursery rhyme. This frustrating fact is  well known and need not be elaborated here.

It is not that the nomination committees of political parties want to include in their nomination lists individuals who are known to them and the public to lack the qualities named in the slogan (which forms the title of this piece). They don’t, but they can’t help it. Politicians, however morally refined, cannot avoid being pragmatists; they are obliged to strike a workable balance between principles and demands of pragmatism. The most important thing in this situation is that a ruling politician must have a lot of humanity to sufficiently ‘humanize’ his or her unavoidable pragmatism. For it should not be forgotten that though a politician need not be a ruler, a ruler must needs be a politician; in the treacherous world of politics, a politician cannot avoid pragmatism, but they can still be humane.

This time, however, it may be assumed that there is a difference. People are more aware of the necessity of having an elite of cultured technocrats of the Viyath Maga (Professionals for a Better Future) type in parliament. The education and the moral background of candidates must have received relatively more than customary attention from the nomination committees of all the parties, at least to some extent, though the ideology and the organization mentioned were the brainchild of the present president. But one cannot be sure that even the V.M. list of nominees (of the party that supports him) is completely free of characters who should not be there. This is because party organisers cannot afford to ignore the reality that  under the existing electoral system, people vote for a particular party, unlike in the olden days, when widely known respectable individuals were elected to represent a constituency. Then it was the individual candidate, as much as the party, that was chosen. Today, for getting elected to parliament, a candidate must get enough preferential votes among a number of contending candidates put forward by each party for multi-seat constituencies; so naturally there is a form of undeclared war among candidates within each political party. Recently, I wrote an opinion piece published in The Island (July 7) – what you are reading is an adaptation of one paragraph from that article – pointing out the importance of giving a chance to candidates to display their preferential numbers in a striking way in order that the voters would remember the numbers of the candidates of their choice across the whole range of parties, alliances, and groups in the unusually long ballot paper. If that opportunity was denied it could be disadvantageous for the two most important types of candidates: the new and the materially poor. Candidates who are poor cannot afford expensive media advertising; the little known new ones would find it hard to make their numbers stand out among the numbers assigned to veterans whose already well known names and previous designations render them conspicuous and memorable. So the veteran candidates of every party would not be likely to object to the Election Commission’s tough stand in this regard, for it would mean that they had a special advantage over their newer or younger and probably more ‘elect worthy’ contenders in the invidious intraparty war for preference votes. This situation can be most prejudicial to the newer fresher competitors, and also contrary to the generally shared desire among the voters to elect a decent lot to the august body this time. It was heartening to hear party leaders on both sides on their final campaign speeches implicitly stressing the need for voters to make use of the preferential vote to reject possible rogues if any in their nomination lists.

One Response to “Elect good, honest, educated, and morally upright people as MPs”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Any idea who the honest ones?

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