A Vote Too Precious to Waste
Posted on April 6th, 2010

Dilrook Kannangara

Whatever said and done Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is AsiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s oldest democracy. Elections are held on time, if not earlier. People are politically matured. A very large number of political parties and news media are available to the people to help make decisions. Although killings, abductions, intimidations and threats did affect a small number of journalists in the recent past, the vast majority of journalists are still free to write anything within the law. Reading most newspapers or watching news on most TV channels or listening to news on most radio channels would convince anyone that media freedom is still widely enjoyed in Sri Lanka. As a result, voters are sufficiently educated on the options they have at an election.

Simple choice

At the forthcoming election, voters must make another wise choice. The choice is simple ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” allow a political solution or disallow it. This is the most crucial issue before the voters, not politicians. In fact politicians would be happy to continue as it is. It is the people who want a political solution to resolve burning problems. Without a political solution, all existing problems are going to get worse. It is not only Tamils who need a political solution. People of all races need a political solution that can change this ridiculous politicisation and polarization of the society.

Giving the ruling party a strong mandate is the best way to ensure political change. Not because they are concerned about it but that puts them in the dock. The lame excuse made by all governments has always been lack of numbers in parliament to change the Constitution. Take this excuse away and politicians are bound to perform or suffer the biggest ever defeat at the following election.

What will happen if the opposition is too strong? Then the government will be trying to bait opposition MPs. Since there is absolutely no difference in morals of UPFA, UNP, JVP politicians, they will jump at the opportunity of a ministerial post. It is foolhardy to think that only Rajapaksha used ministerial posts to lure MPs. All presidents did it. The size of their Cabinets and (non Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers) always depended upon the degree of stability.

A large number of MPs from political parties with a history of political strikes, subversion, communism and disruption means Sri Lankans are going to lose the benefits of economic recovery. It is an undeniable fact that the Sri Lankan economy is passing through the best of times in decades. This will benefit everyone. However, if political strikes, subversion, communism and disruption get in the way, itƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s the people who will suffer.

Democracy, Good Governance, Corruption

Unfortunately those who now harp on these good concepts are not at all serious. For them these noble concepts are just breadwinners. They had all the time, power and opportunities to implement these but deliberately avoided doing so. It was reported recently that all MPs and their assistants have demanded that they be paid their March 2010 salary although they ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”workedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ only a day! All UPFA, JVP and UNP MPs included. Also they have kept the pension issue secret from the public. All MPs are getting a pension as they have served the stipulated time in parliament. Why not talk of fairness, good governance, corruption and morals about it?

Voters seem to have identified this double game very well. That is why they cannot be fooled by the corrupt talking about good governance. When all political parties are the same when it comes to democracy, good governance and corruption, voters look for something to differentiate the parties. This is where development, constitutional change and simply changes of faces come into play.

The best way to ensure democracy and good governance

There was a time when elections were peaceful; when contestants had demarcated boundaries; people had a defined member to go to; much less number of politicians and it all made political sense. When did large scale power abuse, corruption, election violence and associated evils invade Sri Lanka? It all happened after the 1978 Constitution that took away the election system practiced in over 90% of democratic countries. Instead of that, a present Iraqi style PR system was introduced. In place of two main candidates, the PR system brought dozens of candidates into the fray. Their battle ground also got expanded from the electorate to the district. Higher number of politicians in a larger battle ground meant more violence, total lack of accountability, ability to get away with any offence in the peoplesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ judiciary and a continued decay in the society. Politicians must have millions to waste to canvass in a district. They also need a large band of henchmen to do whatever it takes to promote their boss in a larger area. To compete with hundreds of other politicians a larger army of violent supporter base became necessary.

Today people are unable to get their leaders elected.

Best examples are found in todayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s hopeless opposition politics. The UNP leader always loses his electorate ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Biyagama. Had there been a proper election system like the one British created in Ceylon, people would have elected a better leader for the UNP who could bring political change. But with the present system, people are forced to put up with this hopelessness. Those who lose the electorate may still scavenge enough votes from multiple electorates and win a seat.

JVP is even worse. ItƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s leader does not face elections! Where on earth do you get political party leaders who always avoid elections and still remain the leader? If a proper election system was in place, the JVP too could have got a better leader. Today the communist reds have a British national and an American national as their ambiguous leaders. IsnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t it side-splitting?

This is what is known as democracy today. Obviously this is not going to do any good to anyone. This ridiculous election system must go. Strangely, those who make loud cries about democracy are scared to let this election system go! They can only survive in this undemocratic election system and they only think about their pensions. If they donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t get their power, they agitate for strikes, shutdowns and violence.

Another example is this selective cry for democracy. When JVP indulged in horrendous crimes against the people, it had no regard for the people or democracy. Now when one of itƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s leaders spend time in detention, they have become champions of democracy.

When the election system itself is undemocratic, erosion of democratic rights is inevitable. If people cannot get who they want at the helm of a political party, how can they make the politicians do anything?

This is why people should first and foremost vote to abolish this hilarious election system. The former electorate based system is the best Sri Lanka can have. It also provides a fabulous opportunity for devolution. Devolution works best when power is devolved to the lowest political unit which still is the electorate. It cuts down the funny number of political parties, gets rid of election violence, makes preferential vote battles a thing of the past, creates accountability which will be always kept under check by the voters, brings up true local leaders and unifies people. Such a system does not sustain parasite politicians. Even an apolitical individual can become a legislator if voters so decide which is unfortunately not possible today. Intellectuals who are not tied to political dogma will once again make their way to the law making body. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Push for reform

People, not political parties should push for reforms. People should get their preferred leaders in political parties to do so. As we can see, politicians only take up matters beneficial to them in the order of benefit. PeoplesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ groups should come forward to realistically assess what they need from their politicians. Then these requirements should be ranked in the order of importance and urgency. Thereafter they should get complying politicians elected from electorates around the country. Having done so, they can push for their case.

The present method of headless political parties creating their own petty agendas that benefits them and canvassing for peopleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s support should end. The re-introduction of a proper democratic election system may wipe out some parties. If these parties are serious about democracy, they should support that move irrespective of what happens to them. Similarly, executive presidency should be revised. Which party gains is not the question to ask. If people and democracy stand to gain, it should be done.

Voters must vote for permanent structural changes to improve democracy, not for plaster solution advocated by political parties that donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t even practice democracy within. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

2 Responses to “A Vote Too Precious to Waste”

  1. priyanikari Says:

    Couldn’t agree more Dilrook. Well done – keep up good work.

  2. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    In the absence of a true and strong opposition in SriLanka (I don’t think there will be one as long as Ranil hangs on to UNP leadership, through a very secretive UNP constitution and other non-democratic means), we need bold journalists like Dilrook to fill the gap by continuing with their good work and engage in constructive criticism of our politicians and political parties. I’m confident all patriotic politicians would welcome such criticism.

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