The Joke that is Representative Democracy in Sri Lanka
Posted on September 27th, 2017

Dr.Sudath Gunasekara. President Senior Citizens Movement Mahanuwara 

(This was an article Posted on March 23rd .2010 posted since its relevance in the context of electoral reforms discussed at present)

Why does a political cartoonist call the MP Magodistuma. Is it the best word that describes the character and behavior of a present day politician in this country?

The idea of representative democracy had its origin in early Greece and Rome. They evolved it as the numbers involved in governing increased and became un-manageable. So they selected few suitable men to govern the others. Developed over a period of time the political party system emerged in medieval Europe as an instrument of giving effect to a choice of governments periodically when one in power is not doing its duty by the people, who elected them. This clearly shows that both the institution called the state and the government were invented by the people for the benefit of the people and they were only instruments of achieving their objectives of good governance. After all, democracy precisely means ”rule by the people, for the people and of the people’ which is achieved through their representatives periodically elected.

Has this high principle of governance been realized in our country today? In my opinion what we have in our country is not democracy but …”politico-crazy’, that is ‘rule by the politicians, for the politicians and of the politicians’ Therefore today representative democracy is a far cry in our country by any standard.

Under the prevailing system of elections in this country, elections are only a mechanism of convenience resorted to by politicians periodically to legitimize their plundering the nation. Everything they do is done with the singular objective of consolidating their position and power. With regard to the people’s problems they just grope in the dark, holding on to the political stick looking for the beginning and the end of the circle just like the seven blind men in the famous Indian legend Andavenupama’ going round and round eternally without finding it.  Of cause there may be one or two good men. But we all know one swallow does not make a summer.

Just to mention few critical national issues, look at the 13th Amendment, the never ending emergency, the so-called language problem, devolution of power, minority problem, the problem of communal political parties, educational mess (Eg International schools and the National Schools), the festering Health mess (Private practice where some Govt. Doctors make over RS 100,000 a day while they openly neglect their duty in the hospitals although they draw fat salaries from the tax payers money as well), never ending University conflicts, the confusing legal system with three or even more systems operating within this tiny Island, the Indian Estate labour problem, unemployment, the plight of the Kandyan people, the North East problem, place of Buddhism in this country, the problem of University admissions, daily degenerating cultural values, absence of law and order even on the road, non- compliance with the law of the country, non- compliance with the law regarding posters and cut-outs, ineffective police service, flouting the need for declaration of assets by politicians, taking the law in to their hands by politicians, TNA who still openly declare their struggle for self-determination and EELAM, nakedly flouting the Constitution after swearing allegiance to the 6th Amendment and getting out scot-free with impudence, the utterly ineffective Parliamentary Committees on appointments to Higher posts in Public Service that  does only  a post mortem, months and sometimes years after the appointments are made,  the cultural and moral degeneration arising from sending domestic servants to the middle east, extravagance by the government, politicization of the Public Service, appointing defeated politicians, sycophants and political lackeys to lucrative public positions and making such institutions heavens for political rejects and destitute and  who lavishly doled out black money for their election campaigns.

Though not complete, this short list will show you how all political parties have miserably failed to address the core issues of the nation, beating their own trumpets for personal power and glory, while beating about the bush.

Which government has done what, to arrest these things?  The only thing I see any government has done over the past 30 years is the physical defeat of the LTTE in the North.  But even there, many more things have yet to be done, both at home and abroad, before we take a deep breath, thinking we have done it. According to a statement given to Express News Service on 19th March 2010 the present President is also said to have rejected Federalism and the 13th Amendment. I admire that if that is true.

Party system, which operate as the mechanism of electing representatives was introduced to this country in 1947. Before that representative were elected on an individual basis on the merit of each person. Each member contesting was given a colour to distinguish him from the others. For example, in the State Council elections, Freeman in Anuradhapura, was given a Green box while his opponent was given a yellow box. Contesting elections on party basis began formally in 1947. But the real tussle began only in1956. Members were elected on a party basis and the electorate formed the territory of representation. A candidates election activities were confined to the electorate and the people elected their representative to represent them in Parliament. So each electorate had its own representative. This was the hall mark of representative democracy until the present constitution introduced the disastrous and notorious Proportional Representation (PR) system in 1978 which has reduced the elections to a real baluporaya or a Pora  Kukul poraya, of cause with due apologies to both dogs and cocks as even they sometimes have better qualities than most of our politicians..

The PR system made the District the basis of electing a representative to Parliament instead of the former Electorate. The MPP were also called District MPP and not Mp for Kandy or Minipe as it was called earlier. This distanced the MP from the electorate as well as the people.  But the former electorate also remained as a Parliamentary seat for the purpose of organizing party work and the person assigned to that seat by each political party was called the organizer. This arrangement again consolidated the top-down political approach of centralizing the power and ignored the very principle of bottom up representative democracy. This set in motion the process of taking representative democracy directly to the grave yard.

Under this system electors had to cast their votes first to the party and then the preferences to the candidates of their choice. Each elector was entitled for one vote and three preferences at Parliamentary elections; vote for the party and the three preferences had to be cast to three candidates.

However obtaining a majority from a given seat did not qualify a candidate to get elected                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         to Parliament, as it happened previously. This was the first step in killing representative democracy in this country. Elected candidates were selected on a District basis where the election is decided on the total number of preferences each candidate polls from the entire district. This divorced the MP from the electorate as well as the people. It is no longer people centered now; instead it has become totally party centered there by the political party in this country has killed both the essence and the spirit of representative democracy. This was the second step that killed representative democracy in this country.

Besides making elections extremely complicated, cumbersome and expensive, for the Election Department, the candidates and political parties and the electors as well, this system also brought about some serious problems in representative democracy. It also made elections quarrelsome, unethical, brutal and sometimes even uncivilized and sadistic.

First, it gave a heavy weight to electorates with a higher number of votes and therefore they could decisively decide the results of the whole district. This also made the electorates with a less number of votes insignificant and were eclipsed from the process of representative democracy

Second, it created seats without any representative in the Parliament. Third, it alienated the MP from the people. Fourth, the electors of a given electorate lost their democratic right to select their candidate, elect their Member of Parliament and reject him when they want to do so for his misconduct or failure to do his duty by the electors, as the next parson who has scored the highest in the district list, irrespective of from where he comes automatically gets elected to fill the vacancy.

Fifth, the voters were left on the political highway, high and dry denying their basic right of sending their own representative to Parliament. So they were left without a representative in Parliament to whom the electors could air their grievances and who could represent them in parliament.

Sixth it made the losers win and the winners lose.

Seventh it empowered a set of MPs with political power without accountability and responsibility to the voters.

Finally even the people of the district were represented by MPP who had been technically rejected by them at the election. So the question arises as to who represent whom?

This is exactly what happened in all elections since 1978. As I had pointed out in an analysis of the 2004 General Election results in the Kandy District on 8.3.2007 (Lanka Web and The Island under the caption PR the Death Knell of Representative Democracy in Sri Lanka ) this system left eight seats in Kandy at that election without a representative in the Parliament. The affected seats were Udadumbara. Medadumbara, Kundasale, Galagedara, Yatinuwara, Hewaheta, Kandy and Senkadagala. For example Sarath Ekanayaka (UPFA Udadumbara), Mahinda Wijesiri (UNP Teldeniya), Sriyani Daniel (UNP Hevaheta), Sunil Amaratunga (UPFA Kundasale) and Nihal Gunasekara ( UNP Yatinuwara) all won their seats with comfortable majorities. But while they who won their seats stayed at home those who got defeated in their electorates got elected to Parliament on the strength of the preferences collected from the District and ended up as powerful Ministers. Harispattuwa being the one with the highest number of votes decided the fortunes of eleven candidates in Parliament. Examples are Sarath Amunugama (UPFA), Dimutu Abekoon and Y.M.Navaratna Banda (both of JVP contested on the UPFA) and Faizar Musthafa (CWE) Luxman Kiriella, Keheliya Rambukwella, Abdul Kadar, Alut gamage, Tissa Atanayaka and Abdul Haleem. Most of these candidates had won their respective electorates. At this election, out of those now in Parliament, only Aluthgamage (UPFA Nawalpitiya), Abdul Haleem (UNP Harispattuwa) and Luxman Kiriella (UNP Gampola), Keheliya Rambkwella UNP had won their electorates). Even the General Secretary of UNP Tissa Attanayaka had not won a single seat including his own Udadumbara, where he had been MP and Minister for a long time, although in the baluporaya he had received few votes over the next candidate in Kandy and Senkadagala electorates.

In other words some candidates who lost went to Parliament and some who won stayed at home. So a process of losers ruling the winners emerged as a result. So you see how those who were rejected at the polls were legitimized as elected by this messy election system at the end. Therefore the PR system has killed the basic principle of representative democracy in this country; it has also killed the spirit and the substance of representative democracy. Only moneyed people who could throw money could get preferences under this system. Another feature that emerged from this system was the unhealthy polarization of ethnic groups around their candidates. This was how Faiza Musthafa and Abdul Kader got elected in 2004. This makes the one nation concept also a distant reality.

In short the PR system in elections in this country has administered a PR to every elector as it is done in the hospital. This is exactly what has happened after every election in this country since 1978 and it will continue to be so unless we take suitable measures immediately to arrest it.

Therefore it is a crying need to do away with this corrupt system if we want to restore representative democracy in this country. Instead of rectifying this gross anomaly and restoring representative democracy the government has made the situation even worst by ignoring the former electorate this time. I think this has now completed the process of alienating the voters completely from the MPP and reduced the representative democracy and Parliamentary system in this country to a big mockery and a mere joke.

Meanwhile there is also a growing trend of sending parachutes from other areas to contest elections in distant electorates. This has further weaken representative democracy and made it a mere pipe dream. With the emergence of this new trend one need not be an elector or a resident within a given electorate to represent the people or to contest. In countries like USA residence within the electorate for a specific period is compulsory to get the nomination. This new trend also accelerates and cements the process of alienation. Once the elections are over the victorious will go to their home towns and the electors will have to either go in hunting for them or forget about their democratic rights for another five or six years and watch helplessly gazing at the high heavens as to how their votes have made few people rich and powerful and made themselves poorer and helpless. In this regard one can argue that even before there were instances where the MPP got settled down in Kandy or Colombo after elections and they never returned to their local electorates. But at least they were electors of the respective electorates until they died. Now the million dollar question is who represents whom and what, under this system?

It is derivative political power without answerability and accountability to the people. The MPP under this system kick the ladder that helped them to climb to power and the Parliament. Also it is neither representative nor participatory or democratic in their real sense. I remember a former MP in Kandy who got only ten thousand from his seat got elected as the first MP of the district on preferences and later became even the Prime Minister of this country. When some people of the electorate to which he belonged had gone to meet him to get something done he had said he was not voted in by them and as such he is not under obligation to attend to their matters. In a way almost all MP today in reality, I think, represent only their party leader; even though it is a pretension, as in reality ultimately every one represents his personal interests only.

Could anyone call this representative democracy anymore? If you don’t call it a big Joke then what you call it? Is it remote democracy, alienated democracy or no democracy at all? Could anyone elaborate on this please, for the benefit of the students of political science and the future generations.

Is there any meaning at all and any justification either, in this kind of elections held at the expense of the public coffer that drains out billions at every election making the whole country poorer and destitute, day by day, is my question. Imagine 8 Provincial Council Elections, one Presidential Election and a Parliamentary election within a span of one year, directly costing at least 15 billion if not more. Those who decide to hold such elections are concerned more about consolidating their own power than broader national implications. I have no doubt it illustrates their concept on priorities. The Local Government Elections are yet to come.

What about the indirect, unaccounted and unaccountable expenditure like posters, banners, transport, property destructions, damage to public property, effect on national production due to involvement in elections for at least three to four months in respect of every election before and after, loss of man hours due to rallies and demonstrations and loss to media time and office work etc? Have you ever heard or seen any politician talking on these issues. At least I have not. Look at the language they use. Yako, araka, meka, haraka and mu are some of the standard words they use daily. Their only concern is power. Power for what? Power, to rob, plunder and amaze wealth, for their familie, and few crumbs for their supporters falling from the table. As I see it, if we carry on like this for another one or two years like this, before long we will end up as the poorest of the poor on earth and will get reduced to a garbage dump where the politicians responsible will be leaving the country while those who elected them will be picking the left outs.

For whose benefits are these elections held; the Politicians or the people? It is certainly the politicians. Why should the people go to the polling station and take the trouble to caste their valuable vote to perpetuate a meaningless and disastrous system like this? This is the most critical issue, I think; every intelligent voter in this country has to ask themselves, at least now.

It is a well-known maxim that politics is a dirty game. In this country it is the dirtiest game. The government has got reduced to a mere system of government by the politicians, for the politicians and of the politicians. It was only the other day a friend of mine went a little further and said that I was wrong and he corrected me saying   ”Today in this country you see Politics is government by the Crooks, for the Crooks and of the Crooks” I think his definition was much better than mine, although he did not have a Doctorate in political science. I think Abraham Lincoln will turn in his grave in shame if he happens to visit Sri Lanka by chance even in his dream world.

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