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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2710

Unclean voter society has no moral authority to demand clean representatives in parliament

By Dr.M.A.Mohamed Saleem

Another parliamentary election is scheduled. A lot of anxiety and the fear is how August 17th 2015 is going to turn out. Having voted out a President, who allegedly connived with his family and friends to turn this country into a personal fiefdom, people expected changes under the new President Maithripala Sirisena’s 100day programme to freely exercise democratic rights under constitutional protection of equality for all citizens. This did not happen.

All those supported Maithripala Sirisena were fully aware that restoring good governance needed constitutional amendments to do away with the preferential voting system for electing members to the Parliament. It is through this system that many mediocre were able to enter parliament and get fat perks, privileges and protection for whatever, even nefarious, acts they indulged in as long as they fell in line with the inner circle of the governing party.

It is therefore unrealistic to expect these Parliamentarians to kill the goose that lays the golden egg and, by putting self-interest before service to the people and the country, they proved their unwillingness to vote for electoral reforms that may be the end of a political career for some. People were let down when the parliamentarians decided to reject the 20th amendment that was meant to bring back much desired changes and bestow more powers on the people for electing and identifying with their representatives.

Need for changing quality of representation in the parliament has long been felt. Over the years there have been many attempts but, anytime an effort surfaced it became the target of repression particularly under the last regime. A ray of hope for good governance emerged when Maithripala Sirisena took office but it soon evaporated as Central bank bond scam and nepotism in appointments to key government/semi-government positions surfaced within a short period of swearing in the new government.

It appears that steps are already underway to cover up allegations of irregularities of the past government and that of the new Maithripala’s government as well. This becomes more credible as it is argued that bring-back Mahinda campaign is a safeguard against truth surfacing, when there is a serious probe, about the reprehensible manner with which Mahinda conducted his affairs and a protection to those who associated with him and unduly benefitted from his regime.

Likewise, the timing of dissolution of the parliament is projected as being a strategy to avoid no-confidence motions that the opposition members of the parliament were contemplating against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayeke.

It is safe to assume that majority of those who were in the last parliament will be given nominations by the respective parties for the upcoming elections in spite of various established (criminal) charges against them raging from involvement in assault, murder, profiteering through illicit deals and commissions- contracts, drug imports, liquor licenses-, slanders and abuses including sex scandals etc. Many of them in the last parliament are also veterans in the game of ‘poly-tricks’, and they are likely to be returned. Their criminal records and inability to honour promises made during the previous election campaigns seem no discouragement to the voter in electing them once again.

In every election there may be a number of new faces in the fray with fresh ideas for development and improving human welfare but, voters do not even wish to try them out. The veteran politicians, particularly those who have been in the ruling party, take advantage of having free access to use of government or personal ill-gotten resources for wooing the voters. In this voting environment the public seem not ready to ‘risk’ for a change that will bring in new faces to the parliament.

In this environment why should any veteran politician change his stripes? Talk to these politicians and they confide that people will consider them weak and incompetent if there is reluctance on their part to show prominent signs of wealth, power, and influence and marshal control.

According to these politicians, society has ‘evolved’ to accept and respect ill-gotten wealth, licentious behaviours etc of politicians as long as they wield power, and therefore, according to them, as politicians, being in the governing party is their life and death struggle.

In the recent months there has been growing interest calling different criteria for screening candidates and upgrade people’s representatives in the parliament as way of ensuring good governance. A set of criteria developed by the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) for screening candidates seems to have been accepted by most leading political parties in the country.

There is another group that recently started a Campaign for Clean and Competent Candidates (CCCC) with similar objectives as PAFFREL. Ironically, there are also parliamentarians who admit in private that they too are in favour of a change and recognize the need for total overhauling of people’s representation in parliament.

In spite of these, unconfirmed information is that most members in the last parliament are re-nominated by the respective parties, and given the prevailing voting culture most them may return to the parliament. Thus, calling political parties to nominate clean and competent candidates seems to have got nowhere.

What is needed is a campaign to challenge the integrity of the voter who continues to vote for the same candidate(s) in spite of knowing that he/she (voter) has been let down by the person he voted for in the past.

The parliamentarian who was voted in many times may not have performed satisfactorily and, in fact, may even have betrayed the people after being elected by selling his/her loyalty to the party in power.

As long as a society remains largely insensitive and unclean in deciding who should qualify for a vote that society has no moral authority to demand for clean candidates in the parliament.

The change for good governance the country desires will not happen unless the society at large becomes clean and courageous to vote in the ones who can make it happen. As it stands today, the choice may have to be from those who have not been tried with power before. Will the Sri Lankan voter have the courage to do it come August 17th?

- Asian Tribune -

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