By Gamini Jayaweera –
On 17 August we will have the opportunity to elect our parliamentary representatives in the general election to change our political landscape to ensure that as a nation we will be governed by politicians who value and maintain the Rule of Law, working towards enhancing the freedom and democracy which we enjoy since 8 January 2015, actively working in partnership with all political parties to bring different communities together without creating racial tension among different sections in the society for cheap political gains, working towards creating a stakeholder business culture, and collectively taking prompt & decisive actions to remove MPs who are engaged in illegal activities irrespective of their status or affiliation to the ruling party. In order to select suitable candidates, we need to understand what kind of qualities these candidates should possess to represent us in the parliament.
It is generally accepted that the elected Members of Parliament have responsibilities to the Parliament, their constituents, and their political parties. They are in a privileged position because they have the opportunity to positively contribute to enhance the quality of lives of the fellow countrymen and women who elect these politicians to the parliament with high expectations. As honourable members of the Parliament, generally they are expected to be knowledgeable of subject matters which contribute to the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, legal and technological developments in the country. They represent their political parties in and out of Parliament demonstrating that they possess qualities such as honesty & integrity, competency, thorough knowledge of local and international issues, dedication, excellent behaviour, and ability to lead if required.
Bearing in mind the above roles and responsibilities of MPs, it is important that we apply these essential qualities to our former Ministers, MPs, and Newcomers who are canvassing and asking our votes to become elected MPs in the forthcoming general election. Members of Nomination Boards of all political parties had a duty and a greater responsibility to ensure that they had selected their candidates who possessed the above qualities to contest this general election. This is a very important factor that should be considered by the voters whether the Members of these Nominations Boards have acted responsibly to reject nominations for such candidates who have tarnished their political image during the last parliament. As reputation and integrity of the Members of Sri Lanka Parliament are at very low level, it is our duty to elect candidates who could restore the good image of the highest institution in Sri Lanka by rejecting the candidates who are not fit to represent us in these privileged positions as Members of Parliament to serve our nation.
Raising Racial Tensions
It is sad, disgusting and shameful to hear that some of the former Ministers and MPs are advocating nationalism in public meetings as a “tool” to win votes to get elected into the parliament. The war against Tamil Tigers was over in 2009. It appears that adequate security measures are in place and they are being maintained by the Ministry of Defence headed by the President of Sri Lanka to ensure that national security is protected at all times. Knowing very well that there are no major lapses in the nation’s security measures, some politicians are trying to mislead the public by using inflammatory language such as “Ghost of the LTTE” is round the corner, the UNFGG “will divide” the country and people in the South will require “Visas to travel to the North” of the country if UNFGG come to power. These are cheap political propaganda by bankrupt politicians to instil fear into the minds of ordinary citizens. There is no place in a civilised society for politicians who advocate policies to stir up racial tension in the country. Hope the voters will punish these opportunist politicians whose political carvings to be in power at any cost are beyond shamelessness.
Discipline and Excellent Behaviour
Sinhalese is a beautiful and rich enough language which can be used to describe any situation in a most civilised manner. In addition majority of us have been nurtured in Buddhist cultural environments where we have been advised by noble Sangha and our parents from our childhood to apply mindfulness to control our thoughts, words, and deeds in the daily living. We can understand and excuse the children who sometimes do not comply with these requirements as they are still in the learning process. The politicians are like role models for our younger generation.
Some of the Politicians from most parties use foul language to express their opinions during debates in Parliament or in political discussion programmes televised by various television channels. The situation has become so bad few months ago some politicians have used bad language and exchanged blows during a TV debate. Recently one of the so called veteran socialist politicians used a disgusting rude word in Parliament to address the Prime Minister in a parliamentary debate. Another occasion some of the former Ministers and MPs were involved in chasing, using abusive language, and allegedly assaulting a former opposition member of parliament in the corridors of the parliament. Unfortunately the member is no longer with us. Some of these former Ministers and MPs are supposed to be from the cultured, educated, “polished”, and upper class of the Sri Lankan society. It is time for the general public to identify and defeat each one of these undisciplined, uncultured, uncivilised and unrefined politicians in the forthcoming general election irrespective of the parties they represent.
“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” (Lord Buddha)
Honesty and Integrity
It appears that most of our politicians do not recognise or understand the meanings of the words Honesty and Integrity. It is surprising that most of these politicians have been brought up in Buddhist cultural environments where refraining from lying is one of the Five Moral Precepts which most of us observe daily as Buddhists. In order to live an ethical life it is essential that we maintain truthfulness at all times. But unacceptable behaviour exhibited by most of our politicians during the last decade have destroyed their honesty and integrity beyond repair. Most of these politicians after visiting Buddhist Temples and offering “Ata Pirikara” to Maha Sangha, appear on TV or speak in public rallies telling lies in any form to deceive the general public for popular votes. It appears that the old joke of “How do you tell when politicians are lying? – when their mouths are open” is a true reflection of the way some of our politicians are behaving in this election campaign. The irony is that these politicians have been given nominations by most parties to contest the forthcoming general election to represent us in the parliament. It appears that the members of Nomination Boards have failed in their duty to reject nominations for these dishonest candidates for some unknown reasons. Therefore it is up to the voters to reject these decision makers also who are contesting this election from their respective parties.
It must be said that there are many dedicated politicians who are trying to do a decent service to the public. But they have been pushed aside by powerful corrupt senior politicians who have been protected and surrounded by liars, rogues, and opportunists. I appeal to the voters to identify the corrupt dishonest candidates who are contesting this election and reject them, no matter what party they represent, to ensure that honesty and integrity are maintained by our political representatives at all times. Can we trust the UPFA’s election campaign leaders’ election promise that they would put a stop to all wrongdoings including bribery & corruption by their own party members if former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is elected as PM? We need to remind these politicians that “Integrity is like China Ware, Costly Rich and Rare. Once broken but though mended the Crack is still in there.”
Educated and Knowledgeable Candidates
It is a fact that some of our MPs in the last parliament were uneducated and undisciplined individuals who have got in to the parliament because in the past the electorate voted for the party without scrutinising the behaviours of these individuals. As a result, we have ended up with a parliament where the leaders of the governing party got away with “murder”. Once these individuals were offered financial “bribes”, allowed them to conduct their illegal activities unchallenged to earn vast amount of money, and supported them to rule their constituencies above the law of the land, they were not interested about party policies on local and international affairs. Furthermore they did not have the education or the political knowledge to understand the issues too. In addition they have demonstrated the uncivilised behaviour in and outside the parliament due to their lack of disciplined upbringing. The saddest thing of this episode was that the top leadership of the last regime encourage this practice thinking that they could be in power for ever with the support of these corrupt individuals.
Education allows individuals to learn new things which help them not to make hasty political decisions to solve problems. Development of the ability to interact with other politicians and learning from them is part and parcel of the continuous learning process where politicians will be able to make wise decisions to solve problems at hand and improve the lives of the fellow countrymen and women.
One of the major problems is some of our former ministers from both major parties think that they already know everything. In the past decade they did not want to interact with others to get the best solution to the problem at hand because they had the backing from the leadership and the support of vast majority of uneducated and undisciplined MPs. Remember the old saying “Everyone knows where the bridge is; few actually ever DO cross it”. It is high time that we reject these egotistic politicians in the forthcoming general election to send a clear message to the Newcomers that the voters want their representatives to be intelligent and disciplined enough to make wise decisions with proper consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Ability to Lead
It is important that MPs should have leadership qualities as they may become Ministers who are responsible for providing leadership as decision makers for ministerial departments and other semi-government institutions which come under their jurisdiction. They may be asked to lead Select Committees in the Parliament to investigate and report on the work of government departments or they may be asked to lead parliamentary committees to appraise and advice on the working processes, procedures, and rules of the Parliament. They should be responsible, level headed people who should exercise their duties in a fair and reasonable manner irrespective of their affiliation to the ruling party. They should not hide the truth for the sake of pleasing their party members or other influential politicians. In other words we do not want “Yes” men and women in the Parliament as we have witnessed plenty of them during the last decade. Always work on the principle as Mwai Kibaki said “Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.”
Though above brief is not an exhaustive list of required qualities of Members of Parliament, I think that it gives a brief account of basic qualities that the voters would expect from candidates who are seeking our votes in the forthcoming general election. I request the voters to cast their votes in this election wisely to ensure that we are represented in the highest institution of our country by men and women who are open, honest, dedicated, disciplined and intelligent enough to serve the nation. It is worth remembering that “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” (Plato)
Finally, I appeal to the nation to apply the same principles as advocated and adopted by Lord Buddha to cleanse the Sangha community as described in the Pahārāda Sutta, when you cast your vote in the forthcoming general election to clean up our parliament too.
“Pahārāda, just as the great ocean does not tolerate dead bodies, corpses, and if there is a dead body, it quickly throws it on shore. In the same manner the Community does not tolerate a person who is immoral, of bad character, of impure and suspicious conduct, secretive in his actions, not chaste but pretending chastity, lustful and of vile behaviour, not living the holy life, and rotten to the core. The Community does not live with such a person; they all get together quickly and expel such a person. Wherever he is seated with the Community, he is far away from them. The Community too is far removed from him. This is the third wonderful and surprising quality in this dispensation of the teaching, seeing which the bhikkus delight in it.”
*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford