By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
One of the most misused words is “Democracy”.
In popular understanding this means that an institution, including a nation, is governed by a group, selected by the exercise of the free will of the members, expressed by an electoral process, and by a secret ballot. They in turn are expected to project the views of what their constituents are judged to favour. If these two criteria are not met, the claim to be a democracy has failed.
The first is by the violation of free choice in the selection of candidates, which is now done by the Party leadership. The second is by the exercise of the “Party Whip”. Nominations are now determined by the party leadership and not by the voters. It is therefore nonsensical to blame the voters for the poor quality of Parliamentarians. The voters really have no free choice but to vote for the “least worst”. The selections by the party leadership are often on the basis of criteria that have nothing to do with suitability, but much to do with usefulness to the party coffers or to do their dirty work. Consequently, there is a lack of education qualifications and more importantly, of good conduct. The suggestion often, that minimal qualifications should be required to be an MP is only of limited value. Many instances exist of persons with little formal schooling who have been outstanding successes, while some with the highest academic achievements have been dismal failures politically. Thus, mere academic success is insufficient for entry into Parliament.
The second, is the function of the Party Whip, which requires an MP to follow party directions in voting. Thus, he does not exercise his free will or conscience in using his franchise. It is only a secret ballot or conscience vote that allows the desired freedom of choice. It is ironic that a secret ballot is recognized as a requirement at electoral level, while free will is denied in the very institution through which his franchise is expressed! It is said that convention denies a free vote only for the election of the Speaker. This is a logic that is impossible to understand. If this applies, what is the purpose of expensive Parliamentary debate? Then scholastic achievements become irrelevant! It cannot be that Democracy and freedom of choice, does not exist in the highest body symbolic of Democracy. These two limitations cry out for reform.
These two requirements being unmet, raises many issues. The failure to comply with the two basic requirements to support the foundations of democracy, must mean that our democracy is a fake. It should be well within the ability of Parliament to rectify this anomalous situation.