10 August, 2022


Changing The Political Culture Has To Be A Collective Effort

By Javid Yusuf

Javid Yusuf

One of the objectives of the regime change that took place on January 8, 2015 was to create a new political culture that would be consistent with a civilized democratic society. It would not be far wrong to say that the Yahapalana Government has taken some steps in this direction.

With the opening up of democratic space  people are not afraid to give expression to their views  and to critique the Government and even the President and the Prime Minister in the strongest terms. The media has shaken off the shackles  of self censorship and  do not hesitate to call  Government to account whenever necessary.

The new Local Government Electoral system has also contributed to reduction of  the violence that has characterized some of the Elections in the recent past. While all this is welcome much more has to be done in order to work towards a more comprehensive and sustainable change in the political culture. While systemic change as in the case of the Local Government Election Reforms can contribute positively it will require attitudinal  changes on the part of all sections of society to ensure that a new political culture can  be forged that will stand the test of time. 

The citizenry themselves have a role to play in this regard. While political parties have a duty to put forward candidates of integrity to contest at Elections, the public have an even greater duty to ensure that where political parties slip up and fail to do so the voters s vote against such unsavoury characters and prevent them from being elected to office. The forthcoming Local Government Elections gives the public a golden opportunity to do so because the ward system and the size of the wards enables the voter to easily ascertain  the credentials or otherwise of candidates and to come to an informed decision on the best candidate to elect. This decision of the voter will impact on the future of the country because it will infuse new blood into a decaying and corrupt Local Government system. The simple act of casting the vote wisely can contribute immensely to the future wellbeing of the country because a vibrant Local Government system can be the nursery for future legislators of quality and integrity.

Another area where citizens can play a greater role is by not giving undue importance to politicians. While legislators can be given the respect they deserve for the role they play in the Governance of the country many tend to treat them as super human beings and sometimes even treat them as demi gods. This has at least two negative effects. This attitude of servility (as opposed to respect) to politicians and especially to those holding  positions of authority demeans the members of the publicand greatly diminishes their dignity as human beings.

The other negative fallout of giving undue importance to politicians is the creation of big egos and a feeling of self importance. While not all politicians allow themselves to be ego massaged in this way there are many weaker ones who fall prey to such public servility and arrogate to themselves roles that are not befitting their status as representatives of the sovereign people.

The recent allegations made against the Chief Minister of the Uva Province are a case in point. He has been accused of summoning a lady Principal of a School in Badulla and berating her for not acceding to his request to admit a child to her School and asking her to kneel down and or worship him as a punishment. There were further allegations that the Chief Minister had made racist remarks alluding to her Tamil ethnicity. Although the Chief Minister denied such allegations, the news broadcast on Friday on Hiru TV showed the Principal in tears explaining in detail what happened.

Earlier during the previous regime a Provincial Councillor in Wayamba named Ananda Kumara forced a lady teacher to kneel down as punishment for pulling up his daughter with regard to her school uniform. Yet another instance was the case where former Minister Mervyn Silva order a Samurdhi officer to be tied to a tree for failing to turn up at a dengue eradication program.  A disciplinary committee headed by a lawyer later found the Minister innocent and determined that  the Samurdhi officer had tied himself up to the tree as a former of self punishment ! There are many other  instances of such unbecoming action by politicians  which while reflecting  their temperament are greatly fuelled by the servile attitude of the public  and the undue deference paid to politicians by not only members of the public but even  State officials.

This is why often politicians talk of coming to power rather than assuming office. However in fairness it must be said that not all politicians fall into this category and many of them do adhere to norms of common decency and do not throw their weight around.

A closer examination of the Uva Chief Minister’s conduct reveal many misunderstandings that exist in the minds of many who assume political office and ignorance of systems and rules of conduct expected of them. The first observation is that the Chief Minister took it as a personal affront that the Principal did not carry out his orders on his mere say so but rather insisted on the proper procedure being  followed which was that the Education Ministry Secretary’s approval be first obtained in order  for her to approve such admission.

The second point at which the Chief Minister blundered was when he took it upon himself to conduct the so called inquiry when it should have been conducted by the appropriate official even if the Chief Minister had a grievance with regard to the matter. The third point is that even if  an inquiry was warranted the Principal should not have been summoned to the Chief Minister’s residence for that purpose. The fact that it was the official residence made no difference. Another point on which the Chief Minister was out of line was that he had no right to demean the Principal by ordering her to kneel and or worship him and of course the unkindest cut was to make racist remarks at her.

Yet another area where changes have to be made with regard to the prevailing  political culture is in the matter of handing over of letters of appointment, handing over of deeds of houses and  lands to individuals etc. It has become common practice when anyone is recruited to the public service whether as teachers, nurses, postmen etc or when land or houses are allocated to members of the public for a public  ceremony to be held at which a politician would hand out such letters of appointments or deeds to fawning recipients some of whom would even fall at the feet of the politician ostensibly as a show of gratitude. This has become so ingrained in the system that  neither the politician concerned or the recipient realize that such selections had been made on merit and such appointments or allotments due to them as of right on the basis of the Government’s declared  scheme of recruitment or allotment and not due to the largesse of the politician concerned. And besides there is nothing as demeaning and degrading of human dignity as having to pay obeisance to another human being for getting what is yours by right.

The better option and more in keeping with human dignity would be to post such letters of appointment or letters of allotment to the recipients.

The strengthening  of systems of Governance will benefit  both politicians and the public while making life better for the people as a whole. Necessary systemic changes would  result in public confidence to rely on working the system rather than depending on and being beholden to individual politicians to get what one is entitled to as a citizen. This will obviate the need for the public to follow the demeaning  practice of spending unproductive hours  hanging around politicians’ houses or offices to get what is their just due. This in turn will take the pressure off politicians and legislators and enable them to devote time on reflecting on how to improve the lot of the sovereign people whom they have been elected to serve. For the politician his ultimate achievement will be that he has contributed to the general well being of the country and the people rather than the momentary satisfaction of seeing someone genuflecting at his or her feet .

The role of the media in bringing about changes in the political culture cannot be underestimated. They can help change attitudes by exercising discretion in giving prominence to politicians of  disrepute. Many politicians consider any  form of publicity as positive and  helpful to their political career. If the media is to live up to its role as the watchdog of the people it must help shape attitudes by highlighting positives in society and holding the torchlight on excesses in Government without being subject to partisan agendas.

Schools too have to play a big role in building a strong and resilient society. It would not be wrong to say that it is in the classrooms that the seeds of our future society will be sown with the necessary values and skills being ingrained in the minds of the young ones. Today there is a great deal of attention being paid  to enhancement of  skills among children in order to equip them to meet the challenges of the future. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much attention being paid in the Schools  to building values that help the citizens of tomorrow to use such skills for the betterment of society in a constructive way.

All in all a change in the political culture will only be achieved only through the sustained efforts of all sections of society including but not limited to the political leadership.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Javid, it is easy to preach from your pulpit, but nothing is happening in reality. What they introduced after Jan 8, 2015 is not democracy but anarchy; total anarchy. If a country can be governed like this, any Tom, Dick and Harry will do so. That’s why your very first para is wrong.
    Go and see what’s going on in Sri Lanka. It’s a mess, a mess created by this Yahapalana duo. Just take two example from the duo:
    1. One stole the Central Bank and keeps denying it.
    2. The other gave the chief organizer position to the thug who forced a teacher to kneel down before him in Anamaduwa. Using this precedence the current Chief Minister of Uva did the same and he is President Sirisena’s man (with no higher education at all)!
    Now the duo (RW and My3) attack each other and try to divert our attention from the country’s burning issues. Will they succeed in fooling the 6.2 million again by this drama. We’ll come to know on Feb 10!

  • 0

    another so called Journalist writing bullshit.nothing has changed after yahapalanaya.s.l.is going from bad to worse and will never Change.sinhalayas are Humbugs without any culture

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 0

      There is a procedure to follow in case to reform/correction a teachers. not
      fool proof comments

  • 1

    If one thinks these fat CMs come to power to follow regulations and do the right thing , they must be kidding . themselves..
    Dr Ranil came to clean up Corruption.
    Mr Maithri promised to eliminate Nepotism.
    Uva CM trying to get a stooge’s daughter a place in the local school is no big deal.
    Now the latest is that 15 of the 16 TNA MPs were rewarded with LKR 20 Million each for voting to approve the Yahapalana Budget.
    The person who made the allegation must be the only MP among the Yahapalana supporters who abstained from accepting the reward..
    So much for the Sobitha, Chandrika NGO Revolution to cleanse the Nation…

    So much for the “Sea Change” which the Sobitha, Chandrika NGO revolution to clense the

  • 0

    Very good article. I think cheap minister /Education minister himself should be blamed. Why he di dnot take action to develop most schools to the same extent. That is why he had to give a letter to the principle asking to take that child too. On the other hand, I think the principle was not completely free of fault because she could not acommodate one extra child. I think she should have accepted that child.Now, they made it a political issue.

  • 0

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  • 1

    Javid Yusuf is talking about breaking out of shackles as part of reforms to
    change current political culture that is now a RELIGION than POLITICS.
    Apart from Buddhism , Hinduism , Islam and Christianity there are UNP
    SLFP , SLMC and a new SLPP religions for people to go round worshipping !
    Without any shame these GODS go to other countries to meet real human
    counterparts , as the GODS of Srilankan devotees ! There’s by the way an
    age factor that plays the key role on our both mental and physical abilities.
    For example , look at the way Mahinda behaves even at this crucial stage .
    He follows the same old tricks to a new sensitive vote block , why ? Simple !
    Use by date has already ended ! But he is still on the shelf because of rogue
    traders . According to researches , 15-20 is the best age to learn changes to
    one’s attitudes . 20-30 you still have time to do hard works for changes .
    But here we have a bunch of rotten and rusted lot over 70s and some young
    in appearance but centuries behind in thoughts lot who are nothing
    second to those in seventies ! All HEROES of DISTRIBUTION from high
    interest borrowings from other countries .Changes must come by shedding
    off old customs and habits that have imprisoned us for centuries now
    through various cultural practices . FREEDOM WAS GIVEN TO US BUT
    HAVE WE EMBRACED THAT FREEDOM ? My answer is NO , instead we
    are doing everything to destroy it ! Unless we start to feel we are truly
    respectable , no change can work for us .

  • 0

    A beautifully written article which is well balanced with good examples to educate and remind all of us the (including both the politicians/officials and the greater public at large) the respective/civic responsibilities involved in shaping a democratic/workable system to be put in place for good governance and progress. The article also highlight the importance and the civic responsibilities required from the public to elect someone to represent them on an educated basis who can work to / contribute to such an institution such we leave a system that takes care of itself and continuously updated with lessons learned/optimised to meet the country and her subjects needs. We spent a lot of time demonising the elected we failed to see our responsibility to unit and be behind them to deliver instead we continue with the divisive politics that create a scenario makes it impossible for anyone to lead the country. We reelect some one else and continue the same and this cycle has been repeated for the past 70 years so effectively by the public we have successfully destroyed our own country without any accountability on our part as votors. Hence the article so effective in looking at the achievements and failures of the current government and objectively observing perhaps we need to get involved not just on electing someone on their manifesto pledges but to make continous assistance for a collective success from all angles possible specially through continuous education on unity. There is no them and us is just us that is all we need to understand. A collective event all the way.


    • 0

      Part 2 :
      Thank you for reminding me of my Father Mr Thiagarajah (MP for Vaddukoddai from 1970-1977) who served his people as a teacher and a social worker and the people collectively stood behind him to fulfil all their daily needs so succesfully for nearly 40 + years. He stayed focus on his job scope/responsibility working for unity and progress until his last breath. He braved several assassination attempts to deliver this but could not survive the last attempt in 1981 during the first Development Council Elections in Jaffna. He wrote 2 books “Economical Development of Ceylon” in 1966 & “Sri Lanka and South Asian Economic Cooperation A Conceptual and Institutional Framework for Accelerated Development” in 1981.
      This article author can write an article about this “Son of Sri Lanka” on his “life and work” and give this to all the political parties in Sri Lanka for the merits required for candidate selection/bench marking and also put in places some crash courses on “public office and job scope”. Most of the time it is the job scope that is missing for the “to be elected/elected officials” and is always open to interpretation. We see physical fights in a parliament speaks for itself. My Father always made his case to the people to win their hearts and minds (hundreds of town hall meeting for extra clarity at individual level then) but never undermined any opposition nor ever scapegoated anyone for his mistakes/learning process but took ownership/had open discussions and moved forward.

  • 0

    J Y &W W.
    Makes sense, no doubt.
    It’s 70 years now and no better; if anything, worse.
    The political culture has got to change to be progressive. The culture of impunity and “massive” corruption has to change. We need new young blood in politics; not the same old, same old.
    Introduce fixed term limits to all elected to parliament , e g. 4 years times 3 or 4. It’s a simple constitutional change.
    This is the main impediment to progress. It’s not complicated.

  • 0

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