By Rasika Jayakody –
Four years after the victory of war, the biggest threat to the existence of the Rajapaksa regime has come not from without the administration, but from within.
No, we are not talking about the Casino Bill that earned the ire of religious leaders, nor the recommendations of COPE report that call for monetary transparency and certainly not obtuse statements made by minister on crucial matters concerning people. The biggest threat to regime has been the conduct of local government politicians who represent the government at the ground level, effectively the bridge between people and regime.
The level to which the conduct of local government and provincial politicians has deteriorated needs no elaboration. Stories with regard to their unruly behavior are reported in the media almost on a daily basis and there seems to be no remedy to the problem. It is not clear whether the powers that be deliberately turn a blind eye to the issue or they find it extremely hard to come up with a formidable solution.
It does not require Einsteinian wisdom to understand than whenever a local government politician runs amok somewhere it creates a seriously negative impact on the popularity of the government at the ground level. The erosion happening at that layer is more disastrous that what is happening on the surface. For instance, the negative impact created by Casino Bills, lack of monetary transparency, bribery and corruption allegations can be mitigated, at least to a certain extent, by remedial action that can restore people’s faith in the government. But, when the government is losing its ground at the very bottom level it hits the very foundation of its popularity.
This does not in any way mean that local government and provincial representatives of the opposition are different from those of the government. Their actions have been restrained to a great extent however as they do not wield any political power. That is why the “government” factor plays a crucial role in this matter.
A sizable proportion of politicians representing local government bodies lack skills or professionalism of any sort. They lack insight and are completely blind to political developments at the national level. Most of them, at some point of their lives, have served either as a body guard or as a personal assistant (podiyan, to put it in its crudest form) under a powerful politician. Candidacy for local government elections comes in their way as a reward for honest and longstanding service. Once they get the ticket, they know the art of winning elections and they have zero respect for rule of law, democracy and good governance, and moreover they know law enforcement bodies are impotent in the face of power.
This in other words means that nomination committees appointed by political parties genuflect without any question before influence and induces. Although there is a round of interviews before granting nominations, they are of no real use as the most unqualified candidates end up receiving the ticket at the end of the day. Even at nomination committee interviews, educational qualifications, knowledge and skills are the least important matters, compared with powerful backing, money and other similar factors.
There is no question that this trend has to be reversed. If there is someone who is capable of doing that, he is none other than President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is backed by a very powerful Parliament. He needs to take the gravity of this problem into consideration and find effective ways of making sweeping changes as unruly local government politicians have already given him enough trouble. He needs to realize that the problem is growing out of proportion and the government is running out of time! If the government fails to act at this juncture, it would accelerate the calamity that is already fermenting.
This problem can completely be cured through a systematic and comprehensive process. First of all, nomination committees appointed ahead of local government and provincial council elections should be made independent, without any individual meddling in their affairs. Secondly, strong criteria for selection process should be introduced with immediate effect, covering all layers of elections. Thirdly, immediate action should be taken against unruly politicians, regardless of their backgrounds and the powers that back them. More value should be added to the ticket to contest elections, without merely considering it as something that can be used to reward a longstanding servant. Without such strong measures, it is impossible to believe that the government will be able to bring this growing problem to a halt. If the government needs a point alpha to try this out, there are three provincial council elections in the offing, where the government holds a significant edge over other political parties. Therefore, it has ample space to bring about drastic changes.
Successful governments make correct calculations. They know that the taller the building, the more vulnerable the ground layer is. Therefore, before decorating the top level, they look at the ground level and fix the ruptures. The Rajapaksa government, at this moment, is moving in the opposite direction and that is the most dangerous path to take.
* Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at email@example.com