By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the article under the heading “Sri Lanka’s way forward- lets think outside the box” by the Columnist Vishwamithra in the Colombo Telegraph of 3rd January. It is a true and objective analysis of the state of affairs and the degradation of the Sri Lankan Nation during the 60 years period, since gaining Independence. Vishwamithra states “ Politics has destroyed the soul and eaten up the character”. Here the word “politics” is used in a general sense, which means Government. But the word politics cannot be divorced from Political Parties. Politics and Political Parties are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, in a positive and direct sense, it means that “Political Parties has destroyed the soul and eaten up the character”. Political Parties, in my sincere opinion, is the cause of all the ills of the Country. Political Parties is a curse that bedevils the country. It is clear as day light to all, the educated and the knowledgeable, that Political Parties is the root cause of the disease afflicting the nation, yet helpless to cure it by ridding the cause. This is conceded by Vishwamithra, when he says that “yet no Politician or any social-minded leader of any worthy repute has tried anything outside the box, within the democratic framework”. He further states that “ let us open this column to a national conversation. How far or how wide we can reach in this exercise”. It is in this spirit that I offer my “outside the box” conceptual framework as a solution for a true democratic form of Government as detailed below.
Sri Lanka, historically, was ruled by Monarchs, so was other Asian Countries. We were subjugated by foreign Western Powers and colonized and ruled in the name of a distant Monarch. We lost our independence.
Genesis of Political Party
A struggle followed to regain our independence. So a National Movement was born to unify all forces to achieve independence from colonial Rule, which led to the formation of the Ceylon National Congress. Without such a political organization, with unity and cohesion, it would not have been possible to launch a movement to regain our independence. This is the genesis of the Political Party system. Thus the political Party, called the Ceylon National Congress, played a valid and significant role in the transformation to self-government. But the initial spirit of patriotism of the Political Party evaporated after attainment of Independence. The Monarchy was replaced by the Political Party. Aftermath of our political Independence, the history of our country, is the history of proliferation of Political Parties. Parliamentary democratic form of Government came into being. Theoretically, this is the ideal form of Government. President Abraham Lincoln of U.S.A succinctly and meaningfully defined democracy as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Is this true in actual practice today? I say, no. It had degenerated today and become a Government of the Political Parties, by the Political Parties for the Political Parties. The people are mere voting machines at periodic elections to form a Government by Political Parties. Thus the right to rule and govern the country is solely vested in the Political Parties. It is the political parties that nominate their members, for the people to elect as their representatives, to govern. Very seldom do candidates from the people, outside the Political parties, come forward as Independent Candidates to contest, to be elected as their representatives. Thus, the Government is a monopoly of the Political Parties. The rule by a single Monarch has been superseded by a single Political Party or more in a coalition. Political Parties are virtually owned and controlled by families and their children, as a hereditary right, thus ruling power is wielded by Politicians. In place of one Ruler King we have a multitude of Petty kings, parading as peoples’ representatives.
After gaining Independence, Political Party based government came into existence. At the inception, there was only one major Political Party in Sri Lanka, Ceylon National Congress, precursor of the later United National Party. At the time of the first General Election, there were only three or four Political Parties, such as the United National Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party. Since then, to the present day, Political Parties have mushroomed to a plethoric number, due to the greed of Politicians to rule the country. They see in it a window of opening to aggrandize themselves and their families, though the ostensible reason given is to serve the country and the people. Today, there is a birth of a new Political Party at the drop of a hat, as it were.
Individuals and Groups cannot bring about a radical change in the formation of a Government. It has to come from the Government itself. Political Party based Government should be abolished. But to expect this from Politicians would be a miracle. Political Parties is a hindrance and an impediment to good governance and solution of national problems. The tyranny of Political Parties is ruining the country. In place of Kings of historical times, we have substituted a Cabal of Families to rule under the guise of Peoples’ Democracy. Can an Independent candidate without allegiance to a political Party come forward to represent the people of his Constituency under the present Political Party based system of election? Nominally, yes; But, in practical reality forming a Government is an impossibility. Of course, during the early stages of history of elections, some Independent Candidates contested elections. In this connection, I advert to the view expressed by Mr. Lacille De Silva in his article under the heading “Is Sri Lanka becoming Man-eating- Man Society” in the Daily Mirror 25th December, where he says that “we must salute the youth of Balapitiya for their courage and determination to come as independent candidates to contest Balapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha”. But can Individuals with no Political Party membership win an election, in competition with those nominated by the Political Parties, which have resources at their command for election campaigning? Even if they win, what can be achieved. Can they be part of the Government; certainly not. On the other hand, if they join the Government side, they have to compromise their independence. Thus Independent Candidates coming forward for elections ceased totally at an early stage. However, I am happy that Mr. Lacille De Silva has focused attention on the germ of my idea, the centre piece of my article- that is, abolish Political Parties to make way for independent candidates to come forward for elections to all Government bodies. Nomination for elections is a monopoly of the Political Parties now. In fact, a Political Party could even nominate an outsider to any constituency to be elected as a representative of the people of that constituency. The people have merely to elect a nominee of the Political Party, whoever it is. Further, District based election of the Party first and then the preferential vote to the candidate, has severed the nexus between the people and their representative. People have been relegated to insignificance and the Political Party supremacy has been enthroned. Is this the Democracy of the people, by the people and for the people that is parroted about? Isn’t this a total humbug? Isn’t this a tyranny of the Political Parties? If an independent Government is desired, then all the candidates at an election have to be Independent Candidates. There cannot be Political Parties and Independent Candidates at the same time. Both cannot co-exist. Political Parties have to be eliminated.
Cannot we have elections without Political Parties?
I say, yes, we can have elections without Political Parties. The Electoral System should be changed in the Constitution. But the question is, will the Parliament composed of Political Party members, self-abolish their Parties? Will the Political Parties have the sincerity, honesty and courage to change the very system that sustains and empowers them? Isn’t there another method of electing representatives to Parliament sans Political Parties? It is my view that Political Parties should be dissolved and abolished. As expected, the politicians, who are the only beneficiaries of the Party system of Government, will oppose this tooth and nail to protect their vested interests. They would be all out for the preservation of the status quo.
The evils of Political Party System of Government
There are many evils in the present political party system of Government:
1. Political party based Government is not truly democratic; Political parties are composed of Party members. The Party members are only a fraction of the total registered voters of the country. Vast majority of voters are independent, though they support a particular Party. The interests of the members of the Party, takes precedence over that of the people.
2. Issues and problems of the country and solutions for them are determined from a Party-centric interest, rather than national interests. The adverse reaction of the rivals is their main concern. The survival of the Political Party, than doing the right thing, is the main motive.
3. Intense inter-Party rivalry during pre-election and post-election times, leads to violence and even murders. These are in the realm of public knowledge.
4. Even intra-Party conflicts and differences results in break-up parties, and dissidents forming their own separate parties.The desire to be the Leader is the driving force, and the result is multiplication of Parties. A comparison between then and now is mind boggling.
5. Political Parties are fed with funds from the Business community and well wishers. Foreign countries meddle in the elections with a stake in them. Thus, the Political Parties have the capacity to field many candidates for an election and bear the cost of electioneering. This makes it prohibitive for independent persons to win election on their own resources, in competition with Political Parties. The best talented and educated persons are deprived the opportunity of contesting an election. This is the only profession where no minimum educational qualification is required. What is needed is a loud mouth , theatrics, and populist vernacular oratory and popularity.
6. Political parties breeds violence, bribery, corruption, favoritism, nepotism, interference with Law and Order, industrial unrest, strikes. They are an obstacle to the resolution of the country’s burning problems. Particularly the ethnic problem, which is been tossed between the two major political parties for the last 60 years, at great peril and harm to the nation in all fronts-political, economic, social stability and inter-racial and religious harmony. The worst outcome is the politicisation of Public Services and the Bureaucracy, even the Judiciary, hindering good administration of the country.
7. Political Parties promote the retention of power within families and perpetuation of family rule. The right to contest election is passed from father to children in succession. The right to rule the country has become a hereditary right similar to the ancient monarchical rule.
8. Present Political Party culture and system of Government is patently, putrid .This truth is clear as crystal to all, including the politicians themselves; that is why they avariciously seek it, because they benefit by it.
Political Parties should be dissolved and Elections held on an Independent System .
In the interest of the country, the Political parties based elections should be abolished. Nomination to contest election should emerge from the Constituency itself. Of course, there should be stipulated eligibility qualifications, particularly a minimum University Degree or equivalent professional qualification to seek election to Parliament. Even Professional bodies could nominate persons, provided they resign from any other vocation, on winning the election.
The proposed system of election
The proposed method is not a revolutionary one. It is practiced by all Voluntary Associations. If Professional bodies, Associations and other Corporate entities could elect their Presidents/Chairman, Executive Committees and Office Bearers to run their Affairs, why cannot the State, being an association of people, elect the most talented and educated persons to govern the country. The critics will say this is preposterous, chimerical and an impractical ideal. I think, it is possible, if there is sincerity of purpose and will.
The Formation of the Government Procedure
1. A higher non-refundable Deposit should be fixed to discourage all and sundry contesting election.
2. Election will be wholly on the basis of “First past the Post” system only, and either to single or double member constituencies.
3. All elected representatives will meet on an appointed date at the Parliament with a Pro-tem Speaker in the Chair, guiding the proceedings. The Members of Parliament shall propose and second persons for following Office. If more than one person is proposed, then elected by vote.
*The Speaker and Deputy Speaker
*The Prime Minister
*Non-Executive President .Two names of eminent persons from outside Parliament, proposed by the Speaker and the Prime Minister. It would be more democratic and desirable, if elected by vote of all members of the Parliament and members of all Provincial Councils.
4. The Prime Minister will have the sole discretion to chose his Cabinet of Ministers from among all the M.Ps and allocate the Ministerial Portfolios and appoint Deputy Ministers. The Cabinet will be restricted to a small number – 25 Ministers and equivalent Deputy Ministers. The positions of State Ministers to be abolished. The Appointment of Ethnic minority members as Cabinet Ministers to reflect the plural character of the country will result in power sharing at the Centre by different ethnic communities. This will contribute to communal harmony, national unity and Sri Lankan consciousness.
5. All the remaining M.Ps, more or less in equal numbers, to be appointed to Executive Committees, corresponding to the number of Ministers, by the Prime Minister. Thus all M.Ps will participate in the governing process, like under the Donoughmore Constitution. Each Executive Committee to be headed by a Minister. Members of each Executive Committee can be allocated specific Department/Institution coming under each Minister.
6. The Executive Committees to meet periodically and deliberate, presided by the Cabinet Minister. The Minister of each Executive Committee to submit periodic progress Reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, on the work of each Executive Committee.
7. A formal Opposition will be totally redundant. This does not mean there will be no Parliamentary debate, discussion, expression of different views and criticism. Decisions will be taken on majority vote. Confrontational and adversarial Party politics will die a natural death.
8. The Cabinet of Ministers would prepare an Action Plan of work to be done for the ensuing period of its tenure, duly approved by a majority of all Members of Parliament. Pre-election Manifestos, under the Political Party system will be replaced by a Post election Action Plan, which will be presented by the President at the Inaugural meeting of the Parliament. This should be available in print for the Public for evaluation of the performance of the Government and their representatives at the end of its tenure of Office
9. The same system of election and attendant procedures will apply to all other local bodies as well.
The change is only in the process of election of representatives to Parliament and the method of forming the Government. All else, will remain the same, such as proceedings of the parliament, such as Standing Orders, Standing or Select Committees, procedures and practices, Motions, Resolutions etc.
The benefits of the proposed system of Government
- The so-called coalition Governments which are referred to as National or Unity Government is a misnomer. A Government without political Parties is the only true National Government.
- The simplification of the system of Elections.
- An end to confrontational and adversarial Party politics .
- Only educated, talented intellectuals and Professionals could enter Parliament free from bondage to Political Parties.
- Political Party rivalry, violence and murders will cease.
- There is no chance for the Business community or foreign countries with vested interest to meddle in elections.
- Ensures political stability.
- End to coalition Governments, Political Party crossovers and scheming.
- No space for ethno-religious centric Parties. Leads to national integration, unity and Lankan consciousness
- Family control of political parties will end. Therewith, family control of Government.
- Elimination of Wasteful cost of election. No Party propaganda through Cut-outs, posters, Political meetings, with loud speakers, musical shows, party flags and decorations, on roads and public places. These eye sores will be removed.
- End to Political Parties leading Trade Unions .Unions will have their own leaders. Manipulation of trade unions by Political Parties to cause strikes, protests, demonstrations will cease.
- The candidates contesting election can only do house to house canvassing, with leaflets of their profile, his voting Number, and explaining his case and plans/ proposals, for the welfare, progress and development of the constituency and the country.
- Religious and ethnic politics will lose its relevance. Monks/Priests to be debarred from contesting elections. Temple premises will cease to be political dens of activity. They should instead, be preoccupied with spirituality than politics.
- Main focus will be social and economic development of the country.
- Immense cost saving to the country. No Post of Opposition Leader, Less Ministers and Deputy Ministers. No Ministers of State. Therewith, reduction in Perks. Vehicles, Security etc. Executive Committee Members only be financially remunerated without perks as Vehicles etc. Security cover for Ministers/Deputy Ministers to be at the barest minimum, for utility than for ostentation and ego of Ministers.
This is only a skeletal conceptual framework, which needs to be polished and refined and improved upon and developed by constitutional experts, to be a workable system. I am mindful that Political Parties and those in Power are not going to cheerfully adopt this proposal. Party Politicians are not going to preside over their own dissolution. However, my main purpose is to draw public attention to eradicate the present sordid, Political culture, and Parties based system of Government, which will increasingly lead our country to ruin. It is truly not democratic. The country is virtually tyrannized by Political Parties, their supporters and their families. Good men of integrity, principles, morals, honesty, the talented and educated shun partisan politics. Therefore, space must be provided for them to enter Government. A Meritocracy, instead of a pseudo- democracy, should be established. Elections should be open to any eligible person to contest and become a Member of Parliament, without being enslaved by Political Parties, and participate in Governance. Economic prosperity, social justice, political stability, peace and harmony will usher in for all sections of our plural society.