19 July, 2024


How Should Sri Lanka Marginalise Ethnic Parties?

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

It has become almost an unwritten convention in Sri Lankan party politics since the introduction of the Jayawardena constitution that the national parties like the SLFP and UNP enter into pre-election pact with minor ethnic parties in order to enhance their chances of forming governments. Such marriage of convenience inherently weakens the functioning of the government because of the ‘hold-up’ problem. It is risible to see in the current campaign that the SLMC is contesting under the UNP party symbol in certain electorates and in their own party symbol in others. How can a national party rationalise such behaviour of its ally? It is one thing to have an understanding with independent and minor party members in the parliament after the election when a government faces tough opposition to pass its legislative measures. Such dialogues and compromises are normal in all democracies which only make democracy more transparent and strong in action; but it is entirely a different ball game to come to a pact before the election with minor parties who are driven by narrow ethnic interests and ministerial positions. This will only aggravate the hold-up problem.

Muslim-Hakeem-Anura-TamilEthnic parties will not disappear on their own because they have seen the advantages of politics of bargaining. Ministerial positions with benevolent and sometimes unaccountable perks are too enticing to sacrifice. Therefore, it is the national parties, if they are really national in outlook that can marginalise ethnic parties. To do that first of all the national parties should reflect in their choice of candidates and programs of action the plurality of the society. They should promote candidates from various ethnic communities to become members of the party and work for a national agenda which should include programs of affirmative action to benefit disadvantaged communities. Such programs of action would enhance the legitimacy of the party while broadenings its electoral reach and avoiding the need to enter marriages of convenience with ethnic parties.

Different ethnic members in the national party must also find accommodation in the cabinet. Such practices are not new to Sri Lankan politics. In fact, they were adopted under the Westminster model in the 1950s to 1970s. With the Gaullist model however, ethnic parties are having a field day. Religious leaders of the country, particularly the Mahanayakas, should bring pressure on the national parties to avoid pre-election pacts with parties like SLMC. Even if ethnic party candidates succeed in the election and enter the parliament let them sit in the opposition and warm up the seats. Their supporters will soon come to realise the futility of electing them and will switch their allegiance automatically to one of the major parties. An enlightened national party can make the ethnic parties redundant. That will be a healthy outcome to a plural democracy.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Election does not happen in a vacuum, Dr. Ameer Ali. It is not just to elect a government, but particularly to defeat someone already powerful, or so perceived. And it takes place in a polity, which is divisive, on whatever lines it may be. It is difficult to have a yardstick, or to seek to use a yardstick in a system, to change which one needs the support of the same actors in the polity. It goes beyond political to sociological arena. Your intention is noted: to make a point against alliance with minor or minority parties. But the larger and the specific contexts that apply can not be excluded. I am in regular touch with my people in the North and the East, for whom your message is partly intended for. You may see on 18 August, some parties, specially Muslim parties, which are now at each other’s throat will have learnt about the limit of their ‘gimmicking’ – an outcome you would welcome, despite the methodological default in your analysis. Minor and minority parties will survive until major parties change their policies to one of inclusivity, good governance, fair and equitable representation, equality and equality. Preconceptions need to be discarded.

  • 0

    Dear Dr,
    To start with , I am no fan of the ‘SLMC’.
    I guess you are living in a lab, the ideal political environment!. Or is it just gibberish for the sake of writing.
    Are there any genuine national political parties in SL? Please name them.
    All the so called national parties change their slogans depending on the electorate/palce they address to.
    You are warmly invited to come and settle in sunny SL and take the lead in setting up this ideal political environment.

  • 3

    This is one of best solution to get away with ethnic politics. I too partially agree with this mechanism. This mechanism of using religious influence in politics is very dangerous. DR Ameer Ali argued that “Religious leaders of the country, particularly the Mahanayakas, should bring pressure on the national parties to avoid pre-election pacts with parties like SLMC” This is ok if Mahanayaka speak for justice, equality and truth. If they one sided, all entire minorities can be wiped out from this type of suggestions. Minorities will further marginalized. This devil Dr Ameer Ali always come up with some devil thought to destroy minorities. Look TNA did not get any ministerial post they did not want to sit in with SL cabinet, Did national politics manage to do any thing for them? does Dr Ameer Ali think that TNA members are sitting in the opposition and warming up the seats.No they are fighting from opposition?
    yes, in Muslim community there are some bad apples. there are some bad MPs. but there must be some ways to get rid of them.
    tell Muslim community at all level not to vote for bad Muslim MPs in parliaments. People Like Azwar, Cader, Hisbuallah, Sattar, Fouzi, Hakeem, Richard, Faiz and many more should be sent home?
    how do Muslim do this? propose alternatives to them? who will be next Muslim leaders in politics.
    National parties will try to employ bad apples so that they could use them as they like.
    it is in the interest of Sri Lanka that talented people go parliament, It may Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim. Good, educated, honest, loyal people should go to Parliament. it is my contention that to be MP it does not matter whether such persons are Muslims or Tamils or Sinhalese.
    able persons with skills, ability, honesty, loyalty, should go to Parliament.what is the point sending drug dealers, thieves, murderers and bad people into parliament.
    Think what is point having people like Azwar, Fouzi, Cader in our parliament and what is the point having people Gnanasara in parliament. No manners to speak and vulgar man in monk suit. what is the point having people like MR and family all robbed the wealth of our nation?
    Think twice before you vote. It does not matter Sinhalese or Tamil or Muslim give your vote for good people only for good people with qualities

  • 1

    A striking feature of the First-Pass-The-Post (FPTP) system of electing Members of Parliament, that existed until the introduction of the new Constitution in 1978, was the election of Muslim MP’s from predominantly Non-Muslim Electorates and the ready support extended to Non-Muslim Candidates by Muslim Voters in all electorates. Muslims voted for Candidates, irrespective of race or religion, who won their confidence of being able to safeguard and protect the interests of their Community inside and outside the Legislature. Muslims voted with their heads in the belief that ‘What is good for the Country, is good for me’.

    Then came the Proportional Representation (PR) system which compelled many would-be MP’s to adopt a partial attitude towards the Majority Community in their desperate bid to attract and hold Preference votes. From a situation where a candidate had to impress upon a cross-section of multi-ethnic voters that the policies of his party are more beneficial to the country at large than that of a rival party, he had to now further convince voters that of all the candidates of his party contesting a specific area, he is the one best suited to represent them. In other words, the candidate had to project himself as being significantly different from the rest of the flock. To use a common marketing term, he had to possess a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), something that gives him a competitive edge over the other candidates.

    Consciously or sub-consciously, many candidates began to play the ethnic card and/or the religious card as they directed their efforts and limited (cognitive and financial) resources at the group that constitute over 70% of Voters – the Sinhala Buddhists – in their desperate bid to possess this much-sought after USP. At the end of the day, the cost of marketing themselves to Sinhala Buddhist voters was considerably less than of marketing themselves to a target group of multi-ethnic Voters. The National Parties abdicated their responsibilities to the Muslim Community leaving the Muslims with the feeling that their interests would be best looked after by Muslim Candidates.

    The new Constitution enacted by the UNP in 1978 therefore did irreparable damage to Buddhist-Muslim relations, the effects of which are continuing to reverberate even today, primarily due to the introduction of the ‘Preference Vote’. Not only did it create the space for the emergence of Muslim Political Parties, but also for the entry of members of the Buddhist Clergy into the local political scene.

    Let us remind ourselves that the primary reason for the introduction of the 1978 Constitution was to enable the UNP to remain in power for a considerable period of time – or so it was thought then by the UNP Bigwigs. It was definitely not done in the best interest of the Country or even in the best interests of the Majority Community.

  • 0

    I think Dr.AA has cracked the code, or to put it in another way ‘ the common sense way’ for solving the jinx that has buggered Lankan politics from 1956.
    Will the JVP take the hint, and be bold enough to call,a spade a spade instead of indulging in wishy washy evasions like tilting the windmill when it comes to taking a clear stand on the ethnic question?

  • 2

    Dr. Ameer Ali

    “It has become almost an unwritten convention in Sri Lankan party politics since the introduction of the Jayawardena constitution that the national parties like the SLFP and UNP enter into pre-election pact with minor ethnic parties in order to enhance their chances of forming governments”

    1. This is because that is almost the only way the small parties can have their grievances heard, and addressed,, and even after joining the government in power they will provide lip service, and take the small parties for granted, and marginalize them.

    2. The bigger problem, is the wholesale buying of MPs from the major party opposition by the government in power, like what Mahinda Rajapaksa did, by bribing and ministerial portfolios and perks.

    That is a bigger problem.What people are doing is handing over tradaable MP posts to MPs.

    The MPs think, that the PM post they got was an “Inheritance”, and can be sold to any bidder. This was “approved” Sarath Silva, and Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cronies were off to the races. They bought the MPs the same way they bought Veluppilai Prabakaran , using public Funds and giving Portfolios for MPs.

    This is This the elephant in the Room that needs to be addressed.

  • 2

    those academic should come to SL and experience the reality first. How the minorities sidelined and discriminated in all the sectors.

    Dr. just check how CP, LLSP aligned with the major parties SLFP and the UNP. how it is differing from SLMC?

    see how the major parties behave in the Parliament on the minority issue.

  • 0

    Dr Ameer Ali,

    My dream is that one day Sri Lankans will agree to promote ‘National’ politics, and shun religious or racial politics.

    This is the way we as a Nation can move forward.

    But your suggestion to seek help from the Mahanayakes, a group who in the main represent the worst kind of racist politics, clearly shows that, despite your book knowledge you are quite illiterate regarding social governance.

    Your suggestion should be addressed to the major national parties, to abstain from racial and or religion based politics, full stop. Confine priests of all religions to their Mosques, Kovils and Temples. Then the Muslim Parties will have no reason to exist and they will disappear.

    If we Sri Lankans agree to rid the country of racial, religious politics, we can have a beautiful Sri Lankan democracy, like in the Scandinavian countries, cultured, civilized, and strife free, where citizens can live free from want and with dignity.

    It is the religious / racial politics of Sri Lanka that has deprived the People of a dignified life and existence. Unless the initiative is taken by the Majority Community to rid the country of such politics, Sri Lanka will forever remain in the Third World. If that is going to be the fate of Sri Lanka, let the majority community take the blame.

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