By Mohamed Harees –
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
With another election round the corner, posters in various colours and hues with those smiley faces promising milk and honey times for the local electorates are appearing all over, even on social media sites. A rather humorous story appeared in a Sinhala newspaper. A foreign couple visiting Sri Lanka, inquisitively glancing at the election posters in every corner, has asked their Sri Lankan guide whether they were Police ‘wanted list’ posters. When they were told that there were candidates for an election round the corner, they were shocked and have quite innocently inquired whether Sri Lankans will ever vote for these ‘faces’ who pollute the environment in this manner without any care or concern. ‘Wanted List’ type indeed, judging by the quality of candidates the political parties usually field! But to our horror, they end up in the decision making bodies and not in jail or the prison hospital!
Humour apart, the country fatigued by the dismal performance of its’ elected representatives in the past, more because of the stupidity of its’ people, begs to ask this pertinent question yet another time: Will this forthcoming local government elections however be a repeat of another historic blunder of electing morons, cheats and corrupt OR will the Sri Lankan electorate rise up to the challenge of breaking away from previous traditions and elect a set of ‘clean’ people worth their salt? Whichever way, we need to bear the consequences as Abraham Lincoln says in the above quote!
It was during the last Parliamentary Elections in August 2015 that there was a well-orchestrated campaign by many public spirited groups led by that exemplary icon Ven Sobitha asking the electorate to avoid voting for shady characters and corrupt candidates. That campaign did not unfortunately have much significant effect on the conscience of the people, resulting in many of those ‘old’ faces with tainted tracked records once again entering Parliament; some with huge majorities. Some of those of such characters who could not, the so-called Yahapalana government took them in through the rogue route- the national list. Many of them are now senior and junior ministers, and the ‘abuse of power and political corruption’ drama continues to be enacted with NATO ‘no action-talk only’ attitude from a government which promised to clean the stables, hunt the offenders and to maintain a clean sheet.
Thus, Sri Lanka is yet to see their anti-corruption rhetoric leading to strong action, despite the passing of the RTI Act and the adoption of the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. Controversies such as the Bond issue, the alleged Australian corruption scandal implicating the President and delays in many other corruption related prosecutions involving many bigwigs in the MR Regime, have raised raising serious questions about the government’s commitment towards ‘yahapalanaya’ and anti-corruption. Marred by serious allegations of corruption and mismanagement, Sri Lanka’s much-hyped coalition government therefore appears to have very little to celebrate as it completes almost three years in power.
Break down of credibility of this Yahapalana government despite the big drama in January 2015 is just the latest in a series of worrying blows to the health of our democracy. Trust in governments and political parties has reached a historical low while trust in the institutions of democracy is also visibly declining. Even in the West, political parties – the key players in democracies – are among the least trusted institutions in society. Countless western societies are currently afflicted by what we might call “democratic fatigue syndrome”. Many surveys have found that in the past 10 years, around the world, there has been a considerable increase in calls for a strong leader “who does not have to bother with parliament and elections”. It would appear that people like the idea of democracy but loathe the reality and even the Western electorate seems to be losing their patience with their elected leaders who take them for a ride after elections, fattening their lot and seeking perks at the expense of the tax payers. In Sri Lanka too, this is equally true specially when their representatives in various bodies becoming detached from reality once in power.
Elections in Sri Lanka too favour the corrupt and the rich. They have become the battleground of personal politics, and thuggery favouring those with financial clout and having access to donors (who expect political favours after the election) to outshine other less privileged candidates, resulting in corruption beginning to pervade our systems of governance. So-called democratic politics has become a conduit for governmental influence-peddling rather than a structure of genuine popular representation and socially beneficial governance. Rather than fulfilling a ‘political compact’ with their electorates, those elected engage in fulfilling their ‘business compacts’ with those rich or powerful donors who helped them contest and win elections, leading to corruption at sky levels. White collar crimes are being committed with impunity without fear or sanction.
There is no culture among Sri Lankan politicos or administrators to resign when their performances fall short of the expectations, while our parliamentary proceedings with ill-educated lawmakers, have become comedy dramas. Whistleblowing is not activated or encouraged in this country; rather they are discouraged or penalized. It is therefore important that public activism is reactivated in the run up to the forthcoming elections to ensure people’s vote is not being bought over once again by the corrupt under this corrupt system to gain their own personal ends. Haven’t we seen much activity among political parties in the recent past, attempting to come together to face this election in this regard? Maithree trying to forge his SLFP with the JO to avoid defeat and many politicians speaking shamelessly from their rear, exposing their double tongued and hypocritical attitudes! There is also forming of united fronts like those self centered Muslim politicos led Rishard Bathiurdeen et el in the interests of the ‘Muslim community’! Sorry! Did they say ‘in the interests of the Muslim community? My foot! These self-serving kind never had the interests of the Muslims, except when the Muslim cause served their personal agendas.
Of course, the forthcoming local government elections in February 2018, may not change governments. But, local elections are often seen as a prism through which to view national politics, as an indication of the strength of government and opposition in parliament. But they are vitally important in their own right. Local government councils are a fundamental part of our democracy, providing the essential services that citizens rely on every single day. Local elections are the ones that really matter. So much of what local government provides goes beyond bin collection and street lighting with the authorities alone are responsible for providing essential public services. Further, local electorates will also be voting on local issues and local records as well. Therefore, the voters should not take this election lightly; instead it will be imperative to ensure that the voters do not commit the same mistakes once again by falling into the traps laid by the political parties to bait their valuable votes on various ludicrous promises and assurances. They should only vote for credible and clean candidates whatever their political loyalties are. The people should not accept those candidates with records of past corruption and incompetent of governing. Honest up-to-date candidates specially the youth should be the change in our society.
This local government elections will also provide an opportunity for the people to look seriously at ‘testing ‘the alternative party to the two main parties as well and giving power to them, to check their suitability to take greater roles in governance at the national level: The JVP which has a relatively credible track records in representing people’s issues and also protecting the vulnerable sections of our country in parliament and outside, while also has formulated a seemingly workable plan of action, to ensure a clean and efficient governance at the local government level. Overall, it will be a great tribute to Ven Sobitha Thero as well as his movement to ensure the people of Sri Lanka get this right this time at least, – to elect only a corrupt free and efficient administration, so that the political parties will at least ensure that only such calibre candidates are selected to contest at future elections as well as send a strong signal to the government to take effective action against the corrupt and the inefficient.