By Jayadeva de Silva –
Criminal politicians should go to jail, lose their seats and be disqualified from contesting for a substantial period of time. Sri Lanka’s wheels of justice grind slowly, common man lays the blame squarely on politicians and laments that ‘goondas’ are winnable candidates. But how did criminals come to dominate in the first place? Are there fundamental flaws in our political system that makes it favour the tainted over the sainted? Have civil society’s movements in courts only attacked the symptoms? Can we identify and attack the root causes instead?
Today, candidates typically start their parliamentary careers with monies obtained from big mafias. Candidates who cannot raise white money openly are at a disadvantage. Thereby, clean politicians are crippled by the system.
At the last presidential elections one candidate has spent Rs 43,000 per voter !
Therefore, across the board, parties have tried to cope by favouring candidates with black money and the networks and capability to expend those resources. Such candidates, whose political foundations are built on lawbreaking, typically hijack the political system for private profiteering. The rare few get caught and eventually convicted.System should change so that cleaner candidates who can raise limited amount white resources will also be able to compete. Today when people want clean candidates but political parties shun them on the criterion of ‘winnability’. Campaign for clean and competent candidates (CCCC) has been initiated in Sri Lanka to find a solution to this pressing issue.
As a country, we also need to make it possible for people to back their preferred candidates openly. This will allow the electorate to hold their candidates accountable. Contemporary political as well as civil society movements are already demonstrating that public-spirited Sri Lankans will willingly contribute to causes instead of pontificating from armchairs.
In a representative democracy, the candidate represents and is responsible to the citizen electorate. It is worth recalling that in India, Mahatma Gandhi introduced the ‘char-anna’ membership for the Congress. Through small contributions he made the masses a stakeholder in swaraj. Similarly, we should enable individuals to contribute small sums and help free politicians from dependence on vested interests.
Today, parties typically resort to filling their coffers by collecting donations from unaccountable funds, including from crooks and criminals and some individuals give them money in return they are rewarded with positions in the government.
Free, fair and effective democracy costs money. Parties need huge resources to sustain themselves, whether in office or in the opposition. Politics is practically a full-time job but we expect politicians to live on love and fresh air. We must learn to contribute openly and hold our representatives accountable. We must explore different state funding formulae to encourage political participation. We must bring every aspect of the political process into the open. For sunlight is the best disinfectant.
As more sections of society actively contribute and participate, the political system will undergo a transformation. Then, we will see inclusive, empowered parties, citizen candidates and positive politics.
Parliament can still use the remaining days to reform counterproductive aspects of party financing and election expenditure laws. That will set a virtuous cycle in motion and make Sri Lanka truly a democracy instead of hypocrisy.