By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the above titled article that was carried in the Colombo Telegraph recently and I would like to respond with an Addendum.
Mr.W. Vishnu Gupta has rightly narrated the decadence of Democracy in Sri Lanka. He says that the “dignity of Democracy” has been replaced by “vulgarity”. He cites many misdeeds and undemocratic actions of all Governments, since we gained Independence in 1948 and states that the “dignity of Democracy” has been replaced by “vulgarity”, and he poses the question is this Democracy? All right thinking people of this country knows very well that there is a degradation of the “dignity of Democracy” and the putrid state of governance by whichever Political Party that ruled the country. But a mere narration of this indignity and vulgarity manifested in various ways and forms will not help in a substantive way to restore the dignity of Democracy and exterminate the ugly manifestations of vulgarity referred to. One cannot expect the rotten system to reform by itself, because it is favorable and advantageous to the Political Parties.
The only solution to restore the “dignity of Democracy” is to eradicate the root cause for this decadence and degradation of Democracy. The cause of the disease is common knowledge to everyone, both the educated and the uneducated. Yet, there is no organized apolitical body of intellectuals to lead and galvanize the people at large to remove the only cause that is, undermining true Democracy.
Political Parties are the Root cause for decadence of Democracy
In my view, the only fundamental cause for the “indignity of Democracy” and its “vulgarity” is the Political Party based Government. If Peoples’ representatives are elected from Political Parties, the degradation and decadence of Democracy is inevitable. The country is fragmented into divisions on the basis of Race, religion, ethnic majority and ethnic minorities due to Political Parties that are driven by racist and religious identity and ideology. My article titled “Are Political Parties necessary to elect a Government” was carried in the Colombo Telegraph sometime back. I have no intention to repeat my thesis here again. Suffice it to say we do not have real peoples’ democracy. The people do not have the sovereign right to elect their Representatives directly to form a Government of their choice. The common definition of Democracy in the words of President Abraham Lincoln is “government of the People, by the People, for the People” has been converted into as a “Government of the Political Party, by the Political Party, for the Political Party”. One may coin the word “Partycracy instead of Democracy”. We have all the forms of institutional framework of Democracy and periodic elections only. It is the Political Parties that nominate candidates for elections. Potential representatives are already pre-decided by the Political Parties. People merely confirm only their choice of candidates nominated to them at elections.
Abolish Political Parties to contest elections
The brotherhood of Political Parties by its inherent nature is conducive for collusion, complicity and tolerance for corruption, nepotism, family bandyism and various other forms of misdeeds, misdemeanours and abuse of power that had led to the indignity of Democracy. The consolidation and ossification of the rule of the country by few dominant families and other peripheral sub-families continues to perpetuity. The people at large and the civil society community are helpless to rectify and reform the rotten system of the so-called democratic governance. A radical change in the Electoral Law by framing a new Constitution is the only panacea to save the dignity of Democracy.
But how and who will take the bold step to abolish Political Parties in contesting elections by a change in the Electoral Law of the country? No incumbent Government elected through Political Parties will ever self-abolish Political Parties from contesting elections. It can only be done by independent individuals contesting, severally, without naming and registering themselves as a Political Party, in all the electorates, and winning a workable majority of Parliamentary seats at a general election and forming a Government. That is the only way out. All the individual, independent candidates can organise and band together as an unofficial entity (not as a Political Party) and support each other and canvas for peoples’ votes. But then it would be a herculean task for independent candidates to win elections, competing against the entrenched Political Parties, with abundant financial resources, funded by the local business community and also by foreign stake holders. If by fortuitous eventuality the Independents win a workable majority of votes and able to form a Government, then the path is cleared for such a Government to immediately set up a New Constitution Framing Council composed of legal luminaries with expertise in Constitutional Law, from outside the Government, to draft a New Constitution, and particularly to change the Electoral Law, inter alia, the banning of Political Parties from contesting elections.
Mode of elections under the new Constitution and new Electoral Law
When fresh elections is called for electing Representatives to the Parliament, some salient requirements, inter alia, to be determined by the Constitutional Council drafting the Constitution are:
1. Only Individual and independent Candidates can contest the election, subject to the specified educational and age qualification, for all the electorates of the country.
2. Minimum Educational qualification is a degree from a recognized University or equivalent professional qualification from a recognized professional Institution, either local or foreign.
3. Minimum age of 35 years and maximum age of 70 years.
4. No dual citizens of two countries are qualified to stand for elections.
5. All political tamashas now in practice will automatically cease, such as election campaigns, public meetings, Posters,Placards, pictorial Cut-Out of Candidates displayed in every nook and corner of streets, bringing in hordes of people from all over the country for election meetings with inducement of Arrack and Lunch packets etc. Is this true democracy?
6. Campaign of Candidates will be limited to house to house canvassing, distribution of printed leaflets with picture of candidate and his complete personal bio-data and setting out his vision for the country. Hence, individual candidates need not incur huge financial investment.
7. Vested interests, either local business community or foreign countries lose the scope to fund elections as in practice now. Because, they cannot support disparate individuals as one will not know the form and shape and the policies of the impending Government.
8. Election process will be simplified. The District based elections, proportional representation, preferential system of voting, National List Candidates, the game of buying opposition candidates with money and or rewarding with Ministerial or State Ministerial Portfolios to create artificial majority for a Government will die a natural death. These are the “indignities, vulgarity of Democracy “alluded to by Mr. VP.
9. The Process of Election.
When nomination of candidates for a General Election is called for:
a) Any individual, independent candidate can register his nomination to contest the election from any electorate of his choice, subject to qualifications specified for the purpose.
b) Number of candidates for an electorate will depend on the total number of registered voters. A minimum of 2 candidates and maximum 4 candidates would suffice based on first come first served basis.
c) Counting of votes and declaration of winning candidate will be on the rule of “first past the post”.
d) Candidates elected from all the electorates of the Country, say 225 as at present, will form the new Government and all Representatives would participate in Governing in different capacities.
e) There will be no Opposition in Parliament as Political parties are non-existent. This does not mean there will be no debate, discussion and deliberations in Parliament. All Draft Bills of Enactments, motions, resolutions etc will be debated, views expressed, both the pros and cons and decided on basis of majority votes. The ‘indignity of Democracy” and “vulgarity of Democracy” displayed between Government and Opposition Parliamentarians in brawls, show of violence, abusive un-parliamentary language of the market place, will disappear and the Parliament would regain its august status.
Mode of Appointing the Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and their Deputies
a) Appointments are made in the same manner as any Public Company would do in appointing its Chairman and the Board of Directors and any Professional body appointing its Office Bearers.
b) All the MPs will meet in Parliament and name a suitable Pro-tem Chairman. Firstly, the Prime Minister will be selected. Names can be proposed and seconded. If more than one name, by majority vote the PM will be confirmed. Thereafter, the Prime Minster has the freedom and discretion to appoint his Cabinet of Ministers and Deputies choosing from the entirety of the MPs. The Cabinet, inclusive of the PM, should be limited to 25. Similarly, the Speaker is also chosen and he will chair the meeting.
c) The Prime Minister will chose his Cabinet of Ministers and Deputies, and Ministerial Portfolios will be allocated, taking into consideration personal bio-data submitted to him, by matching qualifications, ,experience in management and Administration and propensities in relation to the functions and responsibilities demanded by the assigned Portfolios .The rest of the 175 MPs, more or less equally, based on the spread of Departments/Institutions coming under each Ministry, will compose 25 Executive Committees under the Head of each Minister. Each Minister to Report back to the Cabinet of Ministers the Progress of work of their respective Executive Committees. Thus every one of the elected representatives will contribute to the Governance of the Country. The Ministers, as the head of the Executive Committees, can delegate functions and responsibilities to each of their respective Executive Committee members to oversee one or more Departments/Institutions coming under the Ministry.
d) The members of the Executive Committees cannot claim perks such as Duty-free vehicles. They could use the Vehicles in the pool of each Ministry, or their personal vehicle and the cost of fuel can be reimbursed to them or a fixed Fuel Allowance can be given to them. Like-wise all Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers can be given not more than two personal Security personnel. The practice of providing armed Motorcades in front and rear when travelling to Ministers/ Deputies, to gratify their personal egos of self-importance, should be done away with. No luxury vehicles. Only utility vehicles of a standard kind to be provided.
e) Since all MPs will be involved in Governance, minority communities of Tamils and Muslims have the opportunity of serving as Ministers/Deputies in the Central Government. This will ensure real reconciliation between different communities and national integration, and they will not feel alienated. Inclusiveness would help the present ethnic divide to disappear.
Appointment of a President
a) The election of Executive President on a separate country-wide election should be done away with. The country will save the cost of such an election.
b) The Parliament will appoint a Nominal President, a person of national eminence by a unanimous vote. If a country in size, a sub-Continent like India, could cope up with a non-Executive President, it is nonsensical that a puny island State should have an Executive President. The President shall be a ceremonial and a symbolic Head of the Nation. It could still be better, if he is from the minority community, a Tamil or a Muslim. This will help to unify fragmented communities.
Preliminary Session of Parliament
a) The Parliament will meet for the allocation of Portfolios to the Cabinet Ministers and their Deputies and formal Oath taking by all concerned, before the Head of Government, the President.
b) The President to present the Action Plan/Program of the Government prepared by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet for the ensuing period of 4 1/2 or 5 years as the case may be, and the Parliament unanimously approving it.
These are some ideas for consideration by the Constitution framing Council. It is not exhaustive. It is subjective to refinements and sophistication.
Benefits of the proposal
a) First and foremost, true Democracy will be established in place of the present pseudo Democracy. Peoples’ sovereignty will be established. Not that of the Political Parties as at present. The people will chose their Representatives to Parliament directly from those emerging from the electorates on their free volition.
b) People of integrity, education, experience in the Professional, managerial and Administrative fields, who are reluctant to enter the process of Governing the country in the prevailing political scenario and who do not wish to be enslaved by Political Parties, will be attracted to governing the country.
c) Peoples’ Representatives will be disparate individuals. They being so, inherently and mutually check each other, against corruption and all other evils, in the absence of Party brotherhood of protection, collusion and complicit.
d) People, the constituents of the electorate, will know who their Representative to Parliament is. There will be a direct nexus between the constituents and their representatives, unlike the present vagueness due to the District based elections.
e) Political Parties are synonymous with few dominant families and peripheral sub-families who monopolize the hegemony of Governing to perpetuity. Banning of political Parties will ensure a more democratic and wide spread form of democracy in leadership of the country.
f) Since the Government elected is without Political Parties and entire Parliament consist of independent individuals, a formal Opposition becomes non-existent. The Government elected can run its prescribed life span without obstruction and subversion tactics of the Opposition to unseat the ruling Government by various means, including Trade Unions action instigated by its political leadership. Control of leadership of Trade Unions by Political Parties will end. Trade Unions will be freed and led by its membership only.
g) The country will be rid of Political Parties based on religion and ethnicity, which had fragmented the nation into divisions.
h) Government being apolitical with independent individuals it will be, in essence and effect secularist than theocratic, and will reflect the multi-cultural character of the nation.
i) The role of the Buddhist Sangha will diminish with no Political Parties in existence. The nexus between Political Parties and the Sangha or vice versa will cease, and also their manipulations of State Power, behind the scene.
These are only ideas and views for consideration of any body of Authority vested with the task of framing a new Constitution and will need refinements.