Colombo Telegraph

The Maharagama Saga: Is Democracy In Serious Trouble?

By Sankalpa Marasinghe 

Sankalpa Marasinghe

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute discussion with the average voter” ~ Winston Churchill.

Churchill would have gleefully nodded his head followed by a puff of his cigar had he seen the results of the Maharagama electorate after the local government election on February 10, 2018.

Democracy is (supposedly) the supreme product of mankind in governing a civilized community, upholding justice, equality and freedom. It is the mode of governance by the people via elected representatives. What Churchill points out is that the annihilation of the system is due to the very component, the voter, whose knowledge and awareness of how the system functions are the keys to its success.

Known to be an electorate with a population mainly comprising the “educated” upper middle class and middle-class, Maharagama would be an ideal reference sample of how democracy works, one would have imagined. But, can anyone explain how a set of individuals who have no exposure or experience in politics and a majority of whom don’t even reside in Maharagama got elected by an overwhelming majority to the Maharagama Municipal Council?

If you follow the instruction of Churchill and engage in a five-minute discussion with a voter in Maharagama, who had voted for the, now famed, ‘motorcycle’, you will realize that they were unaware of whom they were voting for. In fact, they were not actually concerned about the very fact that their use of the franchise actually elects a person to the Maharagama Municipal Council which is supposed to serve their needs in next five years.

Reference 1

Local Authorities Elections Ordinance

8. General qualifications for membership.

Every person who is not disqualified as provided by section 9 shall be qualified at any time for election as a member of any local authority if—

(a) he was, on the date of the commencement of the preparation or revision of the parliamentary register for the time being in operation for any electoral district in which that electoral area or any part thereof is situated, qualified to have his name entered in that register; and

(b) he was, on the first day of June in the year of the commencement of the preparation or revision of that register, ordinarily resident in that electoral area.

So it is very clear that the aspirations in establishing democracy are lost and the people who are supposed to protect democracy have actually caused it to be destroyed.

But is it an isolated incident which should not be generalized or is it a phenomenon that is spreading around the world?

Example – 1

In the United States of America, people elected Donald Trump as President. Once a real-estate agent who became a business mogul, he was never a member of the Republican Party. In fact, his political career started with the run-up to becoming the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate. Known to be an arrogant, rude, racist and self-centred man with a very bad tongue, Trump became the leader of the most powerful country on this planet and through a democratically held election.

Has democracy really worked?

Example – 2

In an election to choose 4 members for the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) held among doctors who are registered with the SLMC, a group of candidates representing a trade union were elected. During the campaigning stage as well as the two-day election, doctors who voted were not concerned about the identity of the four candidates. In fact, on the two days of the election, busloads of doctors who were “persuaded” to travel from far were seen voting for candidates 1,2, 3 and 10. Many didn’t know whom those numbers represented even after voting. Seems as if they didn’t care.

There is a strange similarity between the voters of Maharagama and the voters at the SLMC election. On both occasions, the voter was not concerned about whom their franchise would elect. Their only concern was “defeating” a presumed “enemy” by voting for some symbolic representation. The end result in both instances didn’t fall much apart.

For some of us, it is unfathomable that in this age of advanced communication and a vibrant media, people who are supposed to be “knowledgeable” would utilize their franchise in such a primitive and ill-informed manner. However, as the three examples from three different places demonstrate very clearly, Churchill was absolutely right when he said: “The best argument against democracy is a 5-minute discussion with the voter.”

*Dr Sankalpa Marasinghe – Medical Officer in Neonatology, De Soysa Hospital For Women

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