By Lukman Harees –
What does the bloodthirsty passage of time not leech away?
Our parents’ generation, worse than their parents’,
Has given birth to us, worse yet-and soon
We will have children still more depraved
Horace, Odes, 3.6, 45-8.
Quotes about the debased quality of politicians we elect to office and the utter public dislike for them, are many and varied. The quote ‘We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office’ appears in ‘Aesop’ .’. ‘Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first’ rightly quipped Ex US President Ronald Reagan. ‘It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellowmen.’ Said George E. MacDonald. ‘When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators’,’ P.J. O’Rourke’ wrote . ‘Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least’ opines Robert Byrne. “An honest man can never be bought. That’s why there are so few in politics.” was a QueenBee quote. Then again, an author unknown quote goes thus, regarding the need for a change : ‘Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason’.
How true are all of them in the local Sri Lankan context as well? A story goes that at an Economics seminar, a lecturer says that ‘In SL, the literacy rate (the ability to read and write) is 94%. A member of the audience asked a question: ‘What about the other 6%?. Lecturer answers: That 6% are in the Parliament! Again very true indeed, judging by the awful conduct and even the statistics given by MP Buddhika Pathirana in Parliament regarding their literacy! Sometime back , I was watching an interesting episode in a Kids’ Fancy Dress Competition. One Kid dressed up as a politician was canvassing for votes. He started off by saying: I am from a good family although I am a Politician. At the end of his hilarious outbursts, he appealed to his audience to cast their votes to Mala-Paha– his Symbol being Mala– flower and his Number being Paha-Five. All those present burst out in laughter as ‘Mala-Paha’ also meant ‘Sh..t’. This summed up the quality of the people we send through our vote, to the hallowed place where the destiny of the Nation is discussed and decided upon.
It should be said that the negative image ‘enjoyed’ by the politicians in public life is not privy only to Sri Lanka. It has become a global phenomenon. For example, in a UK Survey (2012), a sample of 2000 were given a list of professions, and were asked to say which they respected least. Politicians were the least respected, chosen by 35%, followed by reality TV stars (29%), bankers (22%), footballers (9%) and models (4%). The emergency services, doctors, teachers, charity workers and social workers were the most trusted professions, the poll found. In ‘British Social Attitudes 2013’, it was revealed: ‘There is no doubt that politicians have become increasingly exercised by the public’s apparent lack of trust in the political process and a greater reluctance to go to the polls. In truth, Britain has never had that much trust in politicians and the political process, but trust has fallen further over the last 30 years. Back in 1986, only 38 per cent said that they trusted governments “to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party”. By 2000, this had more than halved to just 16 per cent’ .
A recent Gall-Up Survey, to mark the 70th anniversary of the original poll, and the launch of a new ESRC project that looks at popular understandings of politics between 1937 and 2014, says, ‘Some argue that the current anti-politics mood is just a contemporary manifestation of a timeless phenomenon: that people don’t much like politics or politicians. It is probably true that politicians have never been greatly popular in the history of British democracy but there is now clear evidence of decline’. It also adds ; ‘..The results show that there has been a clear shift in public attitudes seeing politicians as self-serving, with some 48% of respondents now considering that they are ‘out for themselves’, a further 30% believing they are out for their party, and just 10% thinking they want to do what is right for the country..’
The data relating to UK, conveys to us that people are noticeably more negative about politics today than they were seventy years ago. Indeed, the fact that public opinion moved only slightly between 1944 and 1972 but much more negatively since then indicates that recent disenchantment with politics is an issue that is of serious consequence. If this is true of UK, this will be proved beyond doubt, if a credible survey is undertaken in Sri Lanka to capture public thoughts and perceptions about politics in Sri Lanka. However, thanks to social networking media and alternative online journals , even in the absence of an Independent Media and awful lack of public pressure groups with no adequate teeth to hold a corrupt government and a political set-up to account, the public are still expressing their discontent and frank views without fear of reprisals by a vindictive government apparatus. But to a regime inflated with self-glory and arrogance, public views and opinions are not reasons to change their approach.
It has been a long time since our elections have been free and fair. Election malpractices and violence have been common. When the election fever in on, we can see ‘monkey jumping’ by politicians on both sides of the divide, with allegations of big time money being paid for those acts. These so-called public representatives sell the public will they represent for a sing for their own personal benefit. In recent times, what they said before the jump and what they say immediately after, are totally contradictory, and have almost become a comical saga on social networking sites. In the present Sri Lankan Parliament, we have Drug /Ethanol dealers, thugs, Mafia leaders, underworld violent nefarious characters, swindlers, and those swimming in a sea of bribery and public corruption, among many other social vices. These characters frequently come on TV Talk Shows and their language and behaviour are open for the world to see, on social networking sites. The raw filth uttered by Mervin Silva before the camera, sexist insults to our Womenfolk by SB Dissanayake and Welgama, violent behaviour displayed by the likes of Johnston Fernando, Pavithra, Mahindananda, and many others are only few samples which we encountered in recent times. Even Ranjan R’s language too has been far from civility at times. Gone are the days where students of history can read the Hansard or groups of school children can visit the Parliament to listen to the speeches of their representatives, to gain knowledge.
The fish rots from the top, they say. In Sri Lanka too, the rot has begun from the top rungs. At the top, the language, demeanour and conduct of President MR too, have been unbecoming of a Head of State, let alone the Chair of the Commonwealth. MR may have been a Hero in terms of liberating the nation from the Tiger Atrocities; but he has failed miserably as a credible and an exemplary peacetime leader. There are only very few politicians who can command the respect of a civilized audience. Adding to this, we also have violent ‘Wolf in Monk’s clothing’ characters like Gnanassara to add to the agony of the Nation in terms of the quality of public discourses. At this alarming rate of declining morals in public life we witness today, from top to bottom, does anyone want their children to become politicians and work for a corrupt government, unless those children are those of the corrupt politicians themselves , who knows the taste and gains of such misdeeds, caring less for the ethical side of life. We already have the widening corrupt MR Dynasty and also many sons and daughters of sitting MPs who have come forward to take their place in order to get a slice of the fallouts from ill-gotten wealth pilfered from public Treasury. There is a definite inequality gap in the country, with the ruling class and their supporting goons enjoying 99% of the national wealth while the ordinary class, eating only the crumbs thrown at them.
Where do we then, stand as a Nation, when we are looking for Positive Role Models to guide our children to take over the responsibilities of the Future? Isn’t it time opportune to address this problem pronto, without leaving its’ resolution too, to the future generation, by grasping the historic opportunity now being thrown to our Nation by Divine Providence in the form of this Presidential Election? It is time for a decisive political change and also at the same time impress upon the next Leader about this national priority : to start this gigantic task of bringing credibility to the 3 Arms of Government – The Legislature, Executive and Judiciary . MY3 assures the nation that he can and will do it; but if he fails, Sri Lanka will be doomed (forever).(MY3! be Aware!). Therefore, it will be NOW or NEVER!
Role models can have a major impact on our lives by helping us to develop, make the right decisions and lead happy and fulfilled lives. Therefore it’s important that we surround our children with positive influences. Role models don’t just have a positive influence on children; there can also be negative ones too. Young adults and children are the future of our nation and therefore obviously they need role models who are impressive, and are morally and ethically good influences on the social behaviour of behaviour role they emulate. They need positive role models in their lives to bring back respectability to this nation.
The minds of children are like clay, which can be easily moulded and shaped by everything that they witness in their environment. Parents and teachers can attest that children ever so quickly learn how to act and react from all those around them: their parents, other children, family members, celebrities such as stars/sports heroes, as well as politicians. In today’s context, most often than not, public figures are not acceptable role models for our children. We know this due to the myriads of celebrities or sports stars who have committed crimes or have disgraced themselves in the public spotlight. In Sri Lanka, due to the corrupt political culture and the impending elections, we find this to be true especially of politicians and people seeking power who plaster their images all over the TV, billboards, and other social mediums.
As parents and teachers or any adult, it is our duty to shield our children from political ads, or political talk-shows displaying brutish behaviour, perhaps by monitoring TV time or other such means. It is also our duty, as children get older, to explain the methods of politics being adopted in modern Sri Lanka and how certain actions or words really should not be copied in everyday life. Can we expect our next generation to be exemplary and value driven, when they have been exposed on a continuous basis, to high doses of political deceit, hatred, cheating, hypocrisy and corruption in public life, not just involving politicians, but even by rogue monks too? This is why it is necessary to contextualize these happenings and guide them.
It is in the best interests of our future generation that we should vote at this election decisively to vote in our next Head of State who would be serious in ushering in a new era and a new credible political culture which will produce positive role models who could be guiding lights to our children. During the present MR administration, Rule of Law, respect for Human Rights, independence of the Judiciary, Media Freedom, freedom to practice one’s religion and culture without hate attacks by state sponsored extremist groups an free and fair elections have vanished without trace. The way people think and act politically is not set in stone. People can and do change the fundamental cultural contours of their political situation. Therefore we need to vote for a clear change and not mere a change in administration. Common Candidate Maithri has given us good reasons to believe that he can initiate this change which Mother Sri Lanka, in the post-War era yearns for. We need to vote with our conscience and with our future generation in mind, based on values and civility. ‘Right should be Might’ in a future Sri Lanka and not vice versa as it happens today.
In a statement issued by the International Crisis Group on the forthcoming Sri Lankan Presidential elections, the challenges faced by the voters have been clearly spelt out , a quote from which will be appropriate to mention here .
‘…Democracy is a process leading to a change in political culture in which people accept the verdict of the people whether or not it favours their interests or ambitions. At the formal level, democracy is about the establishment of constitutional rule, the operation of a multi-party political system and the organisation of regular, free and fair elections. It a more profound level however, democracy is about a process leading to a profound socio-political transformation that allows freely elected rulers and the majority of the civil population to impose their supremacy over previously ruling oligarchies of the military or civilian ethno-regional cabals. Democracy implies the development of a political culture in which a significant membership of society becomes composed of citizens who become the key agents of political rule. The most immediate challenge confronting the process of democratic consolidation is that of ensuring that democratisation is accompanied by the institutionalisation of constitutional rule. Constitutions, it is generally acknowledged, do not in themselves make democracy. Many African constitutions are excellent documents; they have most of the right provisions about the rule of law, human, civil and political rights, elective institutions, governmental accountability, and separation of powers etc. the problem however is that these provisions are not followed. The political systems are characterised by excessive arbitrariness and abuse of power, the lack of basic freedoms and denial of popular sovereignty.’
‘Accepting outcomes of elections is important because in its essence, an electoral system is an alternative to violence as a means of achieving governance. However, when an electoral process is perceived as unfair, unresponsive or corrupt, its political legitimacy is compromised and stakeholders are motivated to go outside the established norm to achieve their political objectives. Electoral conflict and violence then become tactics in political competition. The caveat therefore is that electoral outcomes are accepted in democracies because they reflect the choices made by citizens; when they do not, the Pandora’s Box is opened…
I hope the MR and his goons will realize that there is hate down below , for the system he promoted and cultivated after the War to fatten his family lot. The present Sri Lankan voters should not be taken for granted anymore, for their conscience cannot be bought over or they will not continue to be gullible for the ‘War victory’/ NGO Foreign conspiracy baits being thrown around, in order to gain another 8 years of MR Dynasty to further tarnish the image of Sri Lanka and its’ credibility both internally and externally.
He who ascends to mountaintops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow,
He who surpasses or subdues mankind
Must look down on the hate of those below.
-Lord Byron, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’