By S. Sivathasan –
Leader of the Democratic Party, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was common candidate in the Presidential election 2010. On 10 November 2014, he issued a warning “I can tell with my past experience as the common candidate … that the prospective candidate should be very careful when taking a decision in this regard”. The warning was directed to aspirants seeking the highest office in the land. What made him say that?
For the harmless thought of coming forward as a consensual common candidate, he was made to languish in jail. For daring to contest and putting up a formidable fight against the incumbent President, he had to suffer the indignity of incarceration. Whether the warning is real, unreal or dire, one can judge according to one’s level of political awareness. When a previous happening gets repeated will it evolve into a tradition? Time will tell.
Some traditions which may seem humble and dignified today evolved from violent beginnings. One such is the manner in which a newly elected Speaker is escorted to his chair in the lower House of Parliament. Both violent antecedents as well as acceptable manners that followed grew up in the House of Commons in UK. A Speaker then as now was not selected for his oratorical prowess. He was an MP chosen then, by the House to SPEAK for them to the King.
The term Speaker was first used in year 1377. In those times King of England was very powerful. For the purpose of levying taxes, he would call Parliament seeking its concurrence. Parliament decisions were conveyed to the King by the Speaker. If they were not to the liking of the king, or were not what the King wanted to hear, then the Speaker ran the risk of incurring his wrath.
Some of the early Speakers getting beheaded was not uncommon. In the period1394 and 1535, as many as 9 heads rolled. Of them 7 were beheaded, 1 was murdered and 1 was killed in battle. From this time dates the tradition of token reluctance of an MP becoming Speaker. Till mid-sixteenth century election as speaker meant a possible death warrant. He was then dragged to the chair by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the opposition. The warning of Sarath Fonseka implies likely arrest warrant in Sri Lanka for failing to win the Presidential contest.
After the treatment meted out to Sarath Fonseka in 2010, fear stalks prospective Presidential candidates. If there is another arrest, reluctant candidates may have to be dragged for their nomination thereafter. It will take decades for the unsavoury to be forgotten, the salutary to be remembered and for a tradition to be in place. For the good of the nation, those in authority have to be very circumspect in every decision they take and every act they commit.
You may watch a one minute video of a reluctant Speaker being escorted to the chair. Click here to watch.