Key shows the way
Nothing is, perhaps, more indicative of a country’s backwardness than its political leaders’ desire to cling on to power like limpets even when they are superannuated. Mature democracies throw up enough and more capable leaders and they don’t wait till they are long in the tooth to be put out to grass; they retire prematurely.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key, who retired in December last year, is planning to leave Parliament next week. Key has not made known the exact reason for his sudden exit from politics and the media speculates that he wants to leave on his own terms while he is at the zenith of his achievement and still popular. A wise leader! Several other MPs are also retiring this year, we are told. This is something unthinkable in this country, where politicians don’t retire; they have to be retired. Even in retirement, they want to savour power as much as possible in different capacities.
Sri Lankan politicians seem to think power has anti-ageing properties and the way to be rejuvenated is to cling on to it by hook or by crook. It is said that the late President J. R. Jayewardene, who ascended to the peak of his political career too late in the day, was toying with the idea of amending the Constitution to seek a third term; an ambitious Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa scuttled his plan. It is a pity that not even legendary Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike knew when to retire!
Theme cartoon googled and added by TW
President Mahinda Rajapaksa could have done a Key, but, instead, he abused his parliamentary majority to remove the constitutionally prescribed presidential term limit and had a grand pratfall. When he opened the Southern Expressway in 2011, likening his ceremonial drive to his political journey we argued, in these columns, that unless he took the right exit he would find himself in a mess.
President Maithripala Sirisena declared, upon being inducted in 2015, that he would not seek a second term, but his acolytes are urging him to contest again. He has chosen to remain silent on the issue and is seen to be having his acolytes send trial balloons. He is being overoptimistic if he thinks Lady Luck will be smiling on him indefinitely.
In advanced democracies, politicians cannot get away with unfulfilled promises including trivial ones. About 12 years ago, we commented in this space on the predicament of a New Zealand Green Party candidate, named Keith Locke, who had made an absurd promise in 2005. He commissioned a pre-polls survey, whose results indicated a landslide victory for him. So, a cocky Locke told his electorate that he would run naked in public if his rival won. He lost and came under pressure to honour his promise. Finally, he did a dash on a public road, wearing a G-string. Here, political promises are made to be easily broken like piecrust. We have been promised ‘rice from the moon, ‘eight pounds of grains free of charge’, ‘a righteous society’, ‘a bright future’, ‘good governance’ etc during the last several decades and these unfulfilled pledges have all been taken for granted.
Politicians are said to be like tortoises on fence posts. They cannot reach such heights without people’s help. But, Sri Lankans, instead of bringing them down, worship these political tortoises. A prerequisite for strengthening democracy is for the public to assert themselves in dealing with their representatives and call the latter to account.
So long as politicians are treated like demigods, they will sponge off the public, remain above the law, ride rough shod over electors and never retire. Sri Lankans have only themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs. Unless they get their act together, instead of having politicians of the calibre of Key they will have to contend with many a donkey indefinitely.