Ensuring a Better MP for you

Sunday Leader Editorial

Sri Lankan politicians are the most reviled group in contemporary society but they continue to hang on to office for decades despite changes of government. In an article elsewhere in this edition the bashing of politicians after the collapse of the Meetotamulla Garbage Mountain has been discussed and the prediction made that the same politicians or those of similar ilk are likely to surface much to the detriment of the country and people.

The main challenge to Sri Lankan democracy now is to find ways and means of improving the quality of future politicians.

Before the presidential election of January 2015 civic organisations including some NGOs under the leadership of that remarkable personality the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha made an attempt to influence political parties to select candidates with an acceptable standard of education and good character – at least free of criminal records – for the parliamentary elections. It was a proposal which could not be turned down by any party and thus was well received by all and fully ignored.

Cartoon added by TW from Ceylon Today

Foremost in the minds of party leaders on the eve of an election is to win it by hook or by crook. Educational qualifications and crime free characters can be considered later. The result is the set of people’s representatives we have which the electorate at large certainly does not seem to be satisfied with.

The last parliamentary elections went on to be one worse than previous elections. For the first time in the history of our elections and perhaps the world over, defeated candidates were ‘elected’ to parliament through the so called National List!

Considering the topmost priority of all political parties: To win at any cost, is there a possibility of ensuring the election of a candidate with the basic minimum qualifications or those who have not been behind bars to become ‘honourable members of Parliament’?

Selecting an MP is too serious a matter to be only to party leaders and their cohorts. There should be an enforceable transparent law setting out the procedure to select a candidate. The best option that comes to our mind is a chapter in the proposed new constitution setting guidelines to parties on the selection of candidates. Certainly political parties should have the freedom of choice but not the absolute freedom of selecting those such as convicted pickpockets, millionaires found guilty of stashing undeclared wealth here or abroad, rapists, child kidnappers and the like.

Such a procedure will not ensue the selection of outstanding politicians because minimum standards will most probably produce those of minimum talents but that will be democracy at work. Yet a standard will be established.

Perhaps Constitutional pundits will have better proposals but considering the Sri Lankan way of doing things, a written procedure of selection enforceable by law is essential if the quality of our legislators is to improve.

Drafters of the new constitution should also consider the abolition of cross-overs by MPs for no valid reasons other than for reasons of political survival and selling the mandate they received from supporters of the political party on whose ticket he was elected for a ministerial portfolio. The abolition of the National List is demanded judging from the quality of those who have entered parliament after being defeated at the polls.

This written out procedure will certainly not be to the liking of most party leaders because it will limit the unlimited freedom they had in selecting candidates and also wittingly or unwittingly bring about disasters on their constituents. Inner party democracy is certainly not a feature among Sri Lankan parties as in some western democracies.

A reason for the mounting anger against the people’s representatives could be that unlike those elected MPs of earlier parliaments who were paid meager salaries and privileges limited to free railway warrants, today’s representatives are fat cats some of whose salaries are comparable with judges of the Supreme Court who have spent their entire lives on the job. Other than a few ministers how many of them serve the public and to what extent? In this age of well-paid politicians with unrivalled perks, a politician has to be made accountable to the output of their work like any other employee. Such politicians should certainly earn the respect of their electors.

A virile and functional democracy cannot function with an electorate frothing and fuming against their representatives who contrive to survive and surface after every election without rendering much service to the electorate. It is time for change.