Family politics

Daily News Editorial

Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha certainly has put the cat among the pigeons. He, no doubt, is not going to endear himself to those politicians who have firmly set their minds on making a career in politics for their wives, sons and daughters. He has told an English daily that only one member of a family will henceforth be permitted to contest elections for parliament, provincial councils or local bodies, under the new electoral system. He says the government did not intend to give nominations to the wives and daughters of government ministers and other political strongmen. Are we going to see the end of the Rajapaksa lineage in politics? Presently there are three Rajapaksas in parliament. There is also another father son combination in the House.

It is not clear if the Minister’s proclamation will be made into law, or if it was the government party which will be enforcing this rule and the Opposition will be free to nominate their kith and kin. It is also not known if the minister’s declaration can be challenged in a court of law, based on the premise that it is a fundamental right for an individual to seek elected office, similar to the exercise of the franchise.

But the minister’s stand, no doubt, will have many siding with him on the issue of politicians promoting their next of kin to follow in their footsteps, to make a career in politics. A Commission appointed by the late President Premadasa, in the aftermath of the second JVP uprising, among other things, noted that youth frustration stemmed from the fact that opportunities were denied to them to enter the political mainstream due to politicians in power ladling the gravy for themselves and their kith and kin who were holding political office. This was amply reflected in the first election held to the provincial councils in 1988 where the candidates were virtually a ‘second eleven’ of the parliament team, where the nomination lists were packed with the sons, daughters and wives of sitting MPs. This, needless to say, deprived the more deserving and the marginalised from entering politics and hold elected office. The same situation obtains in the present day as well, with the provincial councils made a virtual finishing school for the sons and daughters of politicians to enter parliament.

The legislature itself mirrors this sad state of affairs, with father, son and brother combinations holding sway, sharing and enjoying all the perks and privileges. Of course, one could argue that it is unfair to deny the offspring or a sibling of a politician to enter parliament, merely due to the blood connection. There, in fact, have been many such combinations in parliament even in the past, which were not frowned upon by the public. There were, indeed, political families, the members of whose natural succession was only to be expected.Image result for rajapaksa family cartoons

Cartoon googled from internet

Nobody would have questioned the inherent right of the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious forbears. Indeed Sri Lanka would not have produced the first woman Prime Minister in the world had Sirima Bandaranaike not succeeded her slain husband to the throne. Nor, for that matter, the first woman President of Sri Lanka had Chandrika not followed the family tradition. Anura Bandaranaike was a politician in his own right even without the family antecedents. His contribution as a young parliamentarian was enormous, his oratory unique, replete with wit and humour, that adorned the volumes of the Hanzard. These political families came to serve the people with a genuine intent and not to feather their nests, since as is well known, they were endowed with sufficient wealth and riches.

However, regrettably, politics is today a business and a very lucrative one at that, drawing more and more members of the family like bees to the pot of honey. Hence the minister’s standpoint in blocking family members entering the legislature would be appreciated by all right thinking people. As it is, the public are already burned by having to maintain one member of a family who is a MP or a minister. They would not look forward to shouldering the burden of more members of the same family.

Not just the immediate family. Minister Mustapha should also ensure that the rule applies even to relatives, near or distant, of a minister or MP. For, it will have the same effect as having a son or daughter in parliament, though to a lesser degree. Measures should also be taken to do away with the current practice of packing the provincial councils with MPs’ kith and kin. As already mentioned, it is but an automatic stepping stone to parliament. What is more, they have an unfair advantage over the rest due to the power and influence of their parents who are ministers or MPs. Minister Mustapha should be commended for bringing this suggestion, although he won’t be popular with many parliamentarians. It is bad enough having to endure the high jinx of our politicians inside parliament without adding to babel by inducting the juniors too into the House.


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