When Lord Donoughmore, who came to
this country, welcomed proposals to give us a new Constitution,
almost all who appeared before the Commission, except one
notable case, preferred to carry on without universal adult
franchise. The exception was the Ceylon Labour Party leader, A.
E. Goonesinghe, who openly asked for universal franchise.
then, the Legislative Council of Ceylon had comprised only
educated, respected men who offered their services to the
country, free of charge. They were barristers, land owners,
medical doctors and academicians of repute whose behaviour, at
least in public, was above board. They knew the dignity of the
Legislature and an MLC or Member of the Legislative Council was
considered a gentleman.
As a result of the Donoughmore Commission, we got adult
universal franchise in 1931, which enabled any Dick, Tom or
Harry to get elected, provided he (or she) was rich enough to
throw money around to buy votes. When W. Dahanayake, the
penniless loner from Galle, contested the Galle electorate
against the richest land owner in the Southern Province,
Amarasuriya, his only asset was his oratorical skills! He said,
"I am going to shake a money tree and I want all my voters to go
to it and collect as much as possible!" Amarasuriya spent his
wealth, the voters got richer, and Dahanayake got elected! That
was how he won the Bibile by-election, too, and earned the
affectionate name, 'Bibile Ukussa' or the Hawk of Bibile.
At that time, too, an MSC or Member of the State Council was a
respected man whose behaviour, at least in public, was
Those who appeared before the Donoughmore Commission and did
not support the idea of adult universal franchise had a reason.
They were of the view that people in this country were not
intellectually equipped to choose an honest man to represent
them in the Supreme Legislature. When A. E. Gunasinghe contested
a seat in Colombo with the slogan, "Vote for the man who gave
you the vote" he was defeated. When the bus mudalalis
helped Dr. A. P. de Zoysa to defeat Dr. E. A. Cooray the sitting
member of Colombo South, apart from the money thrown about, the
slogan was catchy, ‘E. A. Cooray, ADA Zoysa’ or (Cooray
yesterday but Zoysa today) .
Unlike in Britain, which gave us the universal Franchise, the
voters in this country could be swayed by money, caste, religion
When Lord Soulbury gave us the Soulbury Constitution with a
bi-cameral legislature, he would have thought that the House of
Commons and the House of Lords should be set up here too. Since
1947, we have had senators and MPs and now we have 225 MPs
elected on the district basis (some from the National List which
is being abused to accommodate the defeated candidates loyal to
the party leaders) and today no voter knows who his or her MP is
and no MP knows who his voters are!
The Parliament thus became a playing field for those who
wished to pay 'pandoo' and even the Honourable Speaker is not
honoured by MPs any more. To quote the very words of the present
Speaker, the House last Thursday saw Terrorism!
It is obvious that MPs can now behave in Parliament the same
way some sons of Ministers behave in nightclubs. No schoolboy or
schoolgirl is brought to the parliament unlike long ago and if
you say you are the son of an MP or Minister, no respectable
girl, however poor, will give her hand in marriage!
Should one say more?