Opinion
Did Donoughmore make a serious mistake?
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.

Till 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 commendable.

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 etc.

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?

Jayatissa Perera

 

 

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