The framers of the 1978 Constitution, in spite of their many failings, must have known what kind of politicians we, the people, would be burdened with in the national legislature. Under the PR system, which basically favours the affluent and the nouveau riche capable of throwing money around and showering election gifts on the poor in return for votes, there is hardly any room for people of integrity to enter Parliament. The architects of the present Constitution must also have realised that the deterioration of parliamentary standards aggravated by an influx of political dregs into the legislature in 1977 would bring about a situation where the country would be left without enough decent, intelligent people at the levers of power. Therefore, those constitution makers may have thought of introducing the National List as a mechanism to bring at least a handful of decent men and women into Parliament.
But, today, the National List has become a vehicle for political rejects, who are despised by the people but in the good books of powers that be, to enter Parliament through the back door. Prominent candidates of the winning party do not have to worry at all, even if they happen to get routed at an election. They can rest assured that they would still be able to feather their nests at public expense either as chairpersons of State ventures or ambassadors or National List MPs. The appointment of Mervyn Silva to Parliament is a case in point. The people of Colombo, to their credit, rejected him right royally at the 2004 parliamentary election but President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga made him a National List MP and President Mahinda Rajapaksa elevated him to minister. However, it needs to be added in the same breath, that he is not the only misfit to have benefited from the gross abuse of the National List. There have been many others including court jesters who went places by licking their political bosses’ sandals or slippers.
The government has said that it would not allocate National List slots for defeated candidates. Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena gave that assurance to the public in answer to a question raised by this newspaper at Wednesday's government media briefing. We don't take political promises seriously as they are usually made to be broken like the pie crust and whether the government will honour its pledge or not remains to be seen. The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating.
It may be argued that the appointment of a person whose name appears on the National List to Parliament is tantamount to his or her election as an MP because those who vote for his or her party automatically endorse the National List containing his or her name presented to them in advance. In the light of this argument it is wrong for any party to make use of the National List to appoint as MPs persons other than those whose names are submitted to the voting public.
There are enough and more decent, educated, intelligent and patriotic men and women who are willing to serve the country but are wary of the hustings. They are also without the wherewithal to contest fund-guzzling elections. Today, politics has become the preserve of the scum of the earth and no person with an iota of self-respect would ever want to face violent elections risking life, limb and reputation, unless he or she seeks self-aggrandisement at any cost.
Never mind electoral reforms that are being promised. Even under the present system, we can still have at least 29 good MPs if political party leaders use the National List mechanism wisely. We see the names of some good men and women among the National List nominees as regards the upcoming election and it is hoped that only they will be appointed to Parliament by the parties that qualify for National List slots at the April 8 polls.