Will we ever get a decent parliament?



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Parliamentary elections are round the corner and political parties are busy looking for candidates who could win. When political leaders are questioned on the eligibility of candidates and how they are going to choose them, the reply is that they will field people who could win. And we have seen the quality of these people who can win elections. We have suffered at their hands and the country has slid into abysmal depths due to their incompetence, corruption and self-interest. They have lived in clover while the poor have struggled to eke out a living. They have indulged in super luxury vehicles and chairs to sit, leisurely playing video games in parliament, while children in villages had to hold umbrellas over their heads in class as there are no roofs in schools. They have squandered the country's wealth, robbed its banks, made it almost a subject nation, brought it down to its knees and finally sold its assets. And they get the votes and win elections by promising the poor voter the moon.


Who are these people who can win elections? Most of them are very rich and have the money, earned while in parliament previously, to throw about and shout from huge platforms empty words, piffle, and mud, under huge marquees with screaming banners all around and cheering crowds brought in bus loads. Most of them have no education and behave like thugs in the parliament and outside. When in power they throw their weight about browbeating people, officials, law authorities and even the judiciary. Using their parliamentary privileges they castigate and make baseless wild accusations against people who do not have such privileges. When not taking commissions they engage in illicit felling of trees, dig the river beds for sand and mountains for earth, issue liquor permits, import garbage, and even "kudu" and "ice". Their children amuse themselves by cracking skulls of police officers in clubs and beaches, and maim people on the roads with their fast cars. They have a price and do not hesitate to sell their soul and cross over for the highest bid. These are the candidates who can win elections.


Political leaders, going by past experience, know that these people can win elections and they cannot help nominating them. These people have the ability and the skin thickness to make large amounts of money while in power, and spend part of it at the next election to campaign and hoodwink the people to get their votes. It is seen that this is a vicious cycle, they spend to rob and then rob to spend. They spend on huge meetings, to erect huge stages, to bring huge crowds, on full page colour advertisements, large cutouts etc. Some of this wasteful expenditure was reduced at the last presidential election due to the ban on polythene banners.


If this type of expensive meaningless campaigning could be stopped, the need to throw money by candidates could be controlled to some extent. Then even decent honest people with no ill-gotten riches could contest, and party leaders could think of nominating them also and people will have a choice. Hitherto the problem was that people had no choice and had to vote for those nominated even if they were drug dealers.


In developed countries such campaigning is not seen during elections. The recent elections in Britain were very quiet and there were no huge rallies, but people made their choice of good honourable candidates. Some time ago we had good decent honest people like DS, Dudley, NM, Colvin, SWRD, Sirimavo in the parliament. They did not have to spend a lot of money to get elected. There were no cantankerous meetings and other expensive campaigning. People knew their candidates quite well and made them their representatives in parliament. Our people must be more mature and aware about their responsibilities now, and should be able to make a good choice if given a chance. They may not be impressed and swayed by what is promised at large meetings. They may be guided by the quality of the candidate if that chance is given to them. Huge campaigns are not necessary if candidates of calibre known for their integrity are on offer.


People may vote for the party of their choice but their conscience would be clear if the candidate is not a crook. The mood of the electorate, as shown at the recent presidential election, is such that a political party with national interest at heart may win at the forthcoming parliamentary election, but the people's choice would be made easier if good people are nominated. For instance if a decent honest person who has not contested before is pitted against a rogue who had won many times by throwing money around, would the people vote for the rogue or the decent person? There is a good chance this time around that people may vote for the good person. Now it is probable that more people feel the need for good politicians to govern the country if they are to survive. There may have been a time when poor people voted for handouts and various bribes no matter the candidate is a drug dealer. Times have changed as shown at the last presidential election, where the hand did not do well due to the presence of shady leaders of electorates.


It is imperative that political leaders respond positively to this trend and resist the pressure to nominate dishonest candidates though known to be winners. Instead let them nominate a substantial proportion of good persons. If they cannot afford to keep out their tainted loyalists, let them nominate a few of those characters also and let the people have a choice. Now, the problem is we are not given a choice. Let 80% of candidates at least be honest people. Things have to change if we are to survive.


Things could be changed only if the expenditure on election campaigns are restricted, and the need to spend large amounts of money to hoodwink the voter is minimized. Everything that is done in election campaigns in this country are unnecessary and meaningless. Are huge meetings with imported massive crowds necessary? Is wild oratory, or more aptly, ability to scream vituperative a virtue needed for representing the people in the legislature and look after their interests? It is only that they display at these meetings. Are huge cutouts of well known politicians necessary? Could full page colour advertisements in newspapers influence the voter who knows the past deeds of the politicians? It is time the political leaders change their game to suit the times and also educate the less knowledgeable people about the meaninglessness of such campaigning. They must initiate a system which needs the least amount of money and energy to tell the people who their candidates are and their credentials that qualify them to be the people's representatives. For instance a list of candidates for a district could be sent to every household by post. Similarly lists could be published in the media with least cost. All expensive campaign methods must be officially banned. Meetings, rallies, house to house campaigning, cutouts, election offices, paper advertisements, bribes etc., must be prohibited. These activities not only cost money and place the rich rogue at an advantage, it also opens the door for the underworld to enter the scene, violence and even murder, particularly when the PR system is in operation.


It is the need for big money for campaigning that has kept the good people out of politics and enabled the crooked and the criminal to get into politics and also made politics a dirty word. Now is the time to change this scenario for people who are wary of being played out by robbers in parliament. They spend to rob and then rob to spend and this vicious cycle has to be broken. The new President is duty bound to clean up the mess. Steps must be taken to "drain the swamp" as the good editor said. One of the things that has to be done in this regard is eliminate the money factor in the equation and give the honest a chance.


N.A.DE S. AMARATUNGA


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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