The Sunday Leader

More Democracy In Candidate Nominations

By Lionel Guruge

In anticipation of formulating a civil society collective to assist in sustaining and developing good governance in Sri Lanka, the declaration made on the 12th of March (referred to as the March 12th Movement M12M campaign) proved to be a vital one. The stakeholders of this historical event included members of civil society organizations, of Chamber of Commerce, members from the business community, religious leaders, media, academics, trade unions, and Election Department officials to combine their efforts in formulating an 8 point criteria list for selection of candidates who wish to enter into various aspects of governance, ranging from the district and provincial levels to the national level.

The document; the product of the M12M campaign, has gained immense popularity and a complimentary nod of approval from politicians, religious dignitaries, the Prime Minister and the President, culminating in their signatures sanctioning its validity.

Notwithstanding its political popularity, this document is considered to have originated from the hands of the civil populace, and is meant to represent the requirements of the said population. Originating at Independence Square on June the 25, this campaign hopes to obtain 1,000,000 signatures while educating the public on its mission, so that politicians may be further reminded to adhere by the principles of the document.

It must be mentioned that the JVP initiated a similar campaign to establish an ethics guideline within the 100-day program that unfortunately never came to fruition. People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), whilst representing the civil society spectrum, took the initiative in this endeavour, and the final list is given below:

 

Criteria for selection being that proposed peoples representatives -

1.    Should not be a person who had served a jail sentence for a crime or a person who has received a suspended sentence.

2.    Should not be a person who had been proven guilty of bribery or corruption and should be acceptable to society and a person of good character. Be cautious when considering those alleged of bribery or corruption.

3.    Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in the past in trades such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, casinos and prostitution that are detrimental to the wellbeing of the country.

4.    Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in trade which destroys the ecological life support system that causes destruction to the environment.

5.    Should not be a person who has abused and misused political power.

6.    Should not be a person who had entered into financial agreements prejudicial to the country before becoming a people’s representative and as a people’s representative who has abused power and entered into financial agreements with the government or has been a party to such an agreement.

7.    Candidate should be either a resident or have an amiable relationship with residents of the area they represent.

8.    Should provide adequate opportunities for representation of women and youth when nominating candidates.

 

The unfortunate reality of the situation is that this list does not apply to many politicians occupying seats in Parliament at this point of time. If these criteria were used many years ago when deciding who should be eligible to enter politics in Sri Lanka, most of our politicians would not have had the chance to even grace the entrance to Parliament.

However, due to various reasons, it would be difficult to conclusively prosecute them for all the crimes they may have committed, therefore it could be said that they managed to escape from this criteria list that would have otherwise ensnared them. But escaping from bureaucracy is easier than escaping from the consciousness of the people; politicians who have deceived the nation for their personal gains will find no mercy from its people come election time, and that should be cause for our worries to be in abeyance at least momentarily.

Good governance starts with the people, and the benefits of it is reaped also by the people themselves. This writer was once told by a very prominent politician that in 1989 when he was contesting for a seat in a quaint district, it cost him only around 1 lakh rupees; however, contesting for the same seat in 2010 resulted in him having to spend over 10 million rupees.

Given all the corruption that went hand in hand with politics in Sri Lanka, suspicions arise as to the origins of such large sums of campaign money, and such suspicions need not have been cultivated if not for political trends that politicians have  fostered by actions that left harmful and negative imagery in the hearts and minds of the people.

Under the previous electoral system (Single Constituency), a candidate had the opportunity to gain a ministerial position. In that era, if a candidate in a district did not have means to acquire a vehicle, then the villagers would rally in support to finance one for him, and this was all due to the regard the public had for their representative. At this present day and with this currently unpalatable political system in place, such a time would be considered utopian.

A common feature in the current political atmosphere is the inclusion of family members and relatives of politicians into high positions/political programs. We as a citizenry must be mindful of whether the politicians we consider virtuous might also possess these qualities.

Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara proclaimed that if bribery and corruption amongst politicians should be investigated that the commission should start with him. When he re-entered government in 1994 he welcomed an investigation into his income, and based on this act he urged all other Parliamentarians to follow suit. This could be considered a true display of sincerity, and to take his advice into consideration by asking other Parliamentarians to display their income would be a prudent step forward in upholding transparency.

Certain politicians are veterans in the craft of deception; to the public eye it seems that they are cocooned in virtue and are completely absolved of all ill-deeds, while those that surround them such as their families and loved ones revel in riches and become millionaires strangely after the politician in question is given a position in power. These are the raw features of bribery and corruption, and it has cloaked Parliament for far too long. For this purpose a set of ethics and guidelines must be implemented, and it should take prominence in a number of fields.

 

Strengthening internal party democracy

 

Strengthening internal party democracy is a phenomenon frequently dealt with in this writers’ previous publications. If current political practices prevail, then the selection of candidates to contest in elections based on the 8 point criteria list presented above will still be at the discretion of the party leaders, with no consideration for party members, and this is the reality when selecting any candidate including party organizers. This clearly fails to achieve the objectives of the party as well as the objectives of selecting a candidate overall, as only the members that reside in those districts would be aware of who would be most suitable to occupy the position or seat, and thus the decision should lie in the party member’s hands.

Secondly, the finances of the party must also be regulated and audited, for party finances have been an ambiguous topic for many years. During campaigns, money seems to appear in copious amounts, but no one seems to question its origins. Some politicians are found distributing money to places of religious worship, some are found distributing large amounts of stationery to schools. As heartening as the act may be, are the public privy to information regarding whose hands this money has passed from? The lack of transparency in this issue is detrimental to a healthy political culture.

Distributing rations has been a classic manoeuvre by which bribery is shielded, and thus if done without any transparency could be considered illegal. Some politicians even go so far as establishing trusts in their name for charitable purposes, and money flows into these trusts without any records kept on how it was achieved. Therefore, there must be strict transparency in the form of an audit in these issues and this must be made mandatory by law.

Whilst campaigning for transparency with regards to finances, there must also be consideration given to the amount politicians spend on their campaigns. To this effect, the Elections Commission should set in place a ceiling for campaign expenses, as this is another way by which corruption seeps into the political sphere.

If any candidate exceeds the amount specified then there must be an investigation as to the reasons behind such expenditure and why it was necessary. At the last presidential election it was alleged that sil redi (clothing material for women to wear to temple) amounting to a staggering 62 million rupees was distributed. Such incidents are the norm during elections, where politicians believe that their quickest gateway to gaining a seat lies not in practicing healthy politics but by buying their way into Parliament, which results in an influx of charitable donations to the public as elections inch closer. There must be a stringent auditing mechanism in place within political parties, and party members should be given the right to question their party leaders on these matters and request these documents.

 

On ethics and good governance

 

It is also worrying to note that many politicians are involved in or have given contracts to close friends and family so their enterprises would flourish. Among these contracts a number of cases have resulted in the environment being harmed. An alternative strategy or a mechanism by which these constructions are conducted in an environment-friendly manner must be set in place immediately.

Another matter of equal importance when selecting candidates for nomination is that the selection must be carried out in an area specific manner. This has also been mentioned in the 8 point criteria and must be adhered to. Presently, nominations occur in the so-called ‘parachute method’; that is, candidates in Ratnapura later appear as candidates in Trincomalee. A candidate from Colombo is nominated for Mahiyanaganaya and so forth. Anyone should be given the opportunity to contest in the elections, if they wish to do so, but the purpose of democratic election is lost if they do not contest representing the community which actually selects them.

How else are we to expect good governance and maximum utility if a member of the community does not represent his own people? Only such candidates will understand and empathise with the plight of their people, and be most sensitive to the needs of the community. To nominate a ‘foreign’ candidate to a particular district is almost insulting to the public and the party members of that constituency. Therefore, the party members of respective districts should be given the prerogative to nominate a candidate they see fit. These are components of true democracy and good governance, and should be instilled yet again within the parties. To that effect, amending of the constitutions of each political party must also be considered.

Evidently, there is a long and laborious journey ahead for true political reform, and although gaining 1,000,000 signatures in favour of the ideal is certainly a promising start, it should not end at this juncture. The issues raised above must be addressed with immediate effect. Many years ago, politicians of Sri Lanka practiced politics and later retired from political life with no qualms or heavy hearts, because they had conducted themselves with decorum. Can the politicians of today share the same sentiments? Can they retire and not be plagued in their hearts by their guilty conscience for tainting Parliament by deceiving the public and abusing their power? If so then the time is ripe to enlist change and this involves not dwelling in the past and pointing fingers but rallying together as a nation, politicians and voters included, and working towards a common goal.

To this effect, all civil society, political and religious leaders should begin by pledging their support for the M12M campaign. The two leading political parties of the country should spend considerable time on self-reflection, not allow personal gains to obstruct the needs of the broader community and should strengthen internal party democracy. The public should in turn be mindful when going into an election, that their vote will influence the future of this nation, and be true to themselves and to the needs of the country when casting their vote.

lguruge8@gmail.com

 

5 Comments for “More Democracy In Candidate Nominations”

  1. sarath

    M12M is yet another camouflage to deceive the masses. It contains no guide line for any one. If you say those who sentenced to jail means that SF and SB cannot come. There are no further guidance for the above requirement. When you say those who abused or misused Political power one one will be eligible as all politicians have committed them daily in every act they do. To me all the requirements are meaningless.

  2. Karthigesu M. Nirmalan-Nathan. AKA Noel. Nathan

    Although there are a few ambiguous areas in the document it is indeed a welcome effort and ought to commended. I for one am pleased that finally there are efforts being made for true electoral reform. The electorates must now take this up and fine tune it and adopt it. This sort initiatives at the very least will open the eyes of the younger generation and point them in the right direction. At least I hope this would help them look at things in a different light.
    The last administration is a true reverse role model in showing how a country should never be run.

  3. raj

    Religious people do not let politicians to paint themselves by religion in order to cover their immoral activities. A country that has politicians who use religion in order to get media attention will suffer regardless of their religion. Let alon religious places alone. Separate religion from politics. Keep religion as personal and private.

  4. mr Rajapaska is not a democratic candidate ,he lost the election he should not contest, mr sirisena won election now he is playing a double game with UNP and SLFP .his decision to bring mr Rajapaska ,he is not a democratic person

  5. the commissioner of election has the code of contact to the candidate, who is going to contest election, should not be a criminal and heroine, mr basil, former army chief former JVP head, mr Gota, mr wimil weerawansa .douglles dedevanda .EPDP .head,mr Rajapaska. former predident son.srilanka parliament need good government. to goven

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