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World Affairs








Wanted: Better Quality, Sincere Politicians 

The forthcoming ˙elections to the Western and Southern Provincial Councils provide a good opportunity for President Mahinda Rajapakse to select candidates of quality and standing rather than the hoi polloi who will have a better chance of being elected and to build up a good second string in his party. Rajapakse now considers elections to the Western and Southern PCs a cake-walk after his 'victory in the war.' The newly elected provincial councillors cannot become ministers immediately but if their quality and standards are high, it will serve Rajapakse and his party in good stead. What the Rajapakse administration sorely needs are better quality members and ministers. The fact that UNP renegades who crossed over to his party are now holding the key ministerial posts and that he holds the vital ministerial portfolios and not his party faithful indicate the paucity of talent in his ranks.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader too can make use of this opportunity to strengthen the ranks of his party with candidates of good repute and talent. The UNP has had a string of electoral disasters and an immediate rejuvenation of the party is called for. The UNP needs long term planning - not winning a PC election under trying conditions. Fresh blood is called for to be mixed with the experienced talent sill remaining in the Grand Old Party of Lanka. Provincial councils could provide just that.

The provincial council system could meet the demand for politicians of the quality required at the national level.˙ The need to find those measuring up to the standards required at the national level would be difficult considering the riff-raff now dominating national politics. But some kind of standard is called for at the provincial council level too particularly in the context of the huge expenditure involved in maintaining these councils and providing facilities for these councillors in carrying out their supposed duties.

Not all provincial councillors should be measured in terms of future national politicians. An aspiring PC councilor, should have been involved in the development activities of the area. He should have shown some commitment to social service and made himself known to the people. Even when he is known to the people his commitment to social service and his party should be known. Have such criteria been applied to those whose names are already in the party lists for the PC elections?

Cynics will say we are asking far too much from aspiring politicians when criminals and thugs simply walk into provincial councils and then aspire for higher political office. If that argument is conceded to, then Sri Lanka is doomed. Indeed some say that the doom and gloom we are witnessing is because of the entry of such despicable people into the body politick and now enjoying the trust and confidence of political leaders at the highest level.˙˙˙

Another suggestion made is that politicians should have a minimum educational qualification. This we feel would be redundant when some of the well known thugs and criminals have acquired 'doctorates' and use the prefix of 'Dr'. What is required is not paper qualifications - Degrees and 'Third Degrees' which political thugs have acquired - but candidates with commonsense and a commitment to duty and human values.

An unfailing feature of Sri Lankan politics is the daily political perorations delivered via radio, TV and the print media of the need of politicians to place country above self and party. We are now beginning to witness an infusion of 'gravitas' into this hectoring probably to sound statesmanlike. But these lofty sentiments will be put to the test each day by the turn of political events. The public is the best judge of these expressions.

Copious tears are shed daily for those poor war heroes who died on the battlefield ˙because of their determination to˙ preserve the country while the children of political leaders slept safe and sound, well guarded by battalions of bodyguards. Was there any politician who sent his sons or daughters into the battlefield to face the bullets and bombs? We haven't heard of any and certainly not of any such casualties. Who basks in the glory of military victory? The soldiers who perished in battle? Dead soldiers cannot claim victory. Generals and political leaders have done so in all wars, the world over.

The hoi polloi politicians are now screaming their heads off on political platforms praising the war heroes and the military victories won by the soldiers. But who are the beneficiaries of this? The soldiers - living and the dead? Are tears, honours and praise sufficient to the fallen?

If politicians are sincere about the sacrifices made by these soldiers, let them be justly rewarded. Today, we see young men without limbs hobbling on the streets - some of them begging to buy a meal. They claim to be wounded soldiers. Whether they have fallen through the welfare schemes provided for injured soldiers we are not aware. But certainly every soldier who has made sacrifices has to be compensated adequately to have a comfortable life and not beg on the streets.

Let politicians elected to the newly elected provincial councils collect the names of those war heroes who perished in battle as well as those who were permanently disabled. Let there be a census on those soldiers unable to find employment. They and the families of the dead have to be compensated adequately. The government will find it hard to secure the required funds. But this should be treated as top priority. Let us ground flying white elephants like Mihin Lanka and divert the billions to the welfare of the soldiers. Let the President, ministers and MPs prove their tears and lamentations are genuine by taking substantial cuts in their salaries, other allowances and perks. Let us ask the new provincial councillors, of all parties, to set an example to their senior colleagues by refusing their salaries and allowances and accepting only a token payment.

Let them recall that the MPs of Sri Lanka's first parliament were not paid a salary, only a mere token allowance.

Even after voting in all provincial council elections in the history of their existence (for 20 years) some voters complain of an embarrassment which they are certain will happen again at the polling booth. They do not know which candidates to vote for in the long list of candidates on the ballot paper! Marking the party of preference is easily done. But they do not know any single candidate on the list - by name, their professions, their friends or relatives or anything about them.

˙Some confess that voting under these circumstances ˙is like placing crosses on the ballot paper - like in the˙ kindergarten game of tick-tuck-took but not as amusing because they maybe unwittingly voting for dope dealers, bootleggers or professional killers and the like, all of whom have progressed into politics!

This does not happen in all areas of the electoral districts. In some areas the contestants are well known and mix with the people. But in some middle class areas, particularly in some areas of Colombo and the suburbs, voters do not know their candidates even by name and political parties make no effort to remedy this fault. The situation indicates how farcical this grass- roots level democracy meant to be a better form of democracy can get.

There are many remedies to correct this flaw and the best of all is for political parties to select candidates of standing in the electorate, in the district and better in the province, who will be known to the average voter. The steady deterioration of the quality of candidates being put forward has not only been the bane of the electoral system but the whole country as well.   

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