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Editorial

   

Mocking Democracy with Shackled Choices

"Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."
- George Bernard Shaw
 

The unhappy reality today is that the provincial council elections do not provide the Sri Lankan voter with even a modicum of basic democratic choice. First, the main parties themselves do not focus on substantive issues or principles, but can be seen to be differentiated purely by personalities, gossip and trivia. Prospective voters are faced with only a range of ad hominem attacks at rival candidates, outrageous claims and horrendous track records of violence, corruption, and crime, including murder and rape.

Clearly visible in the wings are the entire array of underworld figures, responsible for the lion's share of this country's ever-rising rate of drug-dealing, extortion and so on. Surrounding the candidates as they bulldoze their way across the campaign trail, stopping traffic and causing chaos, are Montero-loads of security officers, either on "loan" from the military or on "leave" from it. The agenda seems to be to imitate an incumbent minister, thereby demonstrating power and the ability to use force where necessary. During election time force is always necessary, and the threat of imminent use of force is a major weapon in the arsenal of any successful political candidate.  

All this sounds like a cheap and old fashioned gangster movie, but, alas, this does not even begin to describe the fiasco of our electoral system. To continue to itemise the problems with the PC elections, the ruling party's strategy to hold them in an ad hoc and piecemeal manner is clearly anti-democratic and self-seeking. The general population is faced with the dilemma of either having a division of power between the provincial and national administrations, which would inevitably lead to a deadlock in our petty and personalised system of governance, or to vote for the party in power in order to "get the job done." This coupled with the current war hysteria makes the current regime a shoo in, aided in no small measure by the main opposition party's own internal antics and absence of leadership.

Who wins or loses the provincial council election for the Western Province is irrelevant in the present context. Even as a component of the devolution process, the PC system has failed because of the fact that in practice it has merely provided yet another avenue for elite families to capture power: typically the father is in parliament, while a son reigns in the provincial council and another relative is ensconced in the pradeshiya sabha!

The point is that the people deserve better than this gaggle of clowns and crooks who are being trotted out for election at these various occasions; they deserve better than the pettiness and lack of vision of the national parties, the utter impunity and non-accountability in selecting candidates, many of whom would not qualify for admission to a decent home. Perhaps it is naive to wish for ethics or even principles in politics in Sri Lanka today. The governing palace ethos appears to be based on a clear division of labour. Hence, doers have their uses, as do orators. But, taking the national situation as a whole, and focusing on the kinds of candidates submitted to us for our endorsement, do we as voters have to accept and condone this rapidly-worsening state of affairs?

The candidate list reads like a rogues' gallery. The debates and discussions among them are at best gossip and claptrap. The richest sell themselves in the media in the most idiotic and blatant ways. Is this not an outrageous state of affairs, and one that should enrage every single one of us? Am I not being insulted, even humiliated, when I am being asked by people in whom I have apparently placed my trust, either by electing them into power or parliament, to choose between an alleged multiple murderer or an alleged rapist, a bookie or a drug dealer? Is this the best that the political parties have to offer us voters?

Even one such person in a party list should serve to sully it beyond redemption, and it should be the others on the list (who do not have such notoriety) who should insist that they don't want to be tarnished by association. One might say that not all the candidates are beneath contempt, that there are some who have worked their way up the ranks and/or have quietly stayed in local politics, being loyal to party and constituency.

True, but these are not merely exceptions, they are outnumbered and endangered. They are also being devalued within their own parties and have less and less to say about national issues. Moreover, should they not stand up and be counted against the riff-raff that is contaminating the entire electoral process? Should they not say we do not want to be on the same list as so-and-so, even if it means the end of their political careers? The fact is, if they are honest and altruistic, it is the end of their political careers anyway!

If, as is inevitable (since the worst offenders and their sponsors are all rich criminals operating with impunity), a rapist or a murderer or a drug dealer is elected to one provincial council or another, it is democracy that has died yet again in Sri Lanka. How many more such murders of the democratic process will we as voters and citizens countenance before demanding that at least candidates for election should not be the worst scum of the earth? 

We must take some measure of responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. As Voltaire so vividly describes, "So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannise will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men."

In this present context it is unrealistic to expect that either opportunistic politicians or their crooked patrons will clean up their collective act. We must ensure that they cannot shackle us with their henchmen and agendas by resoundingly defeating anyone who has even a hint of violence, corruption or illegality in his or her history. This may mean that we have no one to vote for, but even if that is the case our commitment to democracy must be unwavering. The rejection of this sham, the raising of the bar is an affirmation of democratic values for future generations.

Eugene Debs was surely right when he said, "When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right."


 

 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


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