New political force: Need of the hour in Sri Lanka

There is an important hurdle to overcome. In a future general election, people have to choose from the politicians who are nominated by their parties

by J.M. Joseph Jeyaseelan, CMF

( November 20, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As a response to the crisis that Sri Lanka is in, and after witnessing the ugly incidents inside the parliament perpetrated by and involving the elected lawmakers, the following thesis is put forward by some: next time let us send people with some educational qualifications to the parliament to represent us and make laws for our country. There is news that about 100 of the members of the current parliament do not have O/L qualifications.

Certainly, one's education shapes one's thinking and behaviors. But that is not everything! The above numbers still show that the majority of those in the parliament have some educational qualifications. The real problem does not lie in the educational background of the MPs as much as it does elsewhere. With due respect to those who conduct themselves in a civilized manner inside the chambers of the legislature, I must say that even some educated MPs are conducting themselves in unbecoming and unruly ways. Take for example the case of Mrs. Sudharshani Fernandopulle who is a medical doctor and who had been a deputy minister of higher education. She was found among those MPs who were desecrating the chair of the Speaker.

We have a professor of law (G.L. Peiris) who bends legal theories according to where his political future lies. Our understanding of "unbecoming conduct" does not have to be limited to throwing chairs, pulling microphones, throwing chili powder-mixed water, carrying a fork, showing one's undergarments or slapping a policeman on duty and in uniform. Furthermore, those sitting and watching the saga cannot be absolved as people with restraint or as honest political species. Some were aware that the cameras were on; some had given their consent to the violent conduct covertly; and some would have chosen to enjoy the unfolding thrilling scenario instead of getting involved.

In my opinion, electing to the legislature people with PhD, Mater's, or Bachelor's degrees will solve issues related to our present parliamentary culture to some extent. However, it cannot be the final solution. Also look at the way some intellectuals interpret the current crisis and put forward various arguments at times defending things that a rational mind cannot defend or endorse. They have educational degrees but not social or political intelligence. And as a population our literacy rate is one of the highest rates in the world. But how is it that we are unable to make good decisions affecting our country? Therefore, educational background is not the main problem, I posit.

There is an important hurdle to overcome. In a future general election, people have to choose from the politicians who are nominated by their parties. And for sure, almost all of them in the current parliament will get the nomination through their respective political parties. If nomination is denied based on some criminal records, which is very unlikely, they may still find a way to contest the election. Because if they are popular among the masses for doing something for their electorates (like Mahindananda Aluthgamage or Palitha Thevaraperuma), there are parties which are ready to get them in no matter what their moral records are. Or else it can so happen that those who are sent home by the people can still be absorbed into the parliament through the national list as it happened in the case of S.B. Dissanayake who is a prime mover in the recent unpleasant political developments. In the recent past the national list provision which has the noble intention of getting into the parliament persons of eminence without having to contest the election has been misused to absorb those who have lost the election. This is none other than a slap on the face of the verdict of the people. Therefore, even if we want to send people with good moral background, educational qualification, those who lead value-based lives, those whom we think may not plunder public money and resources, our choices are very much limited. One can argue that if that happens we can refrain from voting. That cannot be the solution either.

Therefore, the need of the hour is the formation of a large political force with a new political imagination. At the same time it has to be a force that can incite the political imagination of those who don't have it. It has to be a force that will tap into the political imagination of those who already have it but have no forum to express it.

This may be the time for a cross section of eminent persons to come together and form a new political force which can become a formidable challenge to the main political parties in future elections. The main job of this political force initially has to be doing grassroots-level education of the masses about the need to change the political culture and dynamics of our country and how we must be responsible voters. This political force if it morphs into a political party may not win elections straightaway. But it will have created an impact that will force the current mainstream political parties to think in alternative ways.

There are persons or groups who are acting this way independently and in ad hoc ways. The real and timely need is about the formal formation and organization of these persons and groups into a formidable political force.

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