The validity of the appointment of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to Parliament through the United National Party’s national list in place of former Deputy Minister M.K.A.D.S.Gunawardene who passed away last month is still being discussed among concerned parties, citing legal as well as ethical grounds. One argument put forward against his nomination is that his appointment was illegal as he was a serving officer of the Army. At the same time it is argued that nominating a candidate defeated at the last Parliamentary election was ethically wrong.
Apart from these there seems to be heartbreaking among certain UNP seniors such as former State Minister Rosy Senanayake for appointing a leader of another party, the Democratic Party (DP) to the national list slot, ignoring them. Also the New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had stated that the appointment was a “Breech of Trust” citing possible human rights charges against the veteran soldier who spearheaded the war victory against the LTTE, an entity that had been described as the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the UNP leader deviated twice from his policy that had been declared soon after the general elections not to appoint defeated candidates to the national list slots. First he had to do so as one of the constituent parties of the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC)led by Minister Rishard Bathiutheen’s elected a defeated candidate for the sole slot his party was offered by the UNFGG. This time he has selected Fonseka, also another candidate who contested under his own party, DP and was defeated at the last year’s General Elections.
The legal point whether Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka is a serving officer or a retired officer of the Army has to be decided by a court of law since it is too complex for us to discuss. However, the ethical issue arising out of appointing a defeated candidate for a national list seat is something that has to be discussed. For this purpose it is appropriate to revisit some of the points we put forward in an article soon after the August 17 General Elections last year. Here are those points:
The rationale behind the criticism against the nomination of defeated candidates for the National List slots has been that people have rejected those defeated candidates. Also this criticism stems from the absurd notion that people were prudent in using their franchise.
Contrary to that people always make mistakes, at times as a whole while at another individually at elections. They collectively made a glaring blunder at the 1982 referendum for the annulment of Parliamentary election scheduled to be held in 1984 and for the extension of the term of the incumbent Parliament. The documented election violence point to the fact that the referendum was highly fraudulent, but its result had been valid to-date and treated as people’s verdict. Again it was treated as the people’s verdict when the ruling People’s Alliance (PA) won the 1999 Wayamba Provincial Council election, showing utter disregard to the horror that was unleashed against the UNP supporters by the hooligans of the ruling party at that election.
In today’s context voters are driven by various factors real as well as deceptive when they elect parties and individuals as their representatives at elections. A classic example of the working of deceptive factors could be found out by comparing the preferential votes received by two UNP candidates, the then Party’s Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and actress Upeksha Swarnamali alias Paba at the 2010 General Election from Gampaha District. Interestingly the young actress had outdone the veteran politician at her political debut, raising questions about the validity of “people’s verdict.”
Premalal Jayasekara, a murder suspect who contested from the Ratnapura District under the UPFA while being in the prison at the last year’s Parliamentary election bagged over 150,000 “manapes” while former senior ministers from the same party such as John Seneviratne and Pavithra Vanniarachchi were seen far behind him. Seneviratne got only about 90,000 manapes and Vanniarachchi could collect only about half the number that was obtained by Jayasekara. Therefore it goes without saying that there is every chance for the people to defeat qualified candidates while electing fraudsters and thugs at elections.
JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP) candidate for Matara District, Sunil Handunnetti was defeated at the last General election. However, anybody would agree that he was a better Parliamentarian than many members of the current House. Nobody questioned his qualifications when he was appointed the Chairman of the Committee On Public Enterprises (COPE).
Some candidates get incredibly high number of preferential votes when they contest under one of the two main parties. It must be remembered that JVP members topped the UPFA lists in almost all districts they had contested at the 2004 Parliamentary election winning altogether 41 seats. However, what happened to them at the subsequent elections is well known. Hence, had Fonseka too contested under the UNFGG last time the result might have been different. On the other hand many candidates in the national lists would have been defeated, had they contested at the election from a district. Thus, possible losers are also deemed to be better choices than the actual losers, just because the former are on the national list under the present electoral system.
Manape or the preferential votes are not given to a particular candidate by the voters considering his credentials for an MP; they are given based on various factors such as strength of the campaign, race, caste, popularity in other fields like sports and cinema, enthralling the party supporters by harassing and insulting opponents and even beauty. Rosy Senanayake complained soon after the last General election that she was not allowed to campaign in all electorates in Colombo District. It was for such reasons that almost all political parties have agreed to do away with the Manape system. But ironically and ludicrously people in the same parties and the election monitoring entities look down upon the candidates defeated due to the same flawed Manape system.
On the other hand, there are no set criteria for the National List candidates. Who They are not better than the candidates contested, irrespective of whether the latter were elected or defeated.Initially the National List was meant for the appointment of professionals and learned men to the Parliament and to maintain the proper ethnic ratio in the Parliament. But almost all parties by now have ignored these criteria.
Constitution or any other law has not provided for the methodology of picking up of the best candidates by the party leaders from their National Lists. Candidates are being selected from those lists by the respective party leaders for the slots according to their choice. Hence there is no assurance that better candidates would be appointed as MPs when they are selected from the National List rather than selecting from the defeated candidates.