President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has dissolved the Parliament at midnight on Monday, at the first moment he was constitutionally authorised to do so. He has fixed April 25 for the next Parliament election and the week between March 12 and 19 for tendering nominations by political parties and independent groups.
In a way that would be the most important week as for the country as political parties and the independent groups are going to nominate their representatives to make laws for the country and decide upon financial issues of the government. History has it that
most political parties including those alternately ruled the country had failed in this, since Independence. The eerie silence that prevailed when former Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake first spoke in Parliament after his arrest recently spoke volumes on the status of the then Parliament.
Interestingly, Opposition parties speak about corruption, malpractices, highhanded acts and even treason committed by the members of the ruling parties which are in most cases true. However, when one of those parties takes over the administration of the country next time, it becomes an opportunity for the former ruling party to make the same allegations, which are also true, in most cases. Finally, elections have become events for leaders of political parties to continue or swap among themselves the opportunities to plunder the country.
We know about politicians who first came to Parliament riding motorbikes, some in vans as a group. There are politicians who had been drivers of other politicians. However, except for a few, almost all former Parliament members are billionaires now, despite their salary having been equal to that of an ordinary clerk of a government office. They have legal avenues such as selling their duty-free vehicle permit as well as illegal ones, to make money in a big way. There are specific cases in point where people have identified the rogues, in spite of them having not proven in a court of law.
It is against this backdrop that the political parties are going to select their candidates in a week. Following very serious allegations against the members of the previous regime several civil society organisations in 2015 joined hands under the leadership of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) to formulate a programme to commit political parties for an agreement in selecting unblemished candidates for the general election that was to be held in that year. All major political parties joined that campaign called March 12 Movement and signed the “March 12 Declaration” agreeing to adhere to eight basic principles when selecting and nominating their candidates.
According to those principles, candidates should be free of bribery and corruption, free of anti-social trades, environment friendly, free of abusive financial contracts, close to their electors, should not be criminals, should not be persons abusing authority and
the political parties should give adequate opportunities for women and youth. Yet, it is up to the readers to decide if the political parties, especially the three political groupings led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena who had agreed to the principles, had lived up to these principles, in the light of their role in running the affairs of the country since then – Wickremesinghe and Sirisena from January 9, 2015 to November 16, 2019 and Rajapaksas during the 52-day government in 2018 as well as from November 18, 2019 to date.
The main responsibility to select untainted candidates lies with the leaders of political parties and not with the people, who firstly do not practically have any say in that regard and secondly do not seem to care
about principles. It was the people in this country who had elected the well known rogues to Parliament, provincial councils and local government bodies. Hence, if the very leadership of a political party is corrupt, the entire chain of events subsequent to the selection of candidates would be flawed, as there is no any other sifting process is ahead. No number of agreements for principled politics would make sense after that.
Another point that has to be emphasised is that the National List should be used for the inclusion of experts in various fields and proportionate ethnic representation, as was originally meant for, instead turning it to be a home for the elders or a hook to pull the crooks in. It is only through a strong civil society movement coupled with a strong media campaign – though both are remote realities - that these issues could be rectified.