There’s been much talk of electoral reform lately. Looking at the different options under serious discussion demonstrates two things.
Firstly, women will continue to have lower representation than in all, but a handful of other countries, in the new Sri Lanka Parliament, too. It will simply continue our increasingly iniquitous trend. This is bad for men too, but worse for women and even more so for children. Groups that are exclusively male have a character of their own, with its own negatives. The same ethos may prevail even when there are women , for instance, if their numbers are too few or they have been invited for symbolic or decorative purposes only. Sometimes, the women present are merely surrogate men – chosen only to fill in for a specific man, currently absent.
Many of the women in politics in this country are surrogate men: Driven into politics because their late father, husband or brother was in it. Only the rest can be considered politicians in their own right. Surrogate women politicians are more the representatives of their late male relative, at least for a good part of their career. They have often been grabbed by the establishment and swept along in the exercise of keeping the dead man’s vote bank intact – and maybe even induced to behave as the late relative did. A sad element of this role can be the need to pretend to be amused at sexist banter in the new culture into which they have been elevated (or jettisoned), soon after suffering their bereavement. Rather similar to some women, in other spheres too, laughing merrily at jokes and remarks meant to put their sex down, especially when the joker concerned has a glass of alcohol in his hand.
I for one would like the electoral reforms to ensure that neither males nor females in Parliament can exceed two thirds of the total.
There are some other, seemingly frivolous, things I’d like to see. A rule that first degree relations may not sit in the same parliament is one. A cap on the proportion given nomination for unrelated ‘qualifications’, with no previous experience or interest in politics, may also be good. The numbers allowed in for being illustrious academics, famous professionals, relations of politicians or popular because of achievements in sports, film, music, pageants and the like must be kept low, to allow career politicians more space. Individuals above this quota need not be excluded forever. But such aspirants must first qualify by getting into active politics for a specified time and not simply parachute in. While we are about it, we may want to see whether the number of lawyers allowed to become lawmakers should be reduced. But I digress.
These thoughts were provoked by reading the following, in a piece about the British elections:
It had all looked so promising in the lead up. Four weeks before polling day seven party leaders (Labour, Conservative, Liberal, Democrat, Greens, SNP, PlaidCymru) had been assembled for a ‘leaders debate’. In a positive sign of the times, three of them were women; women who clearly liked one another, spoke common sense and were free, it appeared, from the poison of personal ambition and ideological dogma, which the other four, to a man, reeked of. All three women wanted an end to austerity; were against renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent; wanted investment in public services; commitment to the European Union; a human response to the migrant crisis throughout Europe; and more responsible policies on environmental issues.
So well put, ‘..women who … were free, it appeared, from the poison of personal ambition and ideological dogma, which the other four, to a man, reeked of.’
How much longer before Sri Lanka gets anywhere near the UK proportions?
My second wish on election reforms is not really about election reforms but system reform. How may Sri Lankan public gain democratic control over the real stuff, the forces that govern their lives and future – namely, economic decision-making. This is and has always been outside political control. I am not too optimistic about this matter, for no country allows the citizenry a say in economic policy, trade deals, currency matters and the like. Politicians are mere window dressing allowed to strut about meaninglessly or appear to attack each other on a public stage. The real decision makers rule forever behind the scenes, over vast numbers of the powerless – especially the women, children and the poor. The most powerless of citizens are probably those of the USA, but so few of them know they are being suckered. We here are at least more aware, though no more powerful.
The third wish is even more of a pipe dream. And that is that elected parliamentarians may not cross over to another party. This provision, we can bet, will not be included in any reforms. For the beneficiaries are us, citizens, and not the elected (or selected) MPs. Many of them, from all parties, are likely to prefer being free to go to the highest bidder, once elected. So they are unlikely to vote in favor of curtailing the collective earning capacity of their club. We the public have no hope of getting such measures introduced – for the only way we can get this done is through the very people we want to control. Just as we cannot control the salaries, perks, allocations and staff that MPs choose to give themselves.
A paragraph about India, in the site I quoted earlier, is relevant (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/29/what-price-indias-future/).
The poverty alleviation rate in India is the same as it was 20 years back. Every second child is underweight and stunted. Eight of India’s states account for more poor people than in the 26 poorest African countries combined. Shopping and consumerism have become the concerns and priorities of India’s misinformed and misled creamy layer. Mis-informed by news outlets that pass off infotainment as news. Misinformed by a government that cosies up to western multi-nationals with secretive ‘Memorandums of Understanding’ and then proceeds to target some of the poorest people in the country who resist as ‘the enemy within’.
It’s all a bit of a mad dash this. An insane one. A corrupt one. We need to move to a different beat, to travel in a different direction, to make peace with our future.
The author’s last line is a flourish of a wish. It shall remain so until India too learns to get more (real, not surrogate) women into politics.