The March 12 Declaration, according to its architects, is the product of island wide multi-stakeholder consultation aimed at transforming the political culture of the country. All political parties agreed, by signing the declaration, to adhere to eight basic principles pertaining to selecting and nominating candidates for the Parliamentary Elections.
Talk is cheap. As easy is placing a signature on a piece of paper. We live in a country where elected politicians openly say that promises are meant to be broken, that manifestos don’t mean a thing and mandates can be altered to suit the whims and fancies of governments and persons in power. They signed and most of them forgot what the agreement was. Even a cursory look at the candidates’ lists of the major parties would convince anyone who thought otherwise.
In a sense you can’t really blame these people. First they have to choose from those who are available. If you have to nominate 23 to a particular district and of the 30 applicants (let’s say) 25 are bad eggs you will still end up with 18 undesirables, never mind the March 12 Declaration.
And it is not the case that the major parties attract people that the March 12 Declaration sought to weed out. There is a human resource crisis in this country, one which admittedly was created due to the actions of the major parties with the JVP playing its part. We lost more than 200,000 young people to the 88-89 insurrection and the 30 years long conflict. If at least 1% of those who perished were the kind of men and women that are not at odds with the March 12 Declaration, it would amount to 2000 ‘desirables’. Even if only 10% would want to stand for election, we would have 200 persons we can vote for without feeling shy about it.
So what do we do about it? Fold up the piece of paper and archive it under ‘Lost Causes’? Dump it in the waste paper basket? Wait for the next election, get fresh printouts and start all over again? Maybe that’s something that will have to be done, ‘hope springs eternal in the human heart’ and all that kind of thing. The architects of and others who support this initiative however would have expected things to turn out this way, even though they may have been thrilled when representatives of the parties signed the Declaration. More importantly they knew that you just cannot leave it to the politicians. In the end, if it is to benefit the people then the people have to do their bit. And that’s what there’s left to do.
Each voter has preferences of party and candidate. All kinds of reasons make one choose a particular political party or a particular individual. What the March 12 Declaration urges is that the voters tighten their criteria on election day. There may be only a few who qualify from any given party but then again one can pick only a maximum of three candidates when the time comes to mark preferences. One can choose to pick three or two or just one or vote just for the party. If there’s only one person who qualifies as per the qualities outlined by the Declaration then the voter can pick him or her. If there’s none then the voter, ideally, should forget that party and look elsewhere. If there’s no one in any of the parties in the fray, the voter could also stay at home.
Criminals are out. Those who have taken bribes or are corrupt are out. Those engaged in anti-social businesses or activities are out. Out too are those who are not environmental-friendly (they include those who ruin landscapes with posters and hoardings and give you an earache with megaphones). If someone has abused authority, drop him or her. Drop too anyone involved in shady financial transactions including contract. If they have not been close to the voter or absent from the electorate, they don’t deserve your vote. Think about women and the youth when you make your choice.
Now there’s a thing called ‘innocent until proven guilty’. So one might argue that being accused of wrongdoing is not necessarily a disqualification. Well, we do know that the wheels of the law are often made to be slow. We also have intelligence to know what’s what, to add up 2 and 2 and arrive at 4. This is a court of conscience. In general the people know who the thugs are, who has abused authority, who has amassed wealth that doesn’t make sense given the relatively paltry salary that elected representatives get.
The politicians and their parties essentially played the good people who formulated the Declaration for a bunch of suckers. Now it is time for the people to tell them, ‘we are serious about this.’