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Parliament of Sri Lanka

It’s all systems go for another parliamentary election on August 17, 2015 which will be the most confoundedly confusing poll in this nation’s history. Besides providing the voters with such a pathetic choice and so many 11th hour defections taking place, the whole process appears to have become a bewildering development for even the most politically savvy to comprehend.

Everything in the political firmament appears to have turned into such an unprecedented  muddle triggered by opportunistic greed, political expediency and betrayals that would have made Judas Iscariot appear a choir boy in comparison.

Besides, all elections come at a colossal cost where the taxpayer has to dole out the expenses for basically choosing between one, or the other big party political dynasties which have been alternately see-sawing in power since independence.  The main legitimate worry in such a scenario concerns its replacement, which has an equally bad, if not worse track record of governance. The voters, over the last two and a half decades or so, have had low expectancy of what successive governments can achieve.

Any election entails a huge logistics operation. And a general election is a more complicated process. There are hundreds of candidates and the counting process may take several days. The elections department mobilizes thousands of state workers from other state agencies to man polling booths and count votes. The costs would include payment to officials on election duty, food, transport and printing.

Taxpayers will fork out some
Rs. 4 billion for the cost of staging the August 17 election, eight months after paying about Rs. 3 billion for holding the presidential election. Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya estimates that candidates in some of the larger districts collectively spend about Rs. 3.5 billion to Rs. 4 billion on campaigns.

The immense amount of resources needed for campaigning is attributed to the main reason honest or less dishonest politicians are rare in Sri Lanka and drug dealers and other criminal elements enter Sri Lanka’s parliament. Others who are financed by various backers then engage in corruption to steal from the taxpayer to recoup their money. Members of the elected ruling class often try to get some extra money to put aside a little for the next campaign.

The party leaders get most of the money, according to analysts who know the inside of how the parties’ system works. The party leadership is a coveted position in Sri Lanka. Dodgy businessmen seeking political patronage call on party leaders with bags full of cold cash and hand them over personally in similarity to offering a birthday gift to a friend. It goes without saying that there is no accounting for it. It is known as the champagne contribution to the campaign.

How can we expect quality governance from elected representatives when many of them are facing serious charges some for serious crimes including murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and rape. The most common legend about parliament is that today’s MPs are the most corrupt, self-seeking and downright crooked bunch ever.  In fact, parliamentary history is stuffed with rogues and the Assembly has been soaked in corruption for much of its recent history.

In Sri Lanka, candidates not only compete among parties, but also against other candidates in the same party to win their ‘preferences’. The battle for preferential votes sometimes goes beyond poster campaigns to fisticuffs and gun-battles even among the same party contenders and constituents.

Governments, for too long now have been looking upon this nation as a convenient cash cow which they have all been responsible for milking dry. The main contribution of many of them while commanding the scene, has been to dole out patronage and divvy up concessions to their sycophants and camp followers. Opulence has become a sort of natural habitat for these parasitic politicians and those who have become part of their enchanting corrupt circuit.

Few of them have shown much interest in the problems of the ordinary people. Rather, they have seen public office as a route to riches and have stopped at little to win power or hold on to it. Besides, it would only be logical to perceive that so many who have comprised the mammoth Cabinets are a liability to both the government and the nation.
There is also a great deal of concern that attempts to keep tainted candidates out of politics have been blocked by political parties across the spectrum. All but idiots or liars would claim to be unaware over how the blatant display of money power in politics has risen drastically through the years.

The elections chief has requested prospective candidates to hand in their assets declaration forms along with their nominations. An Elections Dept official said that assets declaration could be handed over within three months, but the EC has requested that presenting them along with their nominations would set a good precedence.

Still, some voters might have a certain regard for individual politicians and might just avert their eyes from the dictatorial images their parties represent.

It is incumbent on every government to guarantee everyone’s civic right to participate in democratic politics without threat to their lives and on equal terms.

Commissioner Deshapriya has said that the Department’s theme for this year is ‘The vote is your right; the vote is your voice, so vote without any fear.’  True Mr. Elections Commissioner we can all vote without fear, but the question is for whom? We have hardly any choice in this confounded electoral muddle we are confronted with.

The choice we face is from a rogues’ gallery montage to decide on the lesser of two evils.  Indeed, a most difficult proposition in today’s political environment.
gdgasross@gmail.com