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Giving voters better options


Comments / 479 Views / Tuesday, 21 March 2017 00:00


Most people love to hate politicians. But President Maithripala Sirisena believes that can be changed, converting ‘yes men’ into honourable men. Given Sri Lanka’s political circumstances and history, a more daunting feat has possibly never been attempted.  

Speaking at the opening ceremony of ‘Deshapalana Shasthralaya’ (political academy), inaugurated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Youth Front at the SLFP headquarters over the weekend, President Sirisena was insistent that Sri Lanka needed to groom politicians capable of thinking for themselves, forming progressive policies and having the capacity to stand up to their superiors. This is a tall order for several reasons. 

Most politicians are drawn from the grassroots level and the more they work for the party the better their chances of getting an opportunity to contest at elections. In all Sri Lankan political parties seniors play a powerful and often all-encompassing role with lower party members having to toe their line. This inherent hierarchy is so deeply entrenched that being a relative of a party senior is a massive advantage to advancing within the party. 

The closer the relationship to politicians at the top the faster a newbie advances up the ranks. At times the hierarchy is so calcified that young, dynamic politicians often have to wait years before they are recognised or they are blocked from advancement by people with vested interests. 

A lucky few can leapfrog the drudgery at the grassroots level if they have access to money and connections but such advantages usually come with their own agendas, which would hinder a fundamentally well-intentioned person from acting honestly. To break through these limitations by “standing up” for what is progressive and true is a near impossible task, even for people who are backed by wealth and connections. 

Party seniors are often well-versed in what works with their electorate. It is no secret that winning elections requires well-funded campaigns, replete with giveaways and extravagant promises. It is very hard for any politician to make his mark without promising jobs to his faithful, and largesse to those around him. When he finally attains a position of importance the politician is expected to dole out Government jobs and other perks to his supporters to keep them loyal for the next round of elections. This cycle of elections, while undoubtedly being fundamental to the ethos of democracy, also undermines anti-corruption initiatives and sustainable policymaking. 

When a citizen takes a step back and looks at the macro picture, the task of cleaning up politics and encouraging honest politicians to the fore, whether they are men or women, seems almost impossible. Party leaders have to change the fundamental structures of their parties so that a merit-based system is established to identify and groom the most promising individuals. They must be singled out because they are educated, accomplished and ambitious. The entire moral and ethical landscape of politics would have to change radically for this to even be possible. 

Usually when countries are starving for good governance the ball is passed to the voter and they are told to elect better representatives. But in Sri Lanka the voters are more than willing, as was demonstrated in January 2015, yet it is clear they deserve better options to choose from. If President Sirisena can foster a competent and honest string of politicians it may well be the greatest service to Sri Lanka.        

       


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