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Selecting election candidates

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 7 October 2017 00:00

By Bernard Fernando

I allude to the recent letters to the Editor by Peter Wijetunge and Dr. A.C. Visvalingam seeking public views on the above subject.

Improve efficiency of public sector institutions

At the outset, my view is that Wijetunge’s suggestion seems practical only for Local Govt. elections provided they are held in a de-politicised environment devoid of any political hues. A proposal to depoliticise Local Govt. elections was made by the writer through an article to the press titled ‘An alternate system to Local Govt. elections’ as far back as in 1997. Well, after 20 years it looks like some people still feel that they need political intervention to resolve their problems at grass-root level. 

The stubborn fact is that many a times people tend to go behind politicians to get undue favours done! In our view, the real solution lies in enhancing the work ethic, efficiency and effectiveness of the systems and procedures in the Govt. offices, Police and the Judiciary. Under a robust decentralised public administration system buttressed by advanced information and communication technology, media and transport, we should surely jettison our overt dependence and subservience to politicians.

Select political professionals

Let me now dwell on the subject matter covering the much larger provincial and national elections. People have witnessed the recurring, unprofessional conduct and unproductive contributions from many of our present ‘Mace-raiding’ Provincial Councillors and Parliamentarians who make a mess out of the sacred Parliament premises!

The shattered and disillusioned voting public now crave for ‘good and disciplined behaviour’ and  enhanced productivity from the provincial and central parliaments through selection of a decent, honest, incorrupt, ethical and a principled set of political professionals who will always place the country first in their agenda.

Voters have failed in electing most suitable persons

Hitherto, our voters have exhibited a good sense in changing governments. But in regard to selection of individual candidates they have failed miserably. For example they have voted teledrama actresses and cricketers, beating experienced politicians. They have also sent to Parliament inexperienced candidates, defeating efficient parliamentarians as well as candidates languishing in remand jail for criminal acts. 

Let us not hide the fact that our sincere and simple voters are swayed by temporary handouts/bribes in the form of cash and kind doled out by money throwing and notoriously popular politicians.

Only alternative and methodology for selecting candidates

In this scenario, the only alternative is to compel the respective parties to field their best teams of political professionals in district-wise merit order to achieve the goals of the country as well as the goals of their respective election manifesto at provincial and national level.

For this purpose, the parties as corporate entities should introduce at the behest of the Elections Dept/Commission, a robust, unbiased and a very transparent process of screening followed by a meticulously structured interview method to select their nominees. The screening criteria already set out by PAFFREL through the ‘All-Party March 12th declaration’ surely had a salutary effect on party nominations at the last general election. This process must be further strengthened and given legal teeth by the Elections Commission. Towards this end, I suggest the following measures.

1) Strengthen PAFFREL pre-interview criteria with following additional criteria.

i) The applicant should have at least two passes in GCE (A/Level) in not more than three sittings. (It is not a tall order in the present times.)

ii) Should possess at least one added professional qualification from a recognised professional body (even a diploma would do).

iii) Should produce at the interview a less than one-month-old good health record certified by a registered medical practitioner.

iv) Should be below 75 years of age as at the last date for nominations.

Note: The above is not an exhaustive list and more conditions may be added to achieve the citizen’s objective of deriving a reasonable return for their investment by having professional politicians in the provinces and the Parliament.

2) Under the structured interview method, numerical values shall be adduced to traits such as multi-lingual skills, debating ability, social integration, political, legal, general knowledge and overall suitability. Special weightage should be added to women in order to place them in an electable position in the District merit list of the party to fulfil gender representation requirement. Parties may add more value categories to improve quality of selection.

3) The aforesaid sets of basic, pre-interview criteria and value categories should be published or gazetted by Elections Commission/Dept. well in advance of the date of nominations so that parties can frame their pre-Interview screening process and structured interview methods. Thereafter, parties can complete the screening and interview process; prepare their preliminary district merit lists of candidates and publish same in at least one national newspaper in Sinhala, Tamil and English  before a specified date well in advance for public to raise any objections also before a specified date with the Elections Dept.

4) If there are valid objections conveyed by the Elections Dept. the parties should amend their lists accordingly, before submitting them on the nominations date.

5) The parties should certify the correctness of the pre-interview information to the returning officer through an affidavit. Any, immediate misinformation should allow the returning officer to reject the name of such nominee/s or else if found later can be contested through an election petition.

By following the above method, it should be possible to erase the public opinion that the party leader is the sole selector of candidates. On the contrary, the parties would become the best judges for selecting election candidates in district-wise merit order.

We appeal to all readers and civil activists to support this proposed system of ‘modern representative democracy’ to ensure a professional and a productive parliamentary system where MP’s chit system, crossovers, ‘hung’ or ‘unstable’ Parliaments would relegate into the limbo of forgotten things!

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