Sri Lanka’s esteemed politicos are back in form, eschewing democratic debate in favour of thuggery and fisticuffs. If citizens were starting to believe the façade of peace and unity that is the National Government, then the recent Parliamentary brawl is sure to put things into perspective. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After the recent brawl, many Sri Lankans are surely flashing back to a similar brawl in 2004. It is now abundantly clear to all that despite a reshuffling of the deck, the politicos running amok in Parliament are the same who have done so for most of this country’s independent history. If a revolution in our political discourse has failed, then the people have no choice but to push for reform instead – a sound Parliamentary Code of Conduct could be a good start.
Despite being the oldest democracy in South Asia, Sri Lanka’s Parliament has never really won much respect in terms of its behaviour and coincidently hasn’t had the benefit of a sound and coherent Code of Conduct. For years the House has been viewed by the public as a circus, where the members provide entertainment with their embarrassing antics. In fact, the capacity for lucid, fact-based and courteous discussion has all but died – if it was ever alive to begin with. A Code of Conduct does not guarantee such discourse but can at least mitigate and punish the occurrence of such disgraceful behaviour.
This is not a new idea but one that has been put forward by both politicians and civil society for some time now. The Sri Lankan public has always known on some level that corruption and politics merely represent two sides of the same coin in the moral and ethical wasteland that is Sri Lankan politics. The pervasive nature of this belief, which cuts across the total spectrum of Sri Lankan society, is the direct result of decades of rampant political corruption perpetrated by members from all major political parties at one time or another. If we are to make this wasteland hospitable to democracy, then we must begin by sowing the seeds for a Code of Conduct.
There is little to no doubt over how an elected member of Parliament should conduct himself, but there are several question marks over what repercussions should be suffered by those who fail to adhere to such codes of conduct. A Code of Conduct will not be an easy task to draft and implement but it should be painfully evident at this juncture that it is needed. One cannot simply walk away from punching an MP square in the face in the middle of the House that is meant to represent the people’s democratic aspirations.
The one thing we citizens can take away from this most recent brawl is that our politicos seem to have taken a break from assaulting the people in order to assault each other. Perhaps every black eye has a silver lining.