Nominations are a massive part of a parliamentary election process. True to form, thousands of people are queuing up at various political party offices around the country desperate to be given their chance to make it into a slot of power and influence.
The United National Party (UNP) this week noted that they had received over 16,000 applications, so many more than they had expected that they have had to allocate extra resources to comb through the many aspirants.
The media have also been quick to highlight the clash for nominations and civil society leaders, led by Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, have called for political parties to give nominations only to people who do not have allegations of crime or corruption against them. Appeals have also been made to the public to be more discerning in choosing their representatives and vote only for those who will at least attempt to work for the good of the country.
When it comes to nominations there seems to be a double standard for men and women in Sri Lanka where the latter are held up to stronger ideals and standards than their male counterparts. Much more attention is paid to women who seek and are ultimately given nominations rather than men. But given Sri Lanka’s woeful track-record for women representation it is clearly essential for women to be given prominence, not out of pity but because they have legitimately earned it. Parties that have the courage to be progressive could well forge social change through this election and women seeking the chance to do so should be respected and judged parallel to male candidates.
During the last parliamentary election, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made it a point to seek celebrities to join him, appealing alike to cricketers and actresses to join his campaign hoping perhaps for added glamour. He did the same during presidential polls in January with the ill-timed and some would argue pointless invitation of Bollywood actor Salman Khan and actress Jacqueline Fernandez to be present during campaigning.
As Rajapaksa’s popularity waned on incumbency fatigue, the glamour also faded. Ultimately, parties that resort to theatrics have short lives if they do not have the reputation to add substance to borrowed glamour. Both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP have to be aware that the public’s patience is short and should not be put upon too much.
The SLFP, as the key element in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), has the greatest responsibility in ensuring the President’s mandate of good governance is not sullied by petty political considerations.
President Sirisena would be respected for his steadfastness if he puts actions into words and ensures members with corruption allegations are left in the cold. He cannot, with a conscience, endorse nominations for the dozens of parliamentarians under the previous Government that openly abused their power and pushed the country towards ethnic tension and unequal growth.
But politics they say is only the art of the possible. With one UNP supporter falling to election violence barely a week into the polls race, the campaigning is shaping up to be a bitter battle. This is a time for leadership that looks beyond 17 August to manage a campaign that does not divide after the polls fall silent.