In a few days Sri Lankan voters will pick the men and women they believe are best able to represent their interest in Parliament. This will be the seventh occasion that people will be elected through the Proportional Representation (PR) system that came into effect with the 1978 Constitution.
Even the once ardent supporters of that piece of legislation and who of course benefited from it have gone on record to condemn it as being terribly flawed and that overall people do not get represented in the way they ought to in a functioning democracy.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution was supposed to rectify things. It was one of the key election promises of Maithripala Sirisena’s election campaign. Corrective legislation would be seen through within 100 days of him assuming office, he pledged. This promise was emphatically repeated by his staunchest ally, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Finally, in what was clearly a move to circumvent possible embarrassment of the COPE Report on the Central Bank bond issue, Parliament was dissolved. That was the end of the 20th Amendment.
And so, the voters have to pick candidates through a process that appears democratic in that they all have to go to the polling booth and mark preference but one which does not yield a true representation of public will. The wealthy have the edge. They always did, but the PR system gave them the inside track as well. Those who have a lot of money or are backed by those who do (in anticipation of future benefits obviously) stand a better chance than those who don’t.
The other problem of course is that one might like a candidate but not be in agreement with the ideology or policies of his/her party. Yes, there are lots of problems with the PR system. And there’s nothing that the voter can do about it at this point.
So first we vote for the party of choice, unless we decide to boycott or spoil it. But if we have decided on this party or that, then we have the responsibility to pick the candidates of our choice. It is here that we have to sweat. We have to wade through the propaganda, see beyond leaflets, hoardings, cut-outs and other promotional material tossed at us. We have to assess not just the claims, but the track records.
In short, although we have to pick from a set that is certainly not made of the best citizens that parties can find (the best have tended to shun politics, again for obvious reasons), but the best of the by and large pedestrian bunch that parties pencil into their lists. Even among them, there are good people. There are truly capable individuals whose work does not require advertising. There are people who are decent. Some are honest. Some are civilized.
Sure, it might be hard to distinguish one from the other, but then again who said democracy and democratic and civic responsibility was as easy as drinking a glass of water? It’s a tough ask, but we better sweat a bit even if it is only to earn the right to say ‘we did our best’.