On account of the unwarranted diffidence of Sri Lankans when it comes to asserting their constitutional rights, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has found it necessary to assert repeatedly over the years through the media that the People are sovereign and that no one, however mighty, should be allowed to usurp their powers. Nevertheless, the reality is that, once an election is over, our citizens have got used to watching impotently whilst their elected representatives violate with impunity the trust placed in them to manage honestly and efficiently the affairs of the State. The situation has now reached such depths that, without any fear of punishment by his party’s hierarchy, a Member of Parliament recently proclaimed publicly that he and his fellow representatives in the party have made so much money that they will not need to acquire quite so much again, if re-elected – whereas members of the Opposition, if elected to power, would rob much more to make up for lost time! Members of his oown party have not issued a meaningful denial.
We now quote from a 2010 CIMOGG article: “Ad hoc inquiries from friends, relatives, co-workers, retired public officers, shopkeepers, trishaw drivers, businessmen, professionals and other voters indicate that they are quite convinced that virtually all politicians are self-seeking opportunists, irrespective of party affiliations, and that elections merely end up by helping replace one set of opportunists with another. The people interrogated have little doubt that their assessment is logical because they see how much money is spent on capturing or staying in power, and enjoying the fruits thereof. They are fully aware that most of this money is from the State coffers and many questionable sources. The amount of abuse spouted against adversaries, particularly through certain media, and the number of threats, assaults, destruction of opponents’ assets, bomb-throwing, shootings, arson attacks and even murder, which occur during election campaigns, vindicates the public’s belief that it is certainly not the politicians’ concern for their fellow citizens or the truth that motivates them to vie so viciously to be the People’s representatives. The plainly discernible objective of pretty nearly every politician is to appropriate as much as possible of the Nation’s power and wealth for his own benefit and that of his close associates. Once in power, politicians eat as much of the cake as possible but smartly throw out enough crumbs and a mountain of Goebbelsian doublespeak to keep the majority of voters docile. In this scenario, it is not surprising that, sometimes, up to 30-40 per cent or so of the more sckeptical voters refrain from casting their votes or spoil their ballot papers deliberately at our many elections.”
In the final analysis, the only practical measure of control that the public retain over their representatives in our elected assemblies is the right to express their (the public’s) satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the incumbent government by voting appropriately at the next elections. However, this powerful weapon has been devalued by individual voters who assume that their solitary votes would not be likely to have a decisive impact either way. They forget that the 15 mMillion votes in the country are, in fact, all solitary votes.
Defeatist notions must be countered firmly if we are not to throw away unmindfully the sole non-violent weapon that we possess to exercise some influence on the course of government policy-making and executive action so as to create an environment where the Rule of Law and good governance may have a better chance of prevailing.
It is worth mentioning that, whenever the Tamils of the North and East boycotted the polls, they ended up being worse off than before. There is little reason to think that a similar effect does not apply to the rest of the population. The first vital decision, therefore, that the voter must take, in his own interests and that of all his fellow citizens, is to decide that he will definitely cast his vote without letting it go waste. This is an absolutely fundamental civic and social duty.
Now we come to the crucial question as to which candidate one should get one’s vote. Although CIMOGG has strong views on issues of national importance, it is totally independent of party or other group affiliations. In order, therefore, to leave no room for accusation of partiality, we offer only the following neutral suggestions.
Politicians cover a wide spectrum that starts approximately at “cunning, power hungry, insatiably avaricious, intellectually dishonest, backed by every type of anti-social grouping, possessed of great mastery of double-speak and barefaced lying, and excellent communicational abilities” and ends somewhat tamely at “generally honest and patriotic”. There is a whole range of “in-between” types.
If we look at a Presidential election, decision-making regarding whom one should vote for is not so complicated as in, say, electing over 200 MPs to Parliament. There are just 19 contenders this time. By disregarding those who have no significant national record of public service, one would be left with a much shortened list of names – probably fewer than five. The voter may then either make his own assessment of the relative reliability of the candidates in the shortened list or secure the opinion of better-informed and impartial friends. This bit of inquiry is critical because there would be no point in favouring a candidate with a long record of broken promises.
What follows is to assess the relative merits of the candidates. One cannot expect anything approaching perfection in carrying out such an assessment but it should be possible at this stage to eliminate all but those three candidates who have the best combined reputation for integrity, competence, respect for the Rule of Law (especially election laws), refraining from recourse to violence and arson, impartiality, diligence in discouraging all divisive forces that attack the very foundations of national unity, financial responsibility, accountability, and so on.
It needs to be kept in mind that those who have not been in power before will not have had the opportunity of earning a good name or a bad one. On the other hand, one who has been in power would have either the benefit of an acknowledged clean record or may have his copybook blackened by many unlawful acts and breaches of solemn undertakings.
The voter may have strong opinions about whether it is good or bad for a politician to hold Presidential power for one term, two terms or more terms. He (the voter) may also have formed a firm opinion as to whether the office of Executive President should be eliminated or accept a candidate’s promise that its powers will be curtailed. The voter would have to assess which candidates are likely to do what he wants. By the time to vote finally arrives, the voter will have to identify which of the three candidates in his short list is most likely to abide by the commitments made by him in his (the candidate’s) manifesto. In short, there is a great deal of room for the voter to exercise his personal knowledge and judgment.
Let us now think about the current Presidential election. Before the election day, the voter will have made for himself a short list of three names. Armed with this list, under the law, every voter is allowed to mark a “1” against his preferred first choice of candidate, a “2” against his second preference, and a “3” against his third choice. That is all there is to it.
If no candidate receives 50% of the total vote in the first round, only the two candidates each of whom receives more votes than any of the remaining 17 candidates will automatically go the second round. At this stage, all the second preferences received by each of these two candidates will be added to the votes that they obtained in the first round. The second round will usually produce the winner.
The unfettered power to vote for the persons of your choice is what democracy is all about. CIMOGG implores all voters to make sure that they get to the polling stations early in the day on 8 January 2015 as the implications of not voting this time are certain to have more far-reaching adverse effects on this country that in any previous election.
(The writer is the pPresident, of CIMOGG, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance- www.cimogg-srilanka.org)