Over the past decade and more, I have consistently said we have no “political parties” and what we have are only “dinner parties”. This downright condemnation of political parties and their leaderships have good reason. Most decisions announced, and statements made at media briefings by “party spokesmen” as “party decisions” with a “party banner” displayed are decisions taken by the party leader at private, closed-door dinner parties with few close confidantes.
In this society no one bothers about these ugly, undemocratic political life of parties and their leaders. Yet we have come all this distance in the wrong direction decided by them. Even the Elections Department and the Commission pay no attention to this arrogant political presence of these parties. There is plenty of ambiguity too in election laws that “recognise” political parties and allow for “leadership arrogance”. Under Sub-section 08(9) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 01 of 1981 in relation to Section 07, does not define who a “member of a recognised political party” is. That allows party leader to appoint anyone loyal to him (even with ‘her’ no difference) at his discretion to any position in the party. Listed criteria for recognition of political parties as per gazette issued on 21 of January 2022, party constitutions should not include “provisions or clauses that may form the basis for social divisions such as race, religion, caste, or tribe” (Section 1.5). But political parties with clear racial labels such as “Sinhala, Sinhala Ravaya, Thamil, Thamil Eelam, Muslim” have been accepted as duly recognised.
Sub-section 08(9) of the Elections Act under “Office bearers” in section 02 says, provision should be made for “Woman representation in one of the major positions in the office bearers”. Have we heard of a woman president, general secretary or a treasurer in mainstream political parties during the past 20 years or so?
“Annual conference and district assemblies in a given year” are only “major political activity” for the Elections Department and not as necessary events within a democratic process. With no clear definition and recognition of party membership, organising and establishing “branch societies” are not seen as democratic structures of a party organisation. Absence of democratic processes in political parties allow political leaderships to establish themselves as “owners” of the party in collaboration with the “filthy rich” who fund party headquarters, promotional campaigns and elections.
These political leaderships living on non-taxed, filthy rich funding elected to government will never be “clean” and “accountable” to the People. In a heavily corrupt free market economy, mega corruption in governance is due to close collaboration of party leaderships with the filthy rich ably assisted by the top State bureaucracy and professionals. In these free market economies rarely do we see businesses without State and political collaborations. Changing of governments between the two main political parties often with smaller parties and groups in alliance from JRJ through Premadasa, CBK, MR and Sirisena-Wickramasinghe combination to the present prove local corruption has rapidly grown into offshore black money accumulations with mega corruption seeping into every social cleavage and State agency.
It is these filthy, corrupt collaborations that decide nominations especially for parliamentary elections. Administrative districts turned into large electoral collectives under proportional representation by JRJ, now denies people the opportunity to contest as “independents” as they did under the previous “first past the post” system. Thus, the monopoly of political cabals providing lists of candidates under recognised party labels that people have to vote for. It is no different with presidential candidates as well. Exclusive interests with political collaborations decide on Sinhala Buddhist candidates whom they brand as “Common” candidate or as “People’s, Patriotic, or Strong and Clean” candidate. During the last 03 presidential elections, from Fonseka to Sirisena and then to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, all were decided by exclusive interests. The ground is tilled in advance for the candidate of their choice and offered to the majority Sinhala Buddhist constituency as the winning “alternate” to the incumbent.
To be precise, both the “candidate” and the “voter” are made to fit into the agenda of the Sinhala-Buddhist political leaderships hand in glove with the filthy rich. Shift in political power between the two major political leaderships makes no difference to highflying corrupt dealers, to the awfully corrupt professionals and State authorities. For the divided Sinhala Buddhist voter that anyway vote for a “saviour” of this Sinhala-Buddhist “unitary State”, the only difference is they lose political dominance in their locality they once held or regain the previously lost. The ability and the capacity of the big-time wheeler dealers in politics to decide who governs the country is never lost with major political cabals recognised as “political parties” by the Elections Department.
This vicious trap cannot be busted by demanding “good, clean leaders”. That can never happen with unbelievably corrupt political leaderships surviving as corrupt political entities. This vicious cycle of having to elect looting political cabals that know no democracy and are not disciplined to govern a culturally diverse society and do not respect parliamentary traditions and decorum are no answer for decent governments.
Democracy and accountability are not for them. It is therefore time people demand democratising of political parties, or demand they are legally dissolved for “people centric” political collectives to step in.
Democratising political parties with sordid leaderships would also be tough trekking. It requires a determined society laying down hard and firm conditions without compromises. People would need to force election authorities to enforce conditions making them the law. It would have to be a “fork move”, targeting not only political leaderships but also election authorities at the same time.
It is therefore about two campaign platforms. One, demanding existing law to be strictly enforced and information brought to public domain for People to know what is taking place and how. That begins with demands presented to election authorities to,
1. place in public domain audited statements of accounts of all government and opposition political parties received under Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the electoral law
2. place their observations in public domain of Annual General Meetings and Special Meetings held according to specified time frames as mentioned in Section 1.4
3. inform public of political parties that violate Section 2.1 as regards Woman representation in one of the main party positions.
The other campaign platform that should be parallel to the above is to demand,
a. election authorities make declarations of duly audited family assets and liabilities of all candidates for any election mandatory by law at the time of handing over nominations, and holding the political party responsible for such declarations by rejecting the total nomination list if any declaration of a candidate is absent
b. election authorities fix maximum district election fund allowed for a political party and that of an individual candidate in parliamentary and provincial council election campaign
c. all political parties declare their total national election fund with funding sources included within one week from any election date
d. all political parties decentralise their nomination process allowing their “district assemblies” to decide on nominees, so as to hold the elected responsible to the people in the provinces and in districts.
Sri Lanka has by now crawled to its last lap of survival with much difficulty. From all what is being uttered on numerous forums, it is evident no political leadership has answers to the forex crisis and the economic chaos that drags this country into a socio-economic disaster. We need more than a paradigm shift to climb out of this political mess which is what it is, right at the bottom. Unless and until People decide to demand democratising of recognised political parties, it is ridiculous to keep asking for “clean and educated leadership” to govern this country. Miracles don’t happen with extremely corrupt political leaderships. People have to choose between these nauseatingly corrupt political cabals and the need for democracy and good governance. Time is running out fast for all.
2022 February 20