An Opposition MP defected to the Government ranks on Wednesday in what was purportedly ‘news’ only because the widely expected ‘jump’ was strenuously denied all along by the young lawmaker. He said he was quitting his seat in Parliament to contest the forthcoming provincial elections on behalf of the ruling party, opting to be a [...]


The choice of leaders; not people


An Opposition MP defected to the Government ranks on Wednesday in what was purportedly ‘news’ only because the widely expected ‘jump’ was strenuously denied all along by the young lawmaker. He said he was quitting his seat in Parliament to contest the forthcoming provincial elections on behalf of the ruling party, opting to be a small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish in a small pond.

The move betrayed a sense of panic in the Government camp if what the MP said is true; that the President caved in and offered him the Chief Ministership should the ruling party win in the North Western Province. The President has now asked his party’s National Organiser to smooth ruffled feathers within the party for giving prominence to high-jumpers and pole-vaulters rather than dyed-in-the-wool party loyalists, but that is a political matter.

What all this makes patently obvious is that Provincial Council elections are all about winning votes; a testimony to the fact that these elections are nothing more than prestige battles between contending political parties than means of efficient devolution of political and administrative power from the Centre (Colombo) to the periphery (provinces).

The battle in the North seems a similar story as the credentials of the Chief Ministerial candidate from the most favoured party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have sent that party into a spin, even throwing its basic demands – land and police powers — into the backburner while it sorts out its internal squabbles about candidates.

Political parties contesting these worthless provincial councils are in a dither at election time and often go for candidates who can garner votes by hook or by crook rather than seeking to upgrade the quality of politics by selecting those who can serve the people, the province and the country in an honest, decent and efficient manner.

If these local provincial level politicians are to be the nursery for national level politics, woe-betide politics in the country. The slide has already long begun and the quality of parliamentary debates is the sad, but inevitable reflection of this decline. Last August, on the eve of provincial elections to three other councils we wrote in this space;

“The choice of persons to fill these seats is another vexed issue. So much of corruption in the provinces has been placed at the doorstep of these councillors, usually from the ruling party. From sand-mining mafias, to timber felling mudalalis, to peddlers of drugs to gun-toting thugs – all have their patronage if not the connivance of this new breed of ruling elite in the provinces. “The same example, or malaise has trickled to many local government councils right down to the Pradeshiya Sabhas whose chairmen are repeatedly getting arrested for rape, shootings and the like”.

Nothing has changed; if at all it has only got aggravated. The responsibility for the decline in standards of the country’s politicians lies squarely with the mainstream political parties. It is not the crème de la crème, but the dregs who are usually nominated.

‘Winning at any cost’ is the credo. The Indian Supreme Court has in a landmark judgment prohibited those with criminal records from contesting for public office. Why not Sri Lanka? Can anyone blame the humble voters for the disillusionment and distaste with which they regard today’s politicians?

Protocol also becomes political

The Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement this week taking up cudgels over a comment made by a British MP who said he would “confront” the President of Sri Lanka over what he called a “cover up” of the investigation into the murder of a British tourist on Christmas Day 2011, deep in the south of this island-nation.

It was a foolhardy comment to have been made by the MP, which probably cost him the opportunity of meeting the President and raising the issue. This was an attempt at one-upmanship that fell flat on its face.

The inordinate delay in a prosecution for that horrific Christmas Day murder is unfortunate to say the least. When prosecutions are launched at the speed of greased lightning in the case of Government’s opponents, the lackadaisical approach taken when one of their own men is involved, is in stark contrast.

It only goes to illustrate what is now in this Government’s DNA; that it will do everything possible to sweep things under the carpet if one of its men is implicated in criminal activity, and is galvanised into action, only grudgingly, when international pressure is applied to get things done.

The Ministry’s statement otherwise is a joke, especially when it talks about protocol. While in this instance, it is correct, i.e. that an MP has no right to an audience with the President of a country, its sermon on protocol is laughable. Protocol is the one thing that neither the Ministry nor the President’s Office, past and present, can afford to pontificate about.

Presidents in this country are known to give farewell dinners to ambassadors and have their gates open to some favourites. There was one President who personally telephoned ambassadors and asked for visas for “his constituents”. It came to a point when those ambassadors avoided taking the President’s calls. Cabinet Ministers are in and out of foreign embassy functions, and National Day functions of other countries are attended by half the Cabinet when there is a designated Minister for the reception. MPs are known to hobnob with junior diplomats.

When the Indian National Security Adviser or the US Assistant Secretary of State arrive they get an appointment with the country’s Head of State and Head of Government. He is even billed to meet Tamil Nadu fishermen soon. The whole edifice of the Government’s bureaucracy is sidelined at such meetings and part of the reason could be because the Head of State is also a working politician, running the Government. The MEA statement says, “For any visiting delegate below the level of a head of State/Government, a meeting with the President would be a privilege, as it would be in keeping with accepted diplomatic protocol and is unthinkable in Western countries”. The Ministry must ask itself if it keeps to such diplomatic protocol only when it suits it.

The lines of protocol have been so blurred in Sri Lanka that Colombo-based foreign embassies think nothing of writing direct to Provincial Councils or statutory boards seeking meetings and answers to their queries. A little stricter practice of protocol procedures might do some good all round but standards have slipped so much that those expected to uphold them would need some lessons first.

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