Political observers and the media are currently obsessed with the question of who the candidates for the forthcoming Presidential Election will be. While different names are being bandied about, those from the respective political camps when questioned about their choice of candidate almost always come up with the stock answer: “We will decide on a [...]


Policy-driven candidate serves the national interest better than a “winning candidate”


Political observers and the media are currently obsessed with the question of who the candidates for the forthcoming Presidential Election will be.

While different names are being bandied about, those from the respective political camps when questioned about their choice of candidate almost always come up with the stock answer: “We will decide on a candidate who is capable of winning the election.”

It is unfortunate, from a national perspective, that the main criteria of the different political formations for choosing a candidate is his capacity to win the election. What is a matter for great concern is the fact that the public, too, are carried away with the discussion on the potential of the respective contenders to succeed at the Presidential Elections rather than what policies, if any, they espouse.

This again is one of the negative fall outs of the Executive Presidency. One cannot recall any instance under the Parliamentary system prior to 1978 where the entire focus was on the individual who was likely to become the Prime Minister.

Under that system the prospective Prime Ministerial candidates were easily identifiable, but the discussion invariably centred on the suitability or otherwise of the policies of the respective political parties.

Principled politics based on policies have increasingly become irrelevant in the Sri Lankan political discourse, but the time is opportune for this to be reversed and a value-based Governance to be put in place.

The significance of the change that took place in January 2015 was that it was able to halt and thereafter reverse the country’s movement towards an authoritarian State.

Despite the many disappointments in achieving all the objectives that the Yahapalana movement set out for itself, one cannot discount the progress made in several areas.

One of the significant improvements that have come about from the January 2015 changes is undoubtedly the opening up of the democratic space in the country. The citizenry breathes freely, and expression of dissent, which is an integral part of democracy, is taken for granted and is common place.

So much so that the President and the Prime Minister, as well as other Government leaders, are mercilessly lampooned without their critics running the risk of physical harm or any other repercussions.

Yet there remains a great deal of unfinished business that has to be completed.

When viewed from this perspective, the 2019 Presidential Elections is even more critical than the elections of 2015. A decision taken on the basis of wrong considerations by the voter can not only reverse the gains of the post January 2015 period, but also take it down the path of democratic no return that can impact adversely on the future of the country.

There is thus an imperative need for the country as a whole, but more so for civil society and political thinkers, to influence the national discourse in a way that will result in the best possible candidates being thrown up for consideration by the elector.

Although the 19th Amendment has considerably whittled down the powers of the all powerful Executive Presidency (another achievement of the Yahapalana Government) the individual elected to this office in December 2019 will determine the outcome of the Parliamentary Elections that will follow, and will therefore shape the trajectory of Governance post 2020.

It is, therefore, important that the personalities who contest at the forthcoming Presidential Elections are evaluated by the voter within the framework of the policies they articulate, what they have stood for in the past and their actions during their political careers as well as their vision for the future.

A few of the matters that have to be taken into consideration in the choice of who is a suitable candidate to be President are discussed below.

While this is not a comprehensive list, these are some of the factors that will determine the future trajectory of the country.

The first is what a candidate projects as his vision for the country. Does his vision include an inclusive and democratic Sri Lanka where no section of the citizenry is discriminated, and in fact are empowered to achieve their full potential. Is he committed to the Rule of Law rather than the Rule of an Individual, which the office of the Executive Presidency tends to facilitate. What has been the record of such an individual, particularly in the recent past, vis-à-vis these values. Is he committed to the vision that he articulates, or is it only a grand idea designed to persuade the voters to back him. The test will be to see whether he himself practiced these values when he had the opportunity to do so.

Another policy issue relates to the economy and what the strategy is, not only to ensure even development across the country, but equally importantly to ensure a fair and just redistribution of economic wealth among all sections of society.

While the military dimension of the ethnic conflict has been addressed by the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the causes of the conflict and the concerns of the Tamil community have yet to be dealt with. Where do the respective candidates stand on this issue, and what is their track record on the matter, are some of the things the voter will have to take into consideration.

A new phenomenon that the country has to come to grips with is the emergence of hardline groups that have targeted the Muslims with their campaign of hate since 2012. These groups have now become increasingly active and become even more unrelenting after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. What has been the approach of the prospective candidates in allaying the insecurity of the Muslim community, and can such candidates, based on their past record, hold out any assurance of ensuring the security of the Muslim populace?

Another factor that is critical, and therefore has to be taken into consideration by the voter, is the issue of corruption and waste. Since the prospective candidate is offering himself to be elected to high office, he or she must be above board in this regard. A prospective candidate who has substantial and credible allegations of corruption, immediately rules himself or herself out of the running.

It goes without saying that if such an individual has been indicted by the Attorney General, he or she should not even be considered for nomination, since the Attorney General plays a quasi judicial role, and therefore before indictment was served he would have made a determination that there was sufficient evidence against the accused, which if proven, would suffice to convict him or her.

Apart from the various socio-economic issues afflicting the country, it is also relevant to identify the forces that have aligned themselves with and are backing the candidate, in order to make a realistic assessment of his or her thinking on any particular matter. If a candidate’s strongest supporters are persons with a history of hate and communal venom, it is a strong indication that he will be guided and influenced by such forces and will therefore be unlikely to take steps to ensure reconciliation or communal harmony.

The voters will, therefore, be well advised not to look at who is a winning candidate, but rather a potential President with a vision for the country and its people.


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