14th November 1999

Ven. Soma's moral force against immoral politics

By Ven. Soma

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Ven. Gangoda- wila Soma Thera, in the centre stage of many a controversy over his outspoken views which have irked the politicians and minority groups, is building up a moral force to clean up what he sees as the immoral political system of Sri Lanka.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, he says that this moral force will show immoral politicians its power in the upcoming elections. Excerpts:

Q: Why are you asking the people to spoil their vote?

A: The ballot is a valuable weapon of a democratic system. In our country, neither the politicians nor the people know to safeguard the importance of the ballot. People are using their votes without understanding the importance of it.

Soon after independance, the population rallied around five political groups led by Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, N.M. Perera, Peter Keuneman and Phillip Gunewardene. However, 90 percent of the people did not understand the purpose of rallying behind political parties. They cast their vote with blind belief in whatever promises the politicians made, and with only the wish to gain some personal profit. The nation's interest with the future at heart was lacking. The voters never took into consideration traditions and the culture of the country.

We cannot blame the people because politicians found it profitable not to educate them, knowing that if the people gained a proper understanding of the voting process it would be difficult to manipulate them the way they wished. This is why for more than 40 years the people of this country used the vote in a mentally retarded fashion.

The leaders gave into immorality in earning the national income. Thus in the years that followed every government resorted to tobacco, alcohol and gambling as a means of revenue, little realising that it would lead to people becoming addicted to these, spending all their hard earned money and inevitably becoming impoverished.

None of the political parties active today is committed to oppose this practice of immoral politics. The government has granted permission for 2,000 new liquor shops to be opened. Promises are being given to those who support the party to win the elections, that they will be rewarded with licences to run liquor or bucket-shops.

The UNP does not show any signs of wanting to arrest this cycle of immorality. It appears that even its leadership has rejected the five precepts. No country in the world has thrived on an immoral economic system. We accept the Buddha's philosophy that immorality hastens ones downfall. In the other candidates, too, one cannot find a philosophy suited to change this immoral form of governance. The public should use their votes not just to make a party win, but bearing in mind the future good of the country, race and religion.

If none of the candidates has a vision to halt the immoral cycle in the country and the nation's destruction, how can the public cast their votes in their favour? We are not asking the people to spoil their votes out of animosity towards anyone, or because we are against democracy but because it is the only way to show our dislike of the immoral political system.

Q: Is this not an anti-democratic move?

A: Some may feel that this is against democracy. If the prevailing political system is leading to the destruction of the country and its people, there is no way that responsible people can watch such a thing and remain apathetic.

If you say that this method is anti-democratic, do you mean that to guide the government in a better direction, people must take to arms or that a military coup must be staged? Based on the present political culture is it anti-democratic to reject the political system in place by not voting for the candidates?

Thus by demonstrating the people's protest against the existing political culture is it not possible to make the politicians change their policies and come towards a truly democratic system? I believe it is indeed possible.

Q: Why are you not putting forward an alternative candidate?

A: Many people ask why we are not putting forward a candidate. The main reason is that we are not ready to put forward drunkards, thugs and rascals as candidates. For a moral position of power, one must necessarily nominate people of good morals.

But today the whole country is addicted to alcohol, and it is possible to tempt a person to commit any immoral act by extending a glass of alcohol. Also in politics thuggery has assumed a leading position.

Therefore the first thing that must be done is to instill in people a correct value system giving priority to the moral way of life and to build up a moral force and next through this force to influence the immoral politicians to do what is right by the country.

That is why instead of immediately putting forward a candidate or candidates we decided to use this election to identify the people's interest in moral conduct.

Q: What is the method you're employing to reject the present political system?

A: We are telling the voters to put a cross for every candidate, or make their vote invalid in anyway convenient.

By both these methods they will be rejecting the candidates. This is not rejecting democracy. Why they are rejected is because they are not morally qualified.

Q: Why do you not name persons you would have supported as candidates?

A: While there is a revengeful and destructive political system in place we cannot name these persons in advance. If we show the dishonest politicians the strength of moral force, these people will not be able to harm us and we will use this election to show our force to the leaders. Bhikkus will not stand for election. They have a higher purpose.

Q: What will be the next step?

A: If at least 20-25 percent take our advice and spoil their vote, I will guarantee the coming forward of moral candidates at the General Elections. Even the last time we were able to get 8 to 10 percent of the people to support this. So I do not think it will be difficult to get 25 percent of the people to agree with this way of thinking.

Now what we must first decide is whether the people are going to always be tricked by the politicians and remain within an immoral system and be destroyed day by day, or whether the people want to establish a moral system and prosper within it.

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