Are all losers unqualified? By M.S.M. Ayub

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  • Party leaders just pick up candidates of their choice for these slots
  • There is no set criteria for the appointment of National List candidates in any law
  • Had Ranil’s party contested in the last general election in a united form, he would have obtained the highest preferential votes
  • A small group of ministers including the President and PM take all the important decisions
  • Ranil was defeated because he was deserted by most of the parliamentarians of his own party
  • There is a grave misconception even among learned people on defeated candidates entering Parliament through the National List

 

People entering the Parliament as MPs during a mid-term of it is a common phenomenon, but the gossipmongers among politicians and journalists attempted to have a field day with the appointment of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the solitary national list seat in Parliament won by his party, the United National Party (UNP).
Some media outlets gave a running commentary after the UNP took the decision on its national list seat a few days ago, by carrying stories about the UNP’s decision on the appointment, Mr. Wickremesinghe agreeing with it, UNP General Secretary’s communication of the decision to the Elections Secretariat, Elections Secretariat’s communication in turn to the Secretary General of the Parliament and Wickremesinghe’s decision to take oaths as an MP on June 23 instead of June 22, the first day of the Parliamentary week.

Politicians and certain media outlets also spread stories on Wickremesinghe’s possible appointment as the Opposition Leader and defection of a large number of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs to the UNP. The stories though unfounded seemed to have such an impact on the SJB that the Parliament group of the party had passed a resolution in support of its leader Sajith Premadasa on June 7, while Premadasa was in hospital recovering from COVID-19.

“Politicians and certain media outlets also spread stories on Wickremesinghe’s possible appointment as the Opposition Leader and defection of a large number of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs to the UNP”

However, when a journalist asked about these stories during an interview, Wickremesinghe simply pooh-poohed them by questioning back “how can it happen?”  However, going by the interviews several journalists had with Wickremesinghe on the eve of his re-entry to the Parliament where he played various roles as a minister, Prime Minister and Opposition leader, the media seem to be of the view that he could not play any serious role in the House. Some of them were attempting to extract gossip stories from the former Prime Minister throughout the interview, rather than engaging in a serious discussion with him who is very much capable of it. He refrained from sharing gossip during those interviews and it is not clear whether the interviewers understood the message Wickremesinghe gave in his answers. At some points he even embarrassed them.

Mr. Wickremesinghe made a pertinent point on the containment of COVID-19 during his first speech in Parliament on Wednesday. His argument that the Cabinet should take charge of the COVID-19 issue as a head of a department cannot instruct a Secretary to a ministry was legally sound, and had been shared before, during discussions with the media. But the question remains as to what can the Cabinet do in the present context in this regard? Even now it is a small group of ministers including the President and the Prime Minister that takes all the important decisions.

It is a well-known fact that the lock downs, curfews and vaccination are not decided by the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 (NOCPC) headed by the Army Commander General Shavendra Silva. It is doubtful if there would be takers for his advices and his re-entry to Parliament would make any difference in the affairs of the Parliament or in the overall governance of the country.

“Mr. Wickremesinghe made a pertinent point on the containment of COVID-19 during his first speech in Parliament on Wednesday”

Social media activists had made fun of Wickremesinghe as he entered Parliament as a defeated candidate of the General Election held on August 5, last year. In fact this is an opportune time a dialogue on the issue as a Parliamentary Select Committee on Election law reforms chaired by Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena is entertaining proposals from political parties and there is a grave misconception even among learned people on defeated candidates entering Parliament through the National List.

The rationale behind the criticism against the nomination of defeated candidates for the National List slots has been that people have rejected those candidates. On the other hand, this criticism stems from the absurd notion that people were prudent in using their franchise and are making right decisions at elections.

People always make mistakes, at times as a whole while at another individually, at elections. They collectively made a glaring blunder at the 1982 referendum for the annulment of Parliamentary election scheduled to be held in 1984. The documented election violence point to the fact that the referendum was highly fraudulent, but its result stands to-date and treated as people’s verdict. Again it was the people who gave power to the ruling People’s Alliance (PA) at the 1999 Wayamba Provincial Council election showing utter disregard to the horror that was unleashed against the UNP supporters by the hooligans of the ruling party.

In today’s context voters are driven by various factors real as well as deceptive when they elect parties and individuals as their representatives at elections. A classic example of the working of deceptive factors could be observed by comparing the preferential votes received by two UNP candidates, Party’s Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and actress Upeksha Swarnamali alias Paba at the 2010 General Election from Gampaha District.
Interestingly the young actress had outdone the veteran politician at her political debut, raising questions about the validity of “people’s verdict.” Had the cut-off line between the winners and losers lain between Jayasuriya and Paba, the latter would have been in parliament while the UNP’s Deputy Leader would have been a “disqualified” candidate. Also on what grounds Sanath Jayasuriya was elected by the voters of Matara District with the highest number of preferential votes among contestants from the UPFA, in the same year?

“It is doubtful if there would be takers for his advices and his re-entry to Parliament would make any difference in the affairs of the Parliament or in the overall governance of the country”

Premalal Jayasekara, a murder suspect who contested from Ratnapura District on behalf of UPFA while being in the prison bagged over 150,000 “manapes” (preferential votes) in 2015 while former senior ministers from the same party such as John Seneviratne and Pavithra Wanniarachchi were lagging way behind him. Seneviratne got only about 90,000 preferential votes and Wanniarachchi could only muster about half the number that was obtained by Jayasekara. Therefore it goes without saying that there is every chance for the people to defeat “qualified” or better or not so bad candidates while electing fraudsters and thugs at election.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) appointed Sunil Handunnetti, a defeated candidate for one of the two National List slots it obtained at the 2015 election. Irrespective of party differences, anybody would attest to Handunneti’s credentials.

There are no set criteria for the National List candidates in any law. They are not better, in any perception, than the candidate’s contest, irrespective of whether the latter were elected or defeated. Besides, many National List candidates also would have been defeated had they contested at an election from a district. Initially the National List was meant for the appointment of professionals and learned people to the Parliament and to maintain the proper ethnic ratio in the legislature. But almost all parties by now have ignored these criteria.
Constitution or any other law has not provided for the methodology of picking up of the best candidates by the party leaders from their National Lists. Party leaders just pick up candidates of their choice for these slots. Hence there is no assurance that best candidates would be appointed as MPs,even from the National List.

As far as Ranil Wickremesinghe is concerned, he was defeated just because he was deserted by most of the parliamentarians of his own party and thereby by the supporters of the party. Had his party contested the last general election united, he would have obtained the highest preferential votes than other candidates of his party.
Former Chairman of Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the former General Secretary (leader) of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) DEW Gunasekara during a media briefing held a few weeks before the last general election listed four qualifications that a Parliamentarian should possess. They were the capability in contributing to law-making, policy- making, monitoring of public financing and representation of people who elect them to the legislature. This should be the yardstick to assess the qualification of MPs and not whether one was elected or defeated at an election.

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Disclaimer: Are all losers unqualified? By M.S.M. Ayub - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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