Supreme Court judgement can help to start process of changing political culture

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Sri Lanka and its peoples have been undergoing difficult times during the past several years due to a multiplicity of reasons–both manmade and climate related.

Mismanagement of the economy and governance failures have placed the citizenry in an unprecedented struggle for existence and driven the country to bankruptcy. Prolonged droughts have taken its toll on the agricultural sector only to be followed by widespread floods that have inundated homes and schools.

Amid this depressing scenario, two events last week brought smiles to the faces of beleaguered Sri Lankans looking for signs of the distant dawn that would herald a better future for them. 

The first was the heartwarming performance of Tharushi Dissanayake who did the country proud with a resounding run at the 800 metres event of the Asian Games earning a gold medal in the process. The second was the judgement of the Supreme Court last week that determined the expulsion of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Deputy Leader Hafiz Nazeer Ahmad, on account of breaching a decision by his party not to vote for the second and third reading of the Appropriation Bill of 2022, as valid.

The Supreme Court judgement was welcome, not on account of its impact on the individual concerned, namely Hafiz Nazeer Ahmad, but because it gave rise to a glimmer of hope that it could contribute to getting rid of the rotten political culture that has bedevilled the country for years. This had greatly contributed to the situation the country is faced with.

Politicians in recent times have often acted with scant regard to the mandate they received from the people at an election and chosen to cross over and swear allegiance to the party in power in return for various positions and other benefits that are bestowed on them. The fact that the party in power has policies diametrically opposed to that of the party on whose ticket they were elected has never troubled them.

Actions of these fickle politicians apart from earning the epithet of being corrupt, has far reaching consequences to the future of the country and of democracy. Elections, the clash of ideas and principled politics are the lifeblood of a vibrant democracy.

One assumes the voter in a democracy casts his vote in favour of a political party and its candidates after rigorously examining the pros and cons of the policies placed before the people by such parties. The mandate given to a political party stem from an acceptance of its policies as being the best for the development of the country and its people.

When any candidate, and indeed any party, acts contrary to the trust reposed on it by the people in the form of such mandate, and supports a government in office with policies diametrically opposed to the policies on which it fought the election, it constitutes a gross betrayal of the peoples franchise.

To add insult to injury such political high jumpers do not even offer an explanation to the voters with regard to their volte face. The few who do attempt to justify their political summersault with grandiose statements they did so in the interest of the country.

Last week’s Supreme Court judgement in the Nazeer Ahmad case may not result in bringing to an end unprincipled political pole vaulting. However it puts on alert those two timers who may have such schemes of their own, that depending on the facts of each case, the Supreme Court will not hesitate to deliver judgements that uphold the mandate of the people.

The Nazeer Ahmad judgement is only one small step in the right direction. It is left to political parties to enact legislation that will enable democracy to flourish. In this respect the leadership of political parties too have a big role to play. They should make it clear that they will not condone unethical behaviour such as crossing over for perks and positions.

To facilitate a change in political culture electoral reforms are a must. The long-delayed attempts in this sphere will have to be speeded up to put in place an electoral system that reflects and sustains the aspirations of the people and is accountable to the voters.

While the Supreme Court judgement can help to set in motion a process of helping to halt opportunistic cross overs, care should be taken in any future electoral reforms to ensure conscientious legislators will not be blocked from reflecting their dissent or the disapproval of their voters on major policy decisions made by Parliament.

If a legislator wishes to vote against the party to which he or she belongs or make a principled decision and cross over, he or she should have the space to do so. However, in such a situation he or she should lose his Parliamentary seat but should be able to get the views of the voters on his or her decision at a by election held immediately thereafter.

The challenge however is for Parliament to effect such a change under the currently prevailing system of proportionate representation. The first past the post electoral system will pose no such problem for the implementation of such a change, however.

Another change that will make legislators to remain on their best behaviour and remain true to their mandate will be the inclusion of a provision in the law for the recall of a legislator. It will help the voter to keep his representative in Parliament on the “straight and narrow” political path thus giving more meaning to representative democracy.

Now that the Supreme Court by its judgement in the Nazeer Ahmad case has signalled the end of the impunity that political pole vaulters may have thought they enjoyed it is left to civil society and well meaning legislators to push for changes that can help to usher in a new political culture.


Courtesy Sunday Times

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Disclaimer: Supreme Court judgement can help to start process of changing political culture - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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