About 14 years ago, a young parliamentarian entertained a group of friends by doing excellent impressions of well-known and senior colleagues in Parliament. He had everyone in fits of laughter. Borrowing from the title of a cheap movie that nevertheless produced a few laughs, one of his friends said, ‘You are a parliament joker!’
The funny guy didn’t skip a beat. He smiled and retorted: ‘Why are you trying to devalue me? I don’t want to be a joker in Parliament, I want to be a joker for the entire country!’ That generated more laughs.
Parliament would be funny if it weren’t such a sad place. It’s a sad apology for what it ought to be and what it used to be. Indeed, it’s not so much that we have parliament jokes but that parliament is a joke. It was already a joke before Ranjan Ramanayake’s theatrics.
It is funny that for some Ramanayake is a hero. A clown, certainly, but no hero. When someone, who finding himself naked attempts to make a virtue of nudity, it is admirable in that he or she is trying to make the best out of a bad situation. That’s not heroic. Desperate, perhaps, but not heroic. Add wild accusations with absolutely no substantiation and a history of the despicable conduct with respect to engagement with the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, and it’s no laughing matter, clownish though it is. Further, those who cheer the man are essentially demonstrating that they are politically sophomoric and morally and intellectually suspect.
And yet, Parliament is a joke. This is hard to deny.
This Parliament has lost its mandate. Twice. The local government elections held on February 10, 2018 showed that parliamentary composition does not reflect the sentiments or rather the preferences of the voting population. The presidential elections held in November 2019 affirmed this fact in no uncertain terms. This parliament should have been dissolved a long time ago. It owes its longevity to the 19th Amendment, a carelessly written piece of legislation. It became law because careless or complicit MPs voted for it.
That however is a single technicality which shows incompetence on the part of representatives and one of many that subverts the spirit of democracy. It could be resolved through new legislation.
The comical and yet sad nature of things parliamentary cannot be put down to the 19th Amendment, however. The political culture pervading parliamentary proceedings was not created by the passage of the 19th. It was there before. This is why it is not enough to do away with the 19th or dissolve Parliament at the earliest day possible as stipulated by the 19th. It may not even be enough to ‘get rid of the 225’ as some have advocated. The 225 sitting parliamentarians that is. Necessary, obviously, but certainly not sufficient.
We have a problem. The people are often blamed for voting clowns, idiots, crooks and even murderers to Parliament. On the other hand, people have to vote for candidates and not for random people they consider to be decent, honest, serious and competent.
So, it boils down to the discretion of particular political parties. Parties are loathe, it seems, to think ‘quality’ or rather ‘good quality’ (as in unblemished character, proven competence and integrity). They have gone for ‘spenders,’ those who have the capital to contribute to the party’s campaign coffers. They have picked thugs because mobs are effective substitutes to the harder-to-develop grassroots party machine. Genealogy also counts, clearly. Spouses and children of senior politicians are included in lists.
When there’s money and a large number of foot soldiers, it is not hard to paint even a devilish candidate as a saint. Even if a political party includes some decent people in their lists, such candidates don’t get seen, so to speak.
All this is known. People are not happy about the way things are. And yet, the culture persists, hardly moved by the noises of objection. Clearly, parties are not serious. If they were they wouldn’t field such persons in the first place and secondly, wouldn’t smuggle into Parliament through the national list those candidates who have been rejected at the polls.
We need a new parliament. We need a different kind of parliamentarian. We need a system which does not encourage the good to first look away when bad happens and later do the dirty themselves.
Let’s put parties on notice. Parties, party leader and nomination committees. Give us professionals. Give us competent people. Give us men and women of integrity. Don’t give us people who have proven that they are incompetent. Leave out the uncouth. Leave out those whose political journeys have coincided with asset enhancement. Leave out the boorish. Leave out those whose contributions to the law-making exercise have been marked by sloth, intellectual poverty and sycophancy. Give us such candidates and run the risk of being judged for being guilty of and accessories after the facts of further entrenching a stinking political culture.
We need a parliament, ladies and gentlemen. We don’t need to have our lives and futures decided in a wrestling arena by thugs, thieves and bad-mouthed morons. Politicians will do their thing. It would be optimistic indeed to expect them to change now. We can warn them and they can refuse to heed warning. And yet, we get to vote. We can choice the right people and if there are no right people, we can choose not to vote.
We didn’t need Ranjan Ramanayake to tell us what we all already knew. He is no hero and cannot be one, not for a long time to come. We aren’t heroes but we certainly can be heroic. Just by doing the little things. Decisions. Decision on who we want. Decisions on boycotting that which screams out for rejection.
The Parliament needs dissolution. The political culture too. Politicians will not dissolve themselves. That’s our job.
This article was first published in the SUNDAY OBSERVER January 27, 2020