22 August 2015

National Lists 2001: When CBK and RW both got F's

No, this is not the kind of place that immediately comes to mind when there's talk of 'National List' but still...
This article was published 'The Island' on November 9, 2011, a few days before the General Election which gave Ranil Wickremesinghe his second stint as Prime Minister.  It was titled "A refugee camp called 'The National List'" and was part of a series titled 'Transcripts from the campaign trail'.  Re-posting in the context of the current horse deals over slots in the National List.  

When proportional representation was introduced, JRJ inserted an interesting mechanism called the "National List" whereby each party (given that they have polled a minimum number of votes) gets to nominate "eminent" persons in accordance to the proportion of votes polled nationally. The idea was to ensure that there would be professionals and other respectable and capable persons who are reluctant to get involved in the dirty game of campaigning. Implicit in this logic is the fact that the vast majority yielded by the "normal course" are incompetent and notorious and more than ready to engage in the low down and dirty, which includes mudslinging, arson, physical assault, rigging and murder. Sad.

Actually, if not for "National Lists", the PA would have been hard pressed to come up with a working cabinet, that is one which would look respectable. It is hard to see people like Prof. G.L. Peiris, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and Prof. Wiswa Warnapala willing to take to the streets just to get the vote. Sure, come October 2000, some of them took off their gloves, but then again one can safely say that 6 years is long enough for "gentlemen" to acquire a taste for the gloves-off and let-fly world of election campaigns. The problem is that even with these luminaries, the PA did precious nothing to solve the burning problems of the people. If at all, it made things worse. 

Of all these people I feel sorry only for poor Mr. Kadirgamar. He has a difficult brief to defend. To his credit, he has chosen the best course of action: "hands-off". We can only hope that whoever is in power after December 5th, might do well to consider keeping him on as Foreign Minister. 

JRJ is long gone and his constitution is in deep trouble. And a quick at the various "National Lists" show that they are hardly used for the purposes they were advocated in the first place. Champika Ranawaka of the Sihala Urumaya describes the national lists of some parties as "anathagara" or orphanages. Actually, these people are hardly babies in need of moms and dads. It is probably ages since the last traces of the kiri suwanda was wiped off their mouths. The correct term, I believe, is "refugee camp". For power politics, just as it drives ordinary people into poverty, turns politicians into refugees. And at a time when people are ready to de-camp at the drop of a hat, it is indeed fortuitous that JRJ had provided this "refugee camp" clause for our political saranagathayas. 

Ever since that ominous thing called "hung parliament" entered our political landscape, we have had jittery politicians itching to jump ship. In order to effect parliamentary coups, those from the opposite camps are aggressively canvassed and even bought over with all kinds of promises including through straightforward cash-on-the-table offers. Naturally, party leaders have to keep these high-jump artists happy. They also have to make sure that party loyalists are not side-lined, for the disgruntled can very well parachute over to the other side. Cabinet portfolios is seen as the most lucrative "package". 

A "hung parliament" probably evokes the most amount of joyous whoops from racist minority parties. We had Rauff Hakeem making outrageous demands; ministers, deputy ministers, corporations and even ambassadorships were extracted from a poverty-stricken PA leadership. Thonda, as always, made his deal. So did Douglas Devananda. Ferial played her cards well. 

"Defectors" are a different kettle of fish. They typically lack wide scale public backing. They do, however, have immense symbolic worth. When Chandrika’s No. 1 bad-mouthing pal crosses over to the UNP, it demoralises the PA. So much so that the entire state-media is employed to vilify the man. When right-hand man GL moves further right and is appointed as spokesman for the UNF, it is worse. I don’t believe either of these men or anyone else will draw a significant number of PA votes into the UNP fold, but they look "good" on paper, especially in the envious eyes of the PA, tinted as they are by the harsh and dirty truths of power games. SB after all, helped them win last time. 

How are defectors to be rewarded? First of all, it has to be remembered that they are cry-babies. They want to latch on once more to money-yielding schemes. They want to suckle on the national treasury. They have to be given ministries. So, where defectors have a good chance of being rejected by the voters, they have to be brought in through the back-door which carries the sign "National List". There are other cry babies; i.e. those who lose out to the defectors when it comes to the appointment of district/electorate organisers. They start wailing and the only sooppuwa that can stop them is again a place in the National List. 

The UNP national list is made up of minority kappang karayo and ex-PA Ministers. For the most part. Sixteen out of the twenty nine belong to minorities. Anyone still saying the Sinhalese are a bunch of hegemonists? This is the United NATIONAL party, remember? Aren’t the Sinhalese a part of the nation? Don’t they deserve some "proportional representation"? Maybe the UNP wants to appear more appealing to the minorities. The problem is that they have effectively dissolved their voter base among the Tamils and Muslims and operated so that they will vote with the Tamil and Muslim parties respectively. The funny thing is that this does not mean that the UNP is a Sinhala party either, for it is now for all practical purposes held hostage by the Tamils and Muslims. 

SB and GL, the most prominent of political refugees have been accommodated in the UNP National List. I hope they are getting enough dry rations. 

The PA is no better. Their minority percentage is better, just 11 out of 29. They too have some saranagathayas. Kingsley Wickramaratne, rejected outright by the voters last October, now has a "safe" seat. Ronnie, the perennial high-jumper has probably run out of steam. Safe. Batty Weerakoon, bankrupt Trotskyite and shameless defender of PA trash has once again wormed his way into the National List. Good for him. He can tell his handful of ill-informed and ideologically sterile loyalists that Trotskyism is alive! D.M. Jayaratne can relax. He won’t have to get into fisticuffs or shoot-outs with Anuruddha Ratwatte in the Kandy District. A "safe" ride into the 12th parliament. 

The JVP, on the other hand, wins my respect. They have never suffered pain of mind on account of nominations. The party hierarchy decides. Period. Undemocratic or less democratic as this may seem, it prevents internal splits and effectively counters the unfortunate political reality of money increasing the possibility of winning. They have a national list of "unknowns". I am sure that any one of them will outshine anyone who comes to parliament through the PA or the UNP. In the very least, they will be motivated ideologically and by loyalty to the party rather than money or position. No refugees here.

As National Lists go, the Sihala Urumaya is clearly streets ahead of the rest, in terms of going with the spirit in which they were first proposed. It is full of academics and professionals who have excelled in their respective fields. That they have managed to attract so many people of proven competence, especially after the much publicised "split" when S.L. Gunasekera left the party, is victory enough. In the very least it indicates that there are good people who hold principle higher than power, whether or not you may agree with their ideology. And like the JVP, there are no refugees here.

People have some control over who gets elected. "Some" as in "a teeny weeny bit" in these days of outright rigging. We have no control over refugees and parachutists. Sadly, these refugees end up with key ministries and it is they who determine which of us gets thrown in the streets, or with a knife in the back. Some checks and balances are in order, I think. I am thinking that these will not come out from the hypocrisy that is the democratic system we have been saddled with.