For all theoretical and political rhetoric our MPs call them selves the “Peoples Representatives”. Are they really representing you? I thought to dig deep into the structural and the political reality of this statement
Its simple enough idea, you vote in a parliamentary election to select a person to represent you in the parliament. So you have to make sure that person represents what you believe in, your ideology and often your ethnic and religious preferences. There is nothing wrong in that.
When the president Gotabhaya Rajapakse got elected in November 2019 he stated that while he was elected by the Sinhala/Buddhist majority he will be the president of the nation. Thats the correct statement for the Chief Executive of the country. However that not the right statement to be used by a member of parliament. People have sent the person to the parliament to represent a certain ideology and set of values. He or she cannot be representing the majority in the parliament. He has to represent his constituents.
But is that happening in our political system? When was the last time your MP listen to you, when they want to support an important Act or a Constitutional change ? I guess “NEVER” will be your answer to this question?
This is not because you have daft and dumb politicians. Because our politicians are corrupt. That’s part of the problem but not at all. So lets look at structural, political and personal circumstances that prevent even the most ethical politician representing you in the Parliment
Cost of Election
This is well documented and discussed subject. So easiest to understand. Current preferential voting system is driving cost of an individual election campaign beyond majority of the society. Lets take an example of Sri Lanks poorest districts. Monaragala. Monaragala is the largest district too. It takes 138 kilo meters to go across the district. Considering this is the poorest district we should expect that cost of elections would have to be the lowest. Unfortunately an election candidates travel expenses itself will account to a large sum campaigning in such poor district.
This same problem is represented in different facets in different districts. Hence and individual candidate would have to spend at least 2-3 million rupees for a campaign. This today filters the political candidates that is more focused on social representation and open room for businessmen and candidates supported by businessmen (or special interest groups). At the end of the day, that MPs is not going to represent the people that voted to him/her. He would be representing his sponsors and special interest groups.
Iron Shackles of the Party Secretary – The Stick
One common misconception in the Sri Lankan votes mind is that President of Sri Lanka has “Dictator like powers”. However, that power does directly from the constitution. So how the Sri Lankan presidents used to garner so much power around them?
Its the provisions within the political party system in Sri Lanka. This has given the party leader (often the president) a remote control over each and every “Peoples Representative” within the parliament. Essentially making all of these MPs not “Peoples Representatives” but a “Party Representative”. The sad truth is that most Voters assume that MPs has to represent the will of the party. In many parties the party can remove a membership of an MP with almost unilateral process. Party membership is linked to the parliament seat, so often party members have no Independence to represent the sentiment of his/her constituents. They have to follow the part directive or risk loosing the parliamentary seat.
The 19th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution was a prime example of such. It was claimed (maybe the truth or it maybe just creating an excuse) that members of the “Common Opposition” ware not allowed to go beyond the mandate of the party.
Bribes from the president – The Carrot
While There are many rumors of politicians getting illegally compensated by the party leaders and other power brokers, the constitution has kept a loophole to the president to officially “Bribe” the Members of the Parliament. That was by giving assigning them ministry posts. At one time the General Sarath Fonseka was appointed a ministry with all the benefits with no specific task or organisations under the ministry. President Mahinda Rajapakse used ministries to gain support in the parliament during his first term in the office. This again provides the president with the power and means to manipulate the legislator. While the Sri Lankan constitution does not provide any dictatorial powers to the president, this ability to influence the MPs with such privileges.
Misguided Public Perception
Irony of the current situation is that its the Voters themselves preventing any reforms to change the status-quo. Wide spread wrong perception among the average voter is :
- Going against the party direction (even if all the of constituents of the MP disagree on the parties position) is considered the prime directive. MPs that does not agree on parties position is generally admonished harshly and often subject to public outrage.a
- Public expect the MPs to solve their problems (which often is the job of the executive branch of the government) such as getting a job or getting electricity to the village. This forces the MPs to assume and look for roles in the executive branch. We also have seen many instance that MPs clash with government officials on day to day administrative matters. Since the political culture allows the MPs to influence the ministers (as ministers are appointed from the parliament) further obligations and power relationships are built between the MPs and the Executive branch further degrading the MPs ability to function with Independence.
It is much evident the current party politics system, JRs constitution and degradation of the nations governance process (Constitution, Election System and some Judicial decisions) has removed the Independence of the MPs. This has removed the MPs ability and the need to represent his/her constituents in nations legislator.
We need some serious constitutional reforms to address this situation. Any new constitution that does not address these concerns only going to open the gates to progressively degenerate the system. However, would the current party structure allow such sweeping changes that would bring the power back to the constituents!