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New drama in a fig leaf democracy

Sri Lanka was treated on Thursday to the first episode in the new drama of local government elections that is going to be staged soon. We are compelled to view this democratic feature of elections as a drama because of the inappropriate manner in which the elections are treated and conducted.

In the first place, all agitations for a postponement of these local government elections were rejected. Besides political motives behind the clamour made by some parties for this postponement, there were other genuine and serious reasons for this demand. The main among them was the reason of lakhs of qualified voters losing the right to vote in this election. Apart from those who will be deprived of their right in the south there are thousands of voters in the North-East region who will not have the opportunity of exercising their right in the proper democratic manner.

There were other reasons for postponement of these elections, such as the non-implementation of the accepted reforms to provide for the restoration of the wards system and the non establishment of the independent elections commission. The government chose to ignore these requirements and to proceed with the elections. Why? Was it because of its irrepressible attachment to democracy or its unconquerable aversion to depriving the people of their desire to have local government elections strictly in due time?

The undeclared reason for this promptitude obviously was the government’s desire to strike while the iron is hot. It is confident that with the optimism created for a breakthrough in peace efforts and the main opposition party, the UNP bogged down in disarray, the conditions seemed conducive to consolidating its presidential polls success, by achieving control of local bodies as well. Gaining power and retaining it in their hands is undeniably the main motive of all political parties. This, of course, is a legitimate aspiration which cannot be objected to by anyone who accepts parliamentary democracy with a multi- party system as one of its essential features.

What is necessary, however, is to enhance the quality of this system without letting it to be bastardised and abused by those involved in its operation. The way the system operates in this country does not inspire admiration or confidence among people. We however, concede that there has been some degree of enhancement of democracy in some aspects. But it is clear that the country has to go a long way before it can earn the appellation of enlightened or mature democracy. Until then we have to be content with the status of a fig leaf democracy.

The depths to which the political party system in this country has reached is clearly evident from the shameless ease with which politicians cross over from one party to another. Principles and policies are ignored when the carrot of power, position and perks is dangled before them. This phenomenon of crossovers indicates, on the one hand the absence of any substantial difference in the policies of these parties while it shows, on the other hand, how firm the grip of selfishness is on the politics of this country. All of them, of course, affirm that they are motivated by nothing other than patriotic concerns. The patriotic spirit in some of them appears to begin when expected positions or party nominations are denied to them..

Much enthusiasm was shown when the first episode of handing in nominations was staged. The level of eagerness of those contesting as candidates from various parties could be gauged from the posters and placards that have dirtied the walls and buildings around the country. The smiling faces in these posters display their concern for bringing happiness to the people whose votes they expect. But the real motives of most of them are obvious to the discerning people of this country.

However, enthusiasm thus shown by these aspirants for positions is conspicuously absent among the people for whose sake these exercise are launched. In fact, they resent and view with contempt the power games played by political parties and politicians in this country. They have begun to view these frequent elections as wasteful exercises that divert the people’s attention from their burning problems for the politicians to engage in their schemes aimed at self aggrandizement.