Relative merits | Daily News

Relative merits

Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha has spoken candidly in admitting that his party, the SLFP, had engaged in nepotism in the past. Introducing Deepa Edirisinghe, the daughter of late Soma Edirisinghe, as a candidate from the SLFP, to contest for the Colombo Municipal Council elections, Musthapha said that the SLFP had decided not to include two members from the same family on the party candidates lists for upcoming LG election and that this policy will put an end to nepotism in the SLFP; He said: “Since Independence all political parties, the UNP and SLFP in particular, have given opportunities for political families to thrive. He further went onto state that it is difficult to win a seat in a LG body, a provincial council or parliament without powerful political connections. That is how political power was handed down from father to son, husband to wife from father-in-law to son-in-law and from brother to sister. This undemocratic practice must end”, he said.

To be fair, although Navin Dissanayake is the son-in-law of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Dissanayake is a politician in his own right, being the son of the late Gamini Dissanayake, and, rose to his present position on his own volition. President Premdasa, it must be said, did not bring his relatives into politics, nor did he encourage his son to take to politics, although Sajith Premadasa had come of age to enter politics when Premadasa was President.

But, as Minister Musthapha said, the same cannot be said of all other leaders who ruled the country, since independence. The rot set in from the very outset when D.S. Senanayake conspired to have his son Dudley, his successor to the throne which led to much heartburn to those who expected the Premiership to be theirs by right, and ultimately led to the SWRD leaving the Grand Old party to form the SLFP.

However to the SLFP goes the dubious distinction of institutionalizing family politics in this country, which, as Musthapha rightly maintained, led to nepotism on an unprecedented scale. So much so that the UNP, during it’s election campaign in 1977, successfully exploited this state of affairs, putting out a leaflet containing an enormous ‘family tree’ detailing the political office and positions held by the Ratwattes, Ellawelas and the Divithotawelas et al. which had a big impact with the voting public.

Mahinda Rajapaksa made family politics a fine art, not only having his own brother and son as members of parliament but also filling all the important positions in government with siblings, in-laws and other members of the extended family. Of course, here again it can be argued that the Rajapaksas had a birthright to enter politics, hailing as they do from the famous Rajapaksa political clan in the south, and, like Navin Dissanayake, the benefit of the doubt should be given to Chamal and Namal Rajapaksa.

There will also be those who will point to the political dynasties in our neighbouring countries and will cite the Ghandhis and the Bhuttos as standout examples in this connection and ask what the fuss was all about. It can equally be argued that hailing from a political family should not be held against a member of such a family entering politics. To be fair it can be said that late Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike who took over the mantle from her assassinated husband performed commendably well in that high office, particularly with regard to foreign policy and brought fame to the country by becoming the first woman PM. Equally so was Dudley who spearheaded the agricultural reforms and food drive and whose death drew the largest crowd yet, to a funeral of a political leader, of this country.

Hence, not all leaders of this country who hailed from political families were looked upon with scorn by the populace. On the contrary they won the love and affection of the masses by serving the nation with distinction albeit with those foibles that are common to all politicians.

What is resentful to the public is when the undeserving enter politics due to family connections and elbow out those with the necessary qualifications and aptitudes. This is seen in mostly in the second tier government such as provincial councils where the kith and kin of ministers and MPs have crowded out the genuine servants of the public. In fact today the provincial councils have taken the form of a ‘finishing school’, for the progeny of ministers and MPs to enter parliament and enjoy the perks and privileges together with their papas and mamas, like disposing off their duty free vehicles and collecting the combined loot.

Minister Musthapha who has spoken out candidly about nepotism in his party should strive to stop ministers and MPs from his party nominating their kith and kin to contest provincial council elections which will naturally give them an unfair advantage, and, in the process, deprive a deserving candidate an opportunity. Such a move, no doubt, would benefit the country, in the long run. 


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