Part II

Pre-capitalist relations perpetuated and absorbed by the colonial masters and their policy of divide and rule laid a basis for a power struggle between the Sri Lankan elite for political power. Political independence was not accompanied or followed by economic independence and the majority of the population remained poor and under-privileged.

This situation was used by the politicians to interpret the cause of poverty and deprivation of the poor as due to privileges enjoyed by the other communities. They found communalism a profitable media to attract voters and subsequent reforms in the electoral system and type of governance basically catered to the aspirations of the majority to the disadvantage of minorities. The Indian and Pakistani Citizenship Act, the Sinhala Only Act, repeal of Section 29 of the first Constitution, the special status afforded to Buddhism are examples.

Authoritarian power

Political parties were considered the medium through which representative democracy would be established. Experience has proved that it has been a failure due to several factors. Communal policies pursued by them is one such factor. It prevents national unity and promotes discord. This factor was further strengthened by the appearance of parties based solely on race and religion.

A fundamental weakness among almost all political parties is the lack of inner party democracy. In fact, party constitutions were also altered to bestow on the leadership authoritarian power. In fact, it had become a sine qua non under the Executive Presidency. The relative absence or under-representation of women and youth in party leadership is another weakness common to many parties. This has given Parliament a look similar to a Senior Old Boys/Pupils Club.

The system of first-past-the post voting often resulted in the elected MPs getting few votes than the total received by his or her opponents taken together. Proportional representation was later introduced to offset this anomaly. However, the mandatory bonus seats for the party that received the highest poll in each electoral district as well as the high cut-off point of 12.5 percent for eligibility for representation negated the positive benefits of the new system. This led to a situation of a two - party system getting entrenched in power. Lowering of the cut-off point to 5 percent subsequently led to a far greater representation of the popular verdict by accommodating smaller parties. Instead it has given rise to a phenomenon in which rival coalitions vie for power, enhancing the king-making role of smaller parties.

Bribery and corruption

An ugly consequence of this situation was the practice of bribery and corruption on a large scale to entice the small parties to join ruling coalitions and individual MPs. Even legislation was passed to encourage or facilitate defections and cross-overs from one side to the other. The ultimate degeneration caused by it is seen these days during the present Constitutional impasse.

Today political parties have become few representatives of their sympathizers and have developed into a Mafiosi defending and promoting the personal interests of the leader or leaders. Thus, even during a democratically convened election they campaign not on policies and principle but on the need to maintain a particular leader at the helm of State. (concluded)


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