Manapa poraya and need for electoral reforms

It is a tribute to the political resilience of the Sri Lankan people that there is still an interest in the Southern provincial council election because the result of that contest appears to be a foregone conclusion.
It would perhaps have been appropriate if limelight at the poll was stolen by the movie stars in the fray but last week saw a different plot: A candidate of the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) being bailed out in court, on charges of intimidating a fellow contestant.

This kind of election violence is the latest and most virulent and is better known as the ‘manapa poraya’ in Sinhala. It has evolved from minor turf wars into full scale thuggery and intimidation, and political parties seem incompetent to do anything about it.

It was reported that President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself cautioned candidates of the Alliance, before the current campaign, that they should work to ensure a massive majority for the UPFA, instead of bickering among themselves in the scramble to get elected. That appeal appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Who then is at fault? Certainly, the candidates have to take a fair share of the blame, for their deplorable conduct, but is the system that elects them also partly responsible?

This country experienced the Westminster style first-past-the-post system for the first 30 years after independence. Elections in the latter three decades have been under the Proportional Representation (PR) system introduced under the presidential Constitution in 1978 by J.R. Jayewardene (JRJ).

Certainly, there are arguments in favour of the PR system. It ensures representation for the ‘smaller’ parties and therefore, eliminates discontent at the fringes of the political spectrum. Also, it ensures that no party will receive a massive mandate such as the one JRJ himself won in 1977.

At an electoral level though, the PR system appears to be a disaster. As a result of the preferences deciding who is elected, we have some constituencies with several members, while other constituencies languish without an elected representative, resulting in lopsided development at a grassroots level. Then, of course, we have the ‘manapa poraya’.

The battle for preferences is indeed one where the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest comes to the fore. In this scenario, candidates with the most financial and State resources at their disposal have a joy ride to their legislative bodies, while those with lesser clout are left to rue their plight. Hence the type of incident that made headlines last week.

The answer to this may be a suitable hybrid between the first-past-the-post system and the PR system. Indeed, such an idea has been mooted for elections at the local government level. Perhaps it is now time to consider such changes at national level elections as well.

We know there will be far reaching changes in the electoral system, as the country searches for a political solution to the grievances of all communities. Such a solution may necessitate Constitutional changes or amendments as well.
This, therefore, will be as good an opportunity as any to rethink and revise the ways of electing our representatives, as it would also solve many a headache for political parties trying desperately to curb in-fighting among their stalwarts. If this is not done, future elections run the risk of descending to the level of one big brawl.

Menace of Ragging

Universities have always been in the news in this country, and usually, for all the wrong reasons. This is that time of the year, when new entrants to the campuses embark on their journey of higher education, and we again hear of that despicable menace - ragging of an inhuman nature.

The practice of ‘ragging’ was meant to be an initiation rite that would result in the newcomer being accepted as an equal in his new environment. Sadly, that is no longer the case in most of the higher education institutions of this country, where nasty and brutish practices are enacted in the name of ragging.
The authorities have responded by introducing tough laws. This was necessary after several students died as a result of ragging. Thereafter, some university students were also prosecuted for ragging related offences. Despite all this, the dastardly practice continues.

Much has been said about the psychology of those who engage in inhuman ragging. These individuals are those who are themselves deficient in self esteem, and therefore, try to compensate by attempting to demean others.

We recall that one of the most effective means of tackling ragging was introduced by then State Minister of Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne, who deployed decoys in campuses as freshers, who identified those engaging in ragging, and then dealt with them severely. After a few days, ragging was unheard of!

We are not advocating such draconian practices now but it is nevertheless imperative that the authorities in charge of universities implement measures that will ensure the safety of the new undergraduates.
After all, those gaining entry to university are supposed to be the ‘cream of the cream’ of our society, so, why is it that they behave as if they are morons of the lowest order?