|Manapa poraya and need for
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
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?