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Using SORTITION to prevent electing of same crooks to parliament

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 By Chandre Dharmawardana
chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca

The terrorism of the LTTE ended in May 2009, and most Sri Lankans looked forward to a dawn of peace, reconciliation and progress.  Even Poongkothai Chandrahasan, the granddaughter of SJV Chelvanayagam could state that ‘what touched me the most that day was that these were poor people with no agenda ~ wearing their feelings on their sleeves~. Every single person I spoke to said to me, “The war is over, we are so happy”. They were not celebrating the defeat of the Tamils. They were celebrating the fact that now there would be peace in Sri Lanka’ (The Island, 23rd August 2009, http://archive.island.lk/2009/08/23/news15.html).

The dilemma faced by SL

Unfortunately, instead of peace, prosperity and reconciliation, a corrupt oligarchy made up of politicians from the two main parties of the period, namely the UNP, the SLFP, the JVP, their associated business tycoons and NGO bosses have evolved into a cabal of the rich who have hogged the power of parliament among themselves. The party names “UNP, SLFP, JVP” etc., have morphed into other forms, while the leaders concerned have changed adherence to the parties or made alliances with the ease of changing cutlery at a sumptuous banquet.

Periods of civil strife are also periods when corrupt cutthroats thrive, with illegal arms and money in the hands of those on both sides of the conflict who made a career out of the war.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLFP and its allies defeated terrorism and were given a strong mandate by an electorate tired of war to “go forward” in 2010. Unfortunately, as in most cases of “rapid reconstruction” in the wake of a war, the gangrene of corruption of a long war also continued hand in hand. Expensive infrastructure projects, highways and symbolic show pieces that earned lucrative commissions to those in power and to their hangers-on got priority over hard-nosed development projects.

Although the country called itself a “democratic socialist” republic, an essentially libertarian Ayn Randian-type political philosophy coupled with neoliberal economic policies reigned supreme with the Rajapaksa-led governments as well as governments led by the UNP-Sirisena-led SLFP etc., even if this reality was not always articulated clearly. Thus, while public transport, education, public health and alternative-energy projects were neglected, import of luxury goods, highways for wealthy commuters, private hospitals, fossil fuels and organic food for the elite were encouraged by the libertarians. These expensive projects were funded by loans even in the international money market, as long as such monies were available. Public borrowing itself was converted into various types of bond scams.

  Ironically enough, both right-wing Rothbardian-type economics as well as extreme left-wing “progressive” economics agreed on printing money with no restrictions, to maintain a false standard of living beyond means.

Not surprisingly, the country had to come to a screeching halt when it became insolvent. Only the rich oligarchs had the means to continue to function as before, and unambiguously assume the levers of political power. Consequently, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the scion of the Sri Lankan libertarians is now in the saddle.  Political turmoil is temporarily abated as the power of the political machinery is also in the hands of the same elites who control the economy.  While this may be “good for the market” and possibly for the economy in a narrow sense the word “good”, it hides a highly unstable situation where a large majority of the population has become impoverished and desperate. A highly nationalistic army stands by with many of its major figures bought into the elite sector while the common soldiers remain part and parcel of the impoverished peasantry.

The dilemma faced by the country is to defuse this untenable situation by re-distributing political power so that a sustainable economy that ensures at least the basic needs of every one is achieved. The economy of a very small country is completely subject to the vicissitudes of international markets within completely open libertarian policies. Such policies may be very advantages for powerful countries bent on expanding their markets or acquiring sources of raw materials, but not for poor nations.

The key to having some capacity for controlling one’s destiny is to have an economy that is relatively independent of external market forces. Economists have not yet recognized that energy availability (and not class conflict, nor the “freedom” of the market) is the motive force of socio-economic evolution – a fact first enunciated by Ludwig Boltzmann in an address to the German Mathematical society. Boltzmann was an outstanding theoretical physicist of the 19th century. Energy availability can be converted into agricultural and industrial productivity, leading to prosperity and well-being. However, none of the political parties that currently exist in Sri Lanka, sunk in corruption, wheeler-dealing, blinded in ideology, communalism etc., and having scant regard for democratic values or the welfare of its citizens is likely to present a political program that will help the country. In any case, no one trusts them.

In fact, the existing political parties will field the same pack of rogues as candidates for any forthcoming election. The people themselves have little faith in elections, or in politicians, with confidence in public institutions now at a very low ebb.  So, apparently, there is no point in having elections!

A solution to dilemma

The need to go beyond the model of elections to ensure democracy has been recognised since the times of Athenian city states. The democracies in ancient Athens chose only ten percent of their officials by election, selecting the rest by sortition—a lottery, which randomly selected citizens to serve as legislators, jurors, magistrates and administrators. Aristotle argued that sortition is the best method of ensuring a democracy, while elected officials become part of oligarchies where the wealthy and powerful manipulate the election process.

 Since competence and honesty are characteristics that are randomly and statistically distributed in a society, selecting a set of members of parliament by lottery would provide a representative, fresh “sample” of the voting population. They are not beholden to “party organisers” nor have they come to power using wealth, stealth and thuggery needed to run for office now a days.

Many societies down the ages have experimented with sortition. The councilors of the Italian republic of Genoa during the early renaissance were selected by lottery. Montaigne and Tom Paine had written in favour of using sortition to strengthen democracy.  More recently Burnheim in Australia had proposed what he called “demarchy” where random selection of legislators is used.  Callenbach and Phillips proposed a Citizens’ Legislature in the US.  Sortiton was advocated by the main candidates of the recent presidential election in France in 2017 and used at some levels of electioneering during the first round of the presidential vote. The topic has become mainstream and scholarly works are easily found, though neglected by Sri Lankan writers.

In the case of Sri Lanka, it would be appropriate to select, say half the legislature by sortation. Of course, every one selected by lottery may not want to become a politician even for one term of office. Hence one may choose, say 400 candidates by lottery and a further selection of those who wish to serve can be made. The sortition-selected MPs should have the same entitlements and salary as for an elected MP. If they already hold a job in government, they have would leave the job for one term of office, and revert to their previous livelihoods, or contest as members of a political party. That is, they will be replaced by a new set of MPs selected by sortition.

All this requires constitutional amendments. A country that could amend the constitution even to accommodate influential individuals can surely amend it for the sake of public good? Unfortunately, the sortation model has not yet received the attention of political and constitutional writers of Sri Lanka, although it holds the key to the current impasse.



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Opinion

Mrs Paripooranam Rajasundaram- A Gracious Lady

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I first came to know Mrs Pariapooranam Rajasundaram, who was born in Singapore on October 25, 1935 while serving a short stint in Jaffna with police intelligence. Her late husband who called her “Pari” was my very close friend, Mr. Vaithilingam Rajasunderam, the former principal of Victoria College, Chullipuram who was introduced to me by my friend and police batch mate, late Tissa Satharasinghe, who was the Personal Security Officer, to the late Mr T.B. Ilangaratne in 1971.

Mrs Rajasundaram was blessed with three sons and a daughter and several grandchildren and can be truly described as a very faithful spouse and dedicated mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and a great grandmother to the family of which she was matriarch.

My short spell in Jaffna in 1973 brought me closer to the Rajasunderams who celebration their 25th wedding anniversary in 1974. Theirs was an open house and my wife and sisters too came to know them well.

Mrs Rajasundram and her husband were good hosts and his assassination was a shock to all of us. It was then she became part of our family as she lived with us briefly till she obtained a UK visa to join her daughter and son-in-law there.

Many years later when she was living in England, I had joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and my family used to spend vacations with them in Cockfosters in North London. Mrs Rajasundaram treated us to sumptuous meals lavishing attention on us. She was very fond of my wife and two children and had a heart of gold. A devout Hindu she never failed in her religious obligations, lived within her means and was never greedy for what she could not afford. She firmly believed in being patient and willingly gave to those in need.

She was a lady who was selfless, full of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, very virtuous, and full of love and character. I can say of her: “People may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!”

My prayer as a Christian is that God grants you eternal rest.

NIHAL DE ALWIS

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Opinion

Independence celebrations for whose benefit?

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Celebrating what? Bankruptcy, corruption and nepotism to name a few. Surely isn’t there one MP among 225 who feel we have nothing to celebrate. We say we cannot pay govt. servants’ salaries in time, the pensioners’ their entitlements. A thousand more failures confront us.

In our whole post-independence history such a situation has never arisen. We should be mourning our lost prestige, our lost prosperity our depleting manpower. Our youth in vast numbers are leaving the country for greener pastures. We should be conserving every cent to live, not to celebrate a non-existent independence. We should be mourning, walking the streets in sack cloth and ashes in protest at this wanton waste of money by an irresponsible government.

I can’t understand this mentality. The forces are also our young men who feel for their fellow men and women. Maybe their lot is a little better than the rest of us. But how can you order them to go parade? They cannot refuse. It is an unwritten or written code that they have to obey orders without question. I feel sorry for them. All that spit and polish – for whose benefit? Definitely not ours. We will be mourning in silence in our homes.

Padmini Nanayakkara.

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Aftermath Of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne’s Assassination

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It was on Saturday March 2, 1991 when that fateful LTTE bomb blast shattered the life out of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, Minister of Plantations and Deputy Minister of Defence, in front of the Havelock Road University Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha.

Mr. Wijeratne used to take the same route from home to office every day. The LTTE had monitored his movements and found that it would be easy to target him on his way to office from a strategic point after receiving the information of his departure from home.

The LTTE targeted his vehicle right in front of the University of Colombo Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha. The suicide bomber crashed into the Deputy Minister’s vehicle and killed the Minister instantaneously.

I had dropped our elder son at Royal College for scouting and then went to the public library to return some books and borrow new ones. After having done that, I was returning home when I saw a large cloud of black smoke going up from somewhere on Havelock Road. As I neared Thummulla junction, a university vehicle (I was Registrar of the Colombo University) was going in the opposite direction.

I stopped it and asked the driver what had happened. He said the Shanthi Vihar restaurant at the Thummulla had been set on fire. The police did not allow vehicles into Havelock Road from Thummulla. I parked the car on Reid Avenue between Thummulla and Lauries Road and walked down the Havleock Road to see what exactly had happened.

As I got onto Havelock Road, a policeman accosted me and told me that I cannot be allowed to proceed. Fortunately, at that moment the OIC of the Bamabalapitiya Police station, Mr. Angunawela, came to that spot and recognizing me told the police constable to allow me to proceed.

As I walked down I saw the damage caused. But there were no signs of any vehicle or any dead bodies as the police had got everything removed. There was a large gaping hole on the road where the blast had occurred. But immediately this was filled up and that section of the road carpeted.

I do not know who had ordered it and why it was done in such a hurry. There were pieces of human flesh hanging from the overhead telephone wires. The blast had also affected the house in front where there was a P& S outlet and a lady who had come to buy something had got her eyes blinded by the shrapnel thrown by the blast.

The parapet wall and the Temple flower (araliya) trees that had been grown just behind the wall were all gone. As I went into the hostel, I saw that the front wall of the hostel building badly damaged. When I went in the girls in the hostel were looking terrified and shivering with fright.

Two of the undergraduates who had gone out of the hostel as they had to sit an examination in the university had got very badly injured and they been rushed to the national hospital. Later one girl who was from Kobeigane, a remote village in the Kurunegala area, succumbed to her injuries. The university paid for her funeral. The security guard who had been close to the gate was thrown up and landed back on the ground. Fortunately, he had no injuries other than feeling groggy.

The next job was to evacuate the hostelers from the building. I telephoned the university office and found the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of examinations was in office. I told her what had happened and to come to the hostel in a van. Thereafter both she and I packed all the hostelers in the van and sent them to the Bullers Lane Women’s hostel. This was done in three trips.

On inspecting the damage done to the hostel I thought the building would have to be demolished and a new building constructed to replace it. However, I contacted an Engineer, Mr. Upasena, at the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB,) who came, inspected the damage to the building and stated that he will get it repaired to be stronger than what it was.

He stated that it might cost around Rs, 20,000/- to get the repair done. I contacted NORAD and they agreed to give the funds required for the repair and renovation. Mr. Manickam from NORAD came and inspected the building and agreed to get much more done than what we wanted repaired and renovated. The repair and renovation were done very quickly and the hostelers were able to move in again.

The reopening ceremony was attended by the then Ambassador to Norway, Mr. Manickam and the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice- Chancellor thanked the Ambassador, Mr. Manickam and the CECB for getting the hostel repaired and renovated to be used again. He never mentioned what I had done to get this hostel repaired and habitable again. That is gratitude!

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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