Educated MPs vital for good governance - D.E.W. Gunasekera | Sunday Observer

Educated MPs vital for good governance - D.E.W. Gunasekera

General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka D.E.W.Gunasekera
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka D.E.W.Gunasekera

Education - only passport to Parliament?

In April, the country will again head to the polls to elect MP’s for the ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka. As preparations are being made, a notion that only the educated must be given a ticket and be voted in has taken over the general populace. Various politicians have also expressed varying views on the topic. This week the Sunday Observer Face to Face segment sat down with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, D.E.W. Gunasekara and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath to discuss their views on allowing only the educated to enter Parliament and to shed light on their party’s idea of a suitable candidate.

Q. With a forthcoming General Election, there is a popular way of thinking that educated people should be in Parliament. What is your opinion about it?

A. If I can explain the background a little, there are four aspects to the role of an MP (Member of Parliament). First, he or she is a legislator.

Secondly, they are policy makers. Thirdly, he/ or she should be able to deal with the financial aspects and fourthly they must represent their constituents. The majority of the current MPs have forgotten these four roles.Most of them come to Parliament only for their own enrichment.

And that is the idea which is in the minds of the people. In contrast, see the quality of the speeches in Parliament. If you read the Hansards of the 1940’s, 50’s or even the 80’s, you can understand this.

In the past two decades the quality of Parliamentary speeches has gone down. Instead of policy matters,MPs are now engaged in mudslinging. In addition, corruption is on the rise. The Central Bank bond scam is one such example. Therefore, people are of the notion that we need some educated people in Parliament.

Q. Does it imply that only well-educated people should be elected to Parliament?

A. I do not say that these roles can only be played by an educated person. M.S. Themis who was in the 1956 Parliament was a postal peon turned politician. Even though he did not go to a university, he could even participate in debates on foreign policy, because he was well-trained in politics. He read a lot and learnt by himself. But today, even educated people do not deliver good speeches.

For instance, look at last week’s Parliamentary debate on the bond scam. Except for two or three, none of them really spoke about the forensic audit. Yet,everybody discussed it on the surface, and not a single MP analysed it thoroughly. That is why the story circulated that a considerable number of Parliamentarians do not even have a secondary education.

However, every candidate has a right to be elected representing his or her constituency. We cannot discriminate them on the grounds of education.

Q. You said, this entire Parliament system down turned in the 90’s. What actually happened in the 90’s to cause such a change?

A. The main reason is that people do not read any more. We have the best library in the Parliament and MPs used to visit the library and prepare for their speeches and debates those days. Now, if you ask the librarian, you would know that only four or five MPs are using the library on a daily basis. That is the main reason.

Do you think that the current political system supports such well-educated people to enter Parliament?

With regard to the next Parliament, I think there is a demand and a campaign, going on for that. Also some organisations are getting ready to campaign about the corrupt. I do not know whether that will have an effect. In addition to that, the political party leadership does not seem to be worried about not nominating educated people. They simply find people who can afford to fight in the election. The first question at the Nomination Board is,‘whether you can spend the money for the election’.

Q. Is that really the first question at Nomination Boards?

A. The selection of candidates is the responsibility of the party. Because of the electoral system and the money involved, they also look forward to presenting people who can afford to fight an election. So, that is the real truth, except for the left parties.

Q. Most times we find at least one candidate, who has a sound educational background in each list of candidates in most of the major parties. But why is it that hard to get such individuals into t Parliament? Why do not people vote for them?

A. I think that is why there is an organised campaign calling for good people. This may have some effect. I think in the exercise of preferential votes, people would give at least one vote this time, for an educated candidate. Therefore, I am a bit more optimistic than in the previous years that some good MPs might enter Parliament this time.

Q. In Sri Lanka 52 per cent out of the total population are women. But we see only a handful of women parliamentarians. Why is this ?

A. It is true that the 52 per cent are not reflected in the Parliament. But women do not vote for women. I remember some women’s movement presented a list of women for a local Government Election in Kurunegala. But none were elected. Basically the women rejected the women. However, political parties should nominate more women in their list. But if you check, you would find out that there were more women in Parliament in the 1940’s than today.

Q. Political critics claimed that the National List was recently abused to send defeated politicians to Parliament. In that context, should not there be new laws with regard to the National List?

A. The National List has become another fraud. Last time I was in the National List and the party selected some defeated politicians in my place. When passing the 14th Amendment which brought this National List, the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, categorically stated that he is supporting the Amendment because defeated candidates cannot enter Parliament through the National List. But when the Act was printed, it stated that the National List is open to all, which meant it is inclusive of defeated candidates. I went to the Supreme Court against this but my petition was dismissed.