Paper qualifications alone will not make a good politician- Vijitha Herath | Sunday Observer

Paper qualifications alone will not make a good politician- Vijitha Herath

Vijitha Herath  JVP MP
Vijitha Herath JVP MP

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. There is a popular notion among the public today that only the educated should be elected to Parliament. Your comment on this?

A. Paper qualifications alone do not make a good politician. He must have a sound social understanding. A politician must be able to differentiate between the right and the wrong that exists in society. Therefore, it is unfair to judge a person’s worthiness to become an MP based on his or her education alone. Those who hold doctorates or are professors behaving in an unfit manner within Parliament. The JVP, therefore, does not believe that passing examinations in school is the sole qualification. However, admittedly a politician must have some level of education but along with this, we believe it is also required that he posseses a good understanding of society and be an exemplary character through his behaviour.

Q. Why do you think that the public seems to believe that only sending educated people to Parliament is the way to correct the system?

A. I think the main reason is that uneducated and undisciplined people have made their way to Parliament. Their behaviour in various instances has been despicable and less than desirable. Physical altercations and use of foul language during sittings has become commonplace. This can in no way be accepted. Therefore, there is a belief that such incidents will not take place if they are not allowed into Parliament. But the issue is that it is the people themselves who vote for these people as their representatives.

For example, MPs such as Prasanna Ranaweera who displayed bad behaviour and suspended from Parliament are being given organiser posts by their parties. This is only possible because people have voted him in.

Q. What steps can political parties take to ensure only suitable people are elected to the house as people’s representatives?

A. It is the political party that has the main responsibility to ensure this because nominations are handed to people by these parties. If the party takes a decision and works according to their policies to hand nominations to those who are exemplary characters then this issue will not arise. But political parties only care about gaining votes and give nominations to the best bootlegger or thug in the area so that can help them win.

Q. But interestingly these undesirable characters appear to be popular among the people and not even the political hierarchy can prevent their rise. Why does this happen?

A. Today, Sri Lankan society has degenerated. Therefore, lawless thugs reign in society giving rise to this issue. But a political party can save society and take it in the correct direction. This is their responsibility because society has degenerated owing to political policies

Q. In some countries, we see policies and even legal decisions bar people with unsavoury characteristics from being given nominations. Do you think Sri Lanka too needs a mechanism to ensure that such people are not nominated and then voted in as MPs?

A. Our belief is that if the people check if their political party is adhering to these policies prior to voting then this issue can be corrected. As a political party, the JVP adheres to these policies and do our duty by our supporters. If other parties follow suit then this issue will resolve on its own. It is difficult to make a formula with the necessary criteria to hand over nominations to individuals.

For example, though one may have educational qualifications his behaviour can be abysmal. While we admit that certain criteria is needed it will only be practical if political parties themselves adhere to these.

Q. It is common to see the National List being misused to grant parliamentary seats to losing candidates or those who are unsuitable. Should the laws be changed to prevent this to only allow suitable professionals and academics to be appointed as National List MPs?

A. Yes, this needs a change in the existing laws. According to the current Constitution, a General Secretary of a party can send a different person, even one who has lost the election to take up a National List position. There is no bar to this from the law. The JVP alone cannot change the current law as it must be changed by Parliament. The JVP only has minimal power in Parliament and such an amendment must be supported by the majority. However, the majority are such characters. So, how can we get this amendment passed? They will not agree to it.

Q. Female representation in Parliament continues to be low. What can be done to attract more women into politics and Parliament?

A. Our country has a retrogressive development. Therefore, women are reluctant to enter politics though political parties are willing to field them. There is a clear issue here. But many women joined Pradeshiya Sabhas due to the quota system being implemented. Therefore, similar schemes should be introduced to increase female representation. If a quota system is introduced parties will be forced to find female candidates and field them.

Q. The people seem to reject the current Parliament as a whole. A famous phrase heard is that ‘All 225 are crooks’. Your comment on this?

A. That is not true. If all are thieves then does it mean the six MPs of the JVP are crooks as well? We are not crooks. We haven’t robbed public property like others. This is an incorrect point of view and is unfair. However, after making such statements the people once again vote for the same people they labelled as thieves.

People say such things in the heat of the moment but act differently when faced with an election. A country cannot function without a Parliament and sending suitable representatives is the duty of the people.

Q. Going back to the issue of only permitting the educated to enter Parliament, in Sri Lanka’s past many of its charismatic leaders were not those with extensive educational qualifications. In this light does it prove that one need not be educated to become a leader and should only be honest and capable?

A. Just as I mentioned before social understanding, knowledge and experience should be the main criteria and not if one has passed his A’levels or O’levels. For example, those who had not even passed their O’levels have ruled this country well while those who have had extensive higher education have acted in a despicable manner.