Yesterday was historic. The US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the Dutch sued their government and ordered it to cut down on carbon emissions, and President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the 14th Sri Lankan Parliament.
And I, with great personal strength, managed to say no to a piece of chocolate cake.
Those are three amazing things. The first two have world-changing implications; the third is something we Sri Lankans have been waiting for. The fourth is between me and my stomach.
The 14th Parliament – the one that just left the building – was a mess. It was assembled in 2010; a war had just been won, securing a landslide victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa and the United People’s Freedom Alliance. The UPFA won 144 seats; the UNP fell to 60 seats; the Tamil National Alliance was left with 14, and the other 7 went to the Democratic National Alliance. Rajapaksa (and his brothers in politics) were left firmly in control, flexing their political muscle and finding out just how much power they had.
Historically, our Parliament hasn’t been very effective. After all, it’s 225 dissenters trying to govern a country the size of Greater Delhi. Sri Lanka’s history has always been one of headstrong Presidents. But it is pointless laying the blame at the feet of crooks; after all, we elected those crooks.
This is our reset button. Here’s what we need to do:
1) WEED OUT THE FLUFF
Parliament is chock-full of people like P.H. Piyasena (a secondary mouthpiece for the Rajapaksas) and A.H.M Fowzie (a man whose most notable achievement is life is almost getting killed by a suicide bomb).
These are people who don’t do shit. They’re mostly there for the ride. They’re practically interns in the great ship of Parliament. Interns don’t belong on the board of directors.
2) BEWARE THE THUGS
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Eliminating the strong-arm element from any government is practically impossible. At some point, behind at least one politician in every government, is a bunch of dangerous, violent men.
However, amnesiac ministers dueling each other with guns is taking it a bit too far. So is Malaka Silva. Come on. Civilized society is where men in power write memos and dig up embarrassing affairs and ruin political opponents for life with a letter-to-the-editor.
Now that we know who’s more likely to go Rambo on people, let’s not vote them in. If we can’t do without thugs, at least get the refined ones. We need people who know how to handle power and present the iron fist in a velvet glove – not a bunch of crack peddlers living out Snoop Dog fantasies.
3) PUT THE ECONOMISTS AND THE DIPLOMATS IN CHARGE
Our finances aren’t great. Neither are our foreign relations. Despite having a rising GDP, the cost of living is pretty high, wages are pretty low, and it seems you either have to be of the upper-middle class or a government employee to actually make any money.
And that’s mostly because the country’s largely been run by ex-lawyers, nationalists, communists, and people with arts degrees convinced in the holy trinity of culture, heritage, and pissing off the West.
All of these people tend to be excellent orators and power brokers, but at some point someone has to do the accounts. Intellectual stands are very fine, but what we need more is sound financial math and someone capable of shaking a hand without looking like a barbarian. Having a track record of jail and university politics cannot be a valid qualifier.
WILL ALL THIS HAPPEN AS NEEDED?
Sri Lankans, despite being very nationalistic in matters of race, don’t seem very nationalistic when it comes to politics. The basic rule of thumb for the average voter seems to be “if I suck up to this guy, what do I get?” or “my vote is for the SLFP!”
That’s a very poor way to vote, but this situation isn’t unique – after all, America managed to end up with a bunch of Senators who don’t believe in climate change, which in my book is right up there with believing in the Easter Bunny. That’s how democracy works. You get a vote: so do the idiots.
We can make a difference, though. We already made a difference in ousting one President-turned-King. All we need to do is pay attention to who’s being voted in.
Forget party loyalty. Everybody’s capitalist at the end of the day; the only true communists are dead or poor, and nobody’s completely socialist, either. Examine the people. If a party’s putting forth a lot of dumb people, now would be a good time to switch allegiance. If a person is a Rajapaksa, well, don’t vote for them.
You might actually be able to make a difference, however tiny. Enough of these differences will stack, and a large handful of good people in Parliament might actually turn the tide.
I’m reminded of something John F. Kennedy said about the moon missions. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things,” he said. “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
We must choose to do things things, not because they are easy, but because they are right.