Rathu Sahodarayas have a puckish sense of humour and a superb knack for turn of phrase and coinage, which others can hardly match. JVP Propaganda Secretary and Parliamentary Group Leader Wimal Weerawansa told Parliament on Monday that the cynical public had come to call MPs `pieces`: Because of the attempts made in the run up to Monday`s budget vote to buy parliamentarians, on seeing a parliamentarian, the people said, `There goes a fifty-million-rupee piece!` He bemoaned the low levels that politicians had descended to. We couldn`t agree with him more!
Etymologically, the word `piece` or kaela as used by Weerawansa is derived from the jargon of private bus crews. To those rowdies, a passenger is only a `piece`. But, those `pieces` conveyed in private buses are not as expensive as their counterparts in politics they are a dime a dozen. That`s why the private bus drivers don`t care two hoots about the safety of those `pieces` when they race on highway.
Our privileged parliamentarians may take umbrage if they are called just `pieces`. So, we propose that they be called `honourable pieces` in keeping with their status. We must treat our representatives with due respect, mustn`t we?
That our `honourable pieces` are corrupt to the core is only too well known. But, to give the devil its due, if they ever took money to switch allegiance, as was alleged, how come the budget vote had an anti-climax? We were told that the UNP was lavishing money on some ruling party MPs to entice them into voting against the budget so as to bring the government down. But nothing of the sort happened. Either the government panicked and floated rumours to that effect or some `honourable pieces` took the money but reneged on the promise to defect. Or, it is also possible that those who tried to buy `pieces` got cold feet and abandoned their mission. Anything is possible in the dirty game of politics. When the final budget vote is taken next month, we will see whether money really changed hands.
If parliamentarians have taken to selling their votes, as the Rathu Sahodarayas say, then they are doing just like traders who collect the produce of the poor and sell it to big businessmen. So, the day may not be far off when the electors, too, will ask for money for their votes. They may demand their share of the profits that MPs make by selling their votes.
Some members of the public are already casting their votes for money and kasippu. They don`t even take the trouble of going to polling booths. They dispose of their polling cards on the way. It is also known that political parties pay the people who take part in various processions either in cash or kind. (At political events these days kasippu or arrack is served in tippler-friendly sachets!) That has also become the modus operandi of certain NGOs, which bring large crowds to the city to impress their donors. But, given the sheer amounts of money said to be offered for parliamentarians` votes, the people may refuse to attend political events and cast their votes for a song. They may also increase their charges.
The vote-for-cash business is not without problems, though.
Remember the fate that befell the rival of the legendary Dahanayake of Galle at the 1947 election. Having pitted himself against a wealthy man of the area in the fray?Amarasuriya? who began to throw money around, hoping to win the election, Daha told the people that he had shaken a `money tree`, urging them to collect as much money as possible and vote for him. So, in the end, Daha`s rival spent the money and Daha won the election! Punic faith of the hoi polloi, eh?
It is not only in half baked democracies like ours that politicians get swayed by funds and influence. Even in the so-called developed countries, parliamentarians have become pliable tools in the hands of various lobbies which use block votes, blandishments and funds to influence them.
In the US, at present, we have powerful politicians pulling for Sri Lanka`s separatist lobby. It looks as if some Canadian politicians worked full time for the fronts of terrorist organisations, lured by sizeable block votes they are promised at elections. The same goes for Norway, where politicians have no qualms about promoting terrorism in other countries in a bid to win elections at home. Australia, too, is moving in the same direction, if how politicians are succumbing to pressure from terror lobbies is any indication.
Probity of a politician is like chastity of a prostitute. Therefore, in advanced democracies there are institutional mechanisms to rein in politicians unlike in this blessed land where they are above the law. One way of preventing corrupt political deals is to make politicians declare their assets as well as those of their near and dear ones before the submission of nominations for an election and account for any accretions to their wealth thereafter. This alone won`t yield intended results unless allegations of bribery and corruption are promptly investigated and the culprits prosecuted.
How many `honourable pieces` have submitted their asset declarations in keeping with the law? The Rathu Sahodarayas ought to take this up in Parliament.
Now that they have rightly lashed out at those who have brought political institutions into disrepute, they must let the public know the riches of their representatives.