Two weeks ago this newspaper editorially urged that the candidates running for president be pinned down on their positions on vital issues. This is what the Citizens Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) and its redoubtable president, Dr. A.C. Viswalingam, has done or is trying to do. As reported in our front page today, CIMOGG is sending out a short questionnaire to the various candidates seeking `yes or `no responses to some questions of vital interest to the community. Their answers, as Viswalingam has said, will enable the voters to compare the programmes and policies of the contenders before they make their choice. There is of course every possibility that the questionnaires will be ignored, as happened when CIMOGG tried to find out from the Speaker how many MPs had not declared their assets. A stony silence was the only response evoked. But that tells its own story.
As the country is all too well aware, far too many promises that politicians make at election time are meant to be broken. Those who make them don t have the slightest intention of delivering although it must be said in fairness that there have been some promises sincerely made but changing circumstances made it difficult to deliver. Who can forget that first President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and then President Mahinda Rajapaksa solemnly promised to abolish the executive presidency, an office to which they both sought re-election CBK successfully and Mahinda hopefully. Kumaratunga even signed a letter of agreement with the JVP that she would abolish the executive presidency within a specified timeframe, six months if we remember correctly, and secured the withdrawal of the candidate the JVP was fielding at that election. The fact that she reneged on that promise was not good enough reason for the rathu sahodarayas to withhold support from her thereafter. When she lost her parliamentary majority they propped up what they called her probationary government and then cut a profitable deal to get themselves more parliamentary seats than was possible under their own steam by running under her umbrella at the 1ast parliamentary election.
It may be argued that there are some questions, like the famous ``have you stopped beating your wife? where a `yes or `no is not possible. An `yes is an admission that you have been beating your wife and a `no says you are still beating her. It s a classic `heads I win, tails you lose situation! But the questions that CIMOGG is asking are not that difficult and certainly not unfairly loaded. For example would the candidates implement the 17th Amendment relating to the appointment of the Constitutional Council within 30 days of being elected? The 17th Amendment is already law and the incumbent president, by resorting to shilly-shallying and offering unacceptable excuses, has failed on his obligation of upholding the basic law of the land. Unfortunately, he is not being held sufficiently accountable for this failure and for that all of us must blame ourselves.
Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake, upon declaring President Mahinda Rajapaksa elected in November 2005 publicly sought the new president s assurance that he would be permitted to retire from a position he believes he has held for too long. He got that assurance but in the absence of an Elections Commission, that can be appointed by the Constitutional Council, he is very much in office and now sweating over the two forthcoming elections the presidential and the parliamentary that must follow shortly thereafter. Dissanayake is on record calling for even the belated appointment of an Elections Commission to run the January 26 contest. But that is a highly unlikely prospect. If CIMOGG s questionnaire does create the necessary public opinion and commits the candidates to fixed positions on matters that are of vital importance to good governance that the country has lacked for too long, we may at least see the parliamentary election run by an independent commission as in India which is often described as the world s largest democracy.
We have as many as 22 candidates running for election which is something much more than a bit of a joke. The taxpayer who will have to carry the tab is being loaded with wastefully unnecessary expenditure, a point which the commissioner made when the nominations were in. Mr. U.B. Wijekoon, a respected public servant of yesteryear who was elected to parliament in 1977 and held cabinet office and an ambassadorial appointment thereafter, is one of those who readily admit that he hasn t got a ghost of a chance at this election. But he is a serious candidate in the sense that although he is nominally an Independent, he is a flag bearer for the Swarajya Movement interested in a party-less system where people at the grassroots are empowered to run their affairs. He is using the election as a platform to advocate such radical change. Others like Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne and Mr. Siritunga Jayasuriya are leftist torch bearers while still others are in the race to pass on their candidates entitlements to the main contenders. The Elections Department says it will try to prevent candidates using the television and radio time they will get to promote somebody else s candidature. But there are many ways getting round those problems as we have seen before.
We are glad that CIMOGG has not asked too many questions. The ground covered includes good governance and stamping out corruption. These are areas to which anybody seeking public office must be firmly committed. But expedience, opportunism and a can t-care-less attitude have too often been manifest in such matters. Politicians naturally like to have their loyalists in sensitive positions so that their bidding will be done regardless of right and wrong. We have been told that our jumbo-sized cabinet which surely qualifies for the Guiness Book of Records was a necessity to ensure a parliamentary majority for the administration. That surely is not true for the newest defectors anointed as ministers. It is an unspeakable travesty to see people elected under proportional representation on the ticket of one party serving as ministers of another, with the legal system making that possible. Some of these worthies got a free ride to parliament by way of the National List!
We applaud CIMOGG for what it is seeking to do. Hopefully it would trigger at least a somewhat favourable development. Only an incurable optimist will believe it will work altogether.