Loku Scene: Why Abolishing the ‘Presidency’ Isn’t Enough

With the elections coming up, there’s a huge tidal wave of opinion rising to catch voters everywhere. One of Maithree’s biggest hooks is the same claim made by Mahinda Rajapakse years ago: abolishing the Executive Presidency. However, while we wait for the power struggles to come to and end, here’s the elephant in the room: accountability to the public.

Let me explain. We’re getting ornery over ultimate top-down change – the abolishing of the Executive Presidency. Which is fine; we’re talking about the restructuring of an agency that gives the ruler of this country more power than the Queen of England.

But will abolishing it actually make a huge difference? I’m not so sure. When it comes to politics, we seem to have a bunch of thugs Up There, all of whom seem to get up to more public havoc than the President’s ever faced. With or without the Presidency, with or without legislature backing them up, our leaders seem to exercise a great deal of power and a great deal of it is spent making sure the public does not stand up to them in any way.

Think about it.  We have roadblocks every time a minister wants to shift from point A to point B. We have legions of MPs, random ministers, police chiefs and their sons running about the country creating havoc and generally being assholes. We have loudspeakers broadcasting political advertising and disturbing the peace.

And getting into fights like schoolboys
And getting into fights like schoolboys

Even worse: we have a humungous variety of ministers who seem to do .. nothing whatsoever. They don’t do reforms. They don’t make their voice heard. As far as I can figure out, all they do is hide behind the skirts of whatever party they’re in and hang on to that salary.

Now technically, these are public servants. They are paid with public money, elected by the public, and their postings – what they do – are jobs. They don’t have the powers of the Executive Presidency to do as they please. Why then are most of them not held accountable? Why is there no performance monitoring, no taskmasters looking over their shoulders, making sure they do what they’re paid to do?

The problem isn’t with the Executive Presidency, and it isn’t going to go away when it’s abolished, either. 

1) A culture of not giving a fuck. Get a job. Pay your taxes. Each three square meals a day. Don’t give a damn about anything except the next match and the price of petrol. Worry about the price of bread. Decide at the last moment who you want to vote for – forget agendas and promises; ain’t nobody got time for that. Sounds familiar?

That’s Sri Lankan life. Politics is squarely out of this; nobody wants to talk about the men who’ve they’ve put into power, except when the husband gets drunk with his friends and starts preaching political theory. By and large, there’s a visibly perceptible attitude of leaving the Higher-Ups To Their Games. And when people do give a fuck, it’s with ..

That’s wrong. The Higher Ups Shouldn’t Be Left to Their Games. Dammit, it’s our board they’re playing on.

And when people do give a fuck, it’s with 2) a kiss-ass attitude towards power. Most Sri Lankans look upon ministers and their ilk as celebrities to be courted. If a man is in the slightest way important, the initial reaction seems to be to bend over far enough to be used as an ironing board.

Which leads to … 3) a politically controlled media. The media are responsible for drumming up public interest in these matters. Short of a few programs by Sirasa and others, there isn’t much going on here. Instead, we’re treated to writeups on the Glorious Leadership, tons of press releases from imbecilic marketers and badly written whining on whatever is whine-able at the moment. That’s mostly because most media (especially print) are tightly controlled by a few people with long fingers in the political pie.

For fuck’s sake, Mahinda Amaraweera as good as admitted in public that the government have been leeching from the public and they’ve done so much of it they don’t need anymore. In any other country Editors would be fired up about this, journalists would be damning this man left right and center, and newspapers would cry havoc and let loose the proverbial dogs of war. That isn’t happening. Instead, we get stupidly tame stuff like this: http://www.dailymirror.lk/57447/we-have-plundered-enough-amaraweera

These aren’t things that can be fixed by politicians. Well, at least, not the first two, which is what’s important. This requires bottom-up change, people thinking for themselves, starting to wonder about this guy that they’re going to vote for: is he seriously going to deliver? If not, why is he here? That man there, does he deserve to sit in Parliament? What’s he doing there?

So the question is: how do we go from there to here?

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