Politics as a family business

Some people seem to have all the luck. After all, this is Sri Lanka. Out of 23 family members and relatives of ruling party and Opposition politicians in the recent PC polls fray 19 have been returned, as we reported yesterday.

Thankfully, among the noticeable rejects is the nephew of an NWP UPFA provincial councillor who failed to secure nomination because he had forced a female teacher to kneel down in her school. Others who have got returned are not likely to remain in provincial councils for long. They are sure to contest the next general election and some of them may even enter Parliament, which is the Sri Lankan version of Eldorado. For them the provincial councils are only a stepping stone to the national legislature. He who pursues the stag regards not the hare!

The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa once famously declared that he was a servant of the people. But, nobody took him seriously. We have seen valets become masters after elections! Many countries, especially in Asia, have had political families but there is no other land like ours when it comes to the abuse of power and amassing ill-gotten wealth with impunity, and this is actually what attracts so many crooks and their families to politics. In neighbouring India politicians and their family members are at least prosecuted for offences like the 2G Spectrum scam.

Time was when we had only a few political dynasties at the national level to contend with. The concentration of power in the hands of the Bandaranaikes and their relatives became one of the main planks of the UNP platform at the 1977 general election. The issue was so effectively flogged that the UNP succeeded in ousting the Bandaranaike government which was reduced to a few seats in Parliament. But, today, there are hundreds of such families at all levels of politics—national, provincial and even local—living off the fat of the land. Nobody cares to make an issue of it.

As invasive as Yoda Nidikumba (Mimosa pigra) the political families are spreading rapidly and menacingly at the expense of the country and its people. We witnessed how aggressively these clannish politicians and their offspring protect their family interests in the run-up to the recently concluded PC polls in Kurunegala.

Chief Minister-elect Dayasiri Jayasekera was lucky that he had gone through the mill and worked his way through NWP politics painstakingly in a hostile political environment, first as a Pradeshiya Sabha member and then as a parliamentarian with the added advantage of being a popular TV star; he had also developed a thick skin, which is a prerequisite for survival in politics. Else, he would have got crushed like a cockroach under the feet of a powerful minister whose son contested the PC polls from the same party as he.

The situation is more or less similar in other areas as well. Ordinary candidates with a non-political family background who pit themselves against the born-to-rule types and their progeny run the risk of being destroyed politically or even otherwise.

The mushroom-like spread of political dynasties is sure to continue unabated as politics has taken precedence over everything else in this country where anything goes and the masses have taken the abuse of power, thuggery and plunder of national wealth for granted. Some of the political families have already produced third generation politicians!

At this rate the day may not be far off when parliamentary and provincial council sessions become gatherings of the clans. As we see in Jeffrey’s cartoon today the ordinary people will be left with carrots stuck in their mouths.


Daily Mirror

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