“I have understood you’re problems”
Duminda Silva has a pretty good website. The martial music hits you, but if you turn it off there’s a lot of content. He is basically giving stuff away, building houses, throwing money around. And people need money, God knows they need money. But where does it come from?
I don’t know where Duminda’s money comes from. I won’t get into that.
A lot of politicians get their money from the underworld or drugs. Where else do you get envelopes, bags and suitcases of cash? Sri Lanka’s drug industry is no joke – especially kudu, or heroin. Most alcohol consumption is also illicit homebrew, kasippu. There is any amount of money flowing under Colombo, especially in part where sewers don’t flow. This drug and black money that keeps the hood down is also what politicians end up flashing around, giving the illusion that it props the hood up.
How this bad loop works is that it plays on the existential needs of both groups, that is, their need to exist. A politician needs money to exist and to win votes, and people need money to pay medical bills or put the kids in school. Hence it flows. How do you break the cycle?
The first and most obvious way is time. Left broadly undamaged, a society flows towards better politics, ranging from kingship to feudalism to democracy to some kind of sensible socialism. This is theoretical, but the demonstrable fact is that as a people become less poor they become more empowered.
More directly, however, it is possible to reform the electoral system. For one thing, it only makes sense to return to ward politics, where a rep represents a discernable area. MPs are now elected from such wide and diverse swathes of land that they have to spend almost nationally to get the votes and thus cannot possibly comprehend the needs there, let alone address them. Even if they build three schools and tar the roads, unless they can show up on TV they’ll be out. And so the drug money. Then the real constituents are the money bags, not the people.
Another thing is some degree of public financing. This will never be complete, but the government should use state resources for elections. All candidates should be given some time on state TV, newspapers, and the use of some state hoardings. This can’t be party based, but it can at least give some hope of communicating content. Right now all a candidate really communicates is their name and a completely random number. However, when you get in the booth, that is what matters. We should make it so that others issues have room to matter.
Personally, I also think that names and faces should be posted outside of the polling booth, and that even a platform should be available on polling day. Make it standard and not an ad, perhaps the answers to a few questions. Then at least you get voters as they’re voting and communicate something more useful as than a number.
Third, in addition to public financing, private financing can get better. Small mobile donations are a start. Sri Lanka is not America where online donations can upend the whole system, but they can make a difference. I also think there should be a centralized web portal where you can get info about all the candidates, and where all the candidates can raise funds. You should also be able to SMS a candidates number to make a donation off your mobile bill. This would at least be a start to breaking a hold that black money has over our politics, and the black characters that emerge like Duminda Silva.