An old infographic from the Daily Mirror
I was reading about jail time being seen as a badge of honor in India, for politicians. In India about 30% of lower house members have charges against them and having a criminal record seems to actually double your chances of winning an election (via WSJ). In Sri Lanka I feel like it’s much the same, it’s just that no one files charges. So how did jail and crime become grad school for pols?
Sub-continental voters are extremely forgiving. You can kill (re: Duminda Silva), rape (also Duminda, statutory, charges dropped), rob (many), have affairs (Nimal Siripala de Silva, countless others), be gay (Ranil), whatever. I do think sexual choices outside of rape shouldn’t be debilitating to politicians, but the fact that rape, murder and violence are crimes that politicians can (and do) get away with is deeply troubling.
In India it seems like they expect violence and thuggery of politicians. In Sri Lanka, too, politics has become a mafia where made men have rights average citizens don’t, including the right to assault and pillage. In the west I suppose politicians are also bad, but not on this level, and they at least have the dignity to try and lie and cover up.
Here politicians have lost the veneer of respectability. They still like to be addresses as Right Honorable, but they ultimately face nothing but inconvenience from criminal activity. People are unlikely to press charges and press condemnation seems to have helped the careers of the likes of Mervyn Silva, who rode documented instances of assault and general offensiveness to a position as Minister Of Public Relations.
The only real crime in the nation is disloyalty to the Rajapaksa family, and the only crime to voters here and in India would seem to be breaking from caste and identity politics. As long as a politicians ‘represents’ in that sense, he does not have to be a model or even decent citizen.
The only place left for gentlemen politicians seems to be on the national list, but even that is at the price of loyalty to whoever appoints them, be it Ranil or Mahinda.
Beyond bemoaning the current state of affairs, I’d like to also imagine some ways out. One thing is that politicians really may represent their society and that as society matures so will politicians. Right now things like land disputes, dealing with courts, etc are all highly inefficient so sometimes you do want just a big politician who will ‘sort stuff out’, by violence or whatever. Perhaps as institutions improve (if they can under some circumstance), politicians who practice policy rather than power will be more successful.
Another thing is that politicians require money to exist, and that had brought elections perilously close to the underworld. If online fund raising and the like take off in Sri Lanka, perhaps that could bring pressure from small average voters more in to the mix.
Overall, though, it remains a rough situation. Sri Lanka and India have plenty of criminals in Parliament and we live in a system that penalizes those that try to fly straight, in terms of votes, finance and more. In India they’ve past laws saying that MPs with criminal convictions will be removed, but in Sri Lanka charges are rarely even filed. Right not I think it makes the most sense to analyze politics as that within a mafia, but I still hold out hope that things will change.