Changing the political culture of Sri Lanka : Advice for the Voters and the Voted


Democracy is meant to enable the citizens of the country to elect representatives of their choice and have the country led according to their choice. Supreme power is meant to be vested in the people and those elected to power are merely agents of the people. These fancy notions are good for the books. In reality the citizens have become the servants and the politicians/their spouses/families function like emperors. When the fundamentals of anything is forgotten or ignored trouble begins. The country becomes like a volcano – a time bomb waiting to explode. Essentially the fault lines need to be looked at

1. Change the culture of voting for jumping politicians: If the politicians are unwilling to bring legislation to stop politicians from jumping from one party to the other, the people must identity all the kangaroos in Sri Lanka’s political scene and desist from voting for them. Currently there are rumors of Government and Government supporting politicians planning and bargaining to join the Opposition which thinks that the Uva election equates to an Island-wide victory in 2015 while other former leaders are relying on astrologers to bring them to power. The question that voters need to ask is how logical it is for them to vote for the same inefficient, corrupt, devoid of ethics people who are doing the leapfrog just to seal their comfortable future? How well will the Opposition be able to run the country with the same set of unproductive characters who in Government have done nothing they can boast of? The public should not vote for any politician even at municipality, provincial or other levels who have a habit from jumping from one party to the other for their own selfish reasons. Today, taking the present Government it is not difficult to see that they are mostly those that jumped from the opposition and the chances of them jumping back is very obvious. The Opposition should not become a training centre for kangaroos!

2. Change the culture of voting for politicians bargaining with the identity of the country: No politician, voted in for a term has any moral right to change the cultural ethos or identity of the country. Whatever secular arguments are brought forward what cannot change is the fact that this country was built up by the rule of over 180 Sinhala Buddhist kings. The over 2500 history was forcibly changed by the arrival of colonial rulers who invaded and occupied the nation and with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other attempted to viciously change the Buddhist identity of the country. Politicians cannot change history and history cannot change because it suits the whims and fancies and opportunism of politicians. The country’s Buddhist identity cannot and should not be bargained with simply because they find themselves cornered by countries promoting a different faith in line with their expansionist imperialism. Nevertheless, the current dissatisfaction amongst the majority populace who comprise over 70% of the population is primarily because politicians have chosen to not only bargain with the identity but have compromised the Buddhist cultural heritage and even the Buddhist landscape. When voters eventually also make up 70% of the same majority are the politicians so foolish to ignore this fact and pretend that speeches and a surprise visit to their electorates will make the people forget the realities that take place around then? When churches, madrassas, mosques, born again centres are springing up like mushrooms with the blessings of politicians will the majority voter watch these incursions take place for long? Is the answer to allow and then remove these structures when objections are made? Should it not be better to create a law to ensure such structures do not take place according to whims and palming of hands so that trouble is not created for reactions to occur? Is this request too difficult for politicians to understand or comprehend?

3. Change the culture of selecting politicians: Take all the politicians in Sri Lanka – Opposition and Government count and see how many are qualified? How many have only O/L, how many have A/L, how many have a university qualification or even a professional qualification? How many who are not qualified have performed and provided a service to the public? How many who are qualified have functioned as ‘konda pana nethi’ leaders? How many of them are tied to nefarious characters which they have created and cannot do without? Is this the type of leaders that the public want to continue to vote for and thereafter complain until the next election but vote again for them because they offer some personal favour to each? Should the public not insist on a criteria for the political parties to follow in selecting and if political parties do not honor their word the public should desist from voting for them. How many voters are guilty of voting for people not thinking of whether they are suitable national leaders but because they will offer some personal benefit to them?

4. Change the culture of caste/class vote: whether we like to admit or not a good bloc of votes is secured by virtue of caste and class and the voters will never vote outside this terrain. It is part problem as to why rogue characters essentially end up in Parliament or in other leadership roles. People have yet to shirk themselves of voting for people who stand for righteousness and good probably because there are very few or hardly any to take as example. Thus, people end up voting for the same odd lot of people and this is determined by the class/caste that they belong to. Notice how political parties are shrewd enough to place as nominees party nominees to areas where their caste/class prevails knowing the dynamics of how they will vote.

5. Change the political culture of becoming victims of astrologers: Anyone who knew President Premadasa would have been privy to the manner in which he became a victim of astrologers. Taking their advice, following it to the core there is nothing he would not have done that he was asked to do. None of them predicted or told him that he would be blown to smithereens or that the country would light crackers in celebration. Astrology should be a guide, it should not dictate political judgement and override political wisdom.

6. Change the culture of forgetting one’s past: Again a mistake made by most people ascending is to forget their past, forget their roots and pretending to be what they are not. No sooner they rise and enter politics or become politically connected the examples of how people have forgotten their roots and their beginning are ample and with the inferiority complex coupled with the ultra ego of their new role they become enemies within themselves and nightmares for the general public as well. Their families add to the torment and suffering of those entering their bad books.

7. Equality does not mean equal culture : A mistake most often made is to think that equality and rights implies the whole landscape and cultural identity of the country to take a ‘multicultural’ look. However, what needs to be said is that no country with a civilizational history will ever want to or ever plan to change that cultural landscape or identity though it would grant to the minorities rights equal to the rest of the citizens. Legal rights and fundamental rights cannot be used to change the cultural and identity of the country as it is happening now. Simply put, the Buddhist identity cannot be changed to look like a secular ‘multicultural’ landscape whereby traditionally ONLY Buddhist sites have now become ‘multicultural’ sites ex: Sri Pada was an ONLY Buddhist site, today it is being claimed by all and the Government ends up changing historical facts to incorporate these new incursions. Islamic nations are not multicultural, they are neither secular nor provide non-Muslims equal rights as that of their own, Christian countries also ensure that while freedom for faiths to practice is given the Christian dimension of their countries is not changed. The later day religions cannot dictate to the majority religion that was the State religion followed by 180 kings. Thus, politicians have no right to put Buddhism in par with other later day religions and expect Buddhism to take second place as other religions that conflict with Buddha’s teachings use the power of money to buy over politicians, advisors and others. This is why of late we see a calamity has arisen even in countries like Britain because some MPs have acted no different to our own by allowing their personal whims to take over what the British identity does not want to give up. This is what happens when fundamentals of leadership and the fundamentals of what is expected of elected politicians is compromised.

8. Change the culture of selecting advisors: Advisors are important entities. They are people who are often in the background providing inputs to help make key decisions. What happens when unqualified politicians select unworthy advisors? What happens when qualified politicians are manipulated by influential advisors? We can safely say that there are enough of examples we can give to showcase how some advisors and consultants have completely ruined Sri Lanka’s image globally and even locally. Some of these handpicked people are not even citizens, they will do the damage and take the next flight when they realize their leader is going to fall. The line of advisors and consultants awaiting to flee are many. Leaders especially the unqualified must learn to take advise, and advisors must learn to give advice not to please the leader but to brief him on what is the fact, only then can the leader be able to take a decision taking into consideration the pros and cons. We have enough of ‘yes’ men/women who are leading the country astray. Peoples should be able to call a spade a spade – diplomacy needs to be redefined. Diplomacy is not saying or taking actions just because it will displease another or because the other party is unlikely to give special handouts as a result of telling the truth! How many konda pani nethi leaders do we have?

9. Change the culture of corruption: Let us be frank – it is not only politicians, not only the public sector that are corrupt. We can give scores of examples of private sector including the Golden Key/Kotelawala’s as examples of corrupt at its height. From the peon to the Secretary corruption prevails. It has become ingrained into society to such an extent that it is hard to find anyone who is not corrupt, who cannot be swayed by money and who is honest, stands for integrity and has the highest of moral standards. We need to create such a society and just blaming politicians is unlikely to change the culture. People must say no to corruption. It must be practiced from home and taken to the workplace and it must prevail to such an extent that the corrupt person feels ashamed and on his own desists from corrupt ways. As things stands with the majority of people being corrupt it is the honest person who is made to feel small, who is isolated and who is cornered as a result of his good ways. A good person is unlikely to get promotions, his career path will be stalled because people do not want honest people around them as their dirty secrets will come out!

10. Changing the culture of copying: When a country with a proud heritage as ours why is it that our leaders try to match up to lifestyles, cultures and behaviors of others? Why have our leaders not given prominence to our heroes and promoted them while instead they take pains to promote heroes of other nations and cultures? When we try to imitate, copy what is not ours we either overdo it or make fools of ourselves and we see that in ample measure in how some of our leaders behave. A good lesson for both politician and the general public.

These are just a handful of reasons that contribute to the present political landscape and inadvertently helps add to the decline in good people entering leadership roles or being accepted for leadership role. We end up eternally voting for the same bad eggs as they rotate themselves from one party to the other.

Is this how we are to move forward is a question that both politicians and the general public need to ask themselves. Both are essentially guilty of helping the other in their corrupt ways. The handful of good people get cornered or are never given any role and even if they are they soon end up a headache within the system and novel ways are created to oust them!

In deciding who to vote for, questions that must always be on the minds of the voter is

  • Will he/she betray the nation, its identity, its values/culture/heritage and even the people for personal gain?
  • Will he/she be a mere puppet, a stooge of foreign powers?
  • Will he/she sell national assets, state welfare and fall prey to foreign dictates?
  • Will he/she sacrifice and compromise the hard won war victory and forsake all that the armed forces has achieved?

Such a person should not receive anyone’s vote.


– by Shenali D Waduge