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Cutting down on election costs and refunding these through public funds

The reforms I have suggested may seem esoteric, of interest only to the few people who are concerned about constitutional principles. They could be dismissed as the obsessions of a theoretician, with little practical experience of politics.

But they do have a very practical application, which will be extremely beneficial not only to the people, but also to politicians. For instance, it is obvious to everyone that the present electoral system requires massive resources on the part of individuals. A few individuals do have such resources in terms of personal fortunes, and a very few of these have acquired such fortunes in ways that the public at large would find acceptable. But the vast majority have either to engage in businesses that provide massive quick returns – which entails obligations that are not always desirable – or else have to find resources in other ways.

This has contributed to what I still find bizarre, the general acceptance of the principle that Parliamentarians sell off the permits they obtain to buy duty free vehicles. One former opposition Parliamentarian has indeed confessed to this openly, in claiming that he was able to bestow largesse through the sale of his permit. This is not generally considered abhorrent, and certainly I can understand what has occurred, because the expenses now of elections are astronomical. I can claim no credit for not having as yet made use of my permit, because I was fortunate enough to have been appointed on the National List.

It would be absurd then for me to sit in judgment on much better politicians than I am, who have had to work through a wasteful system. And I should add that I sympathize with my colleagues who used to serve as Provincial Councillors, and who are now unable to obtain permits because five years have not elapsed since they got such permits in their previous incarnation. Five years did not lapse between them having to find resources for Provincial Council elections and finding resources for the General Election, and naturally they feel cheated that they should suffer a loss that old hands in Parliament need not endure.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2020
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