Dismantling The Social Class of Sri Lankan Politics: Term-Limits

Sri Lanka received a wake-up call on Sunday, April 21, 2019, when multiple explosions took place across the country targeting innocent civilians. Some dubbed it the “9/11 of Sri Lanka,” comparing it to the rush of emotions, shock, and the government’s inability to find a suitable counter-terrorism response. Local terrorism was nothing new to the people of Sri Lanka, but this new wave of fear was the loudest wake up call Sri Lankans ever received. Just several hours after the explosions, the public learned that the massacre of 300+ innocent lives would have been prevented if authorities didn’t turn a blind eye to the warnings of the intelligence services. Fingers were pointed at all politicians, irrespective of party, and they themselves orchestrated the same game: pointing their fingers at someone else.

The lack of accountability of politicians in Sri Lanka is nothing new, but their disinterest in protecting the people they serve came as somewhat of a big shock to all Sri Lankans. They’ve stooped a new low, from being mediocre politicians to murderers, unconcerned for innocent lives while being entangled in their lavish lifestyles, immune to the realities on the ground.

Politics in Sri Lanka is not a job anymore. It was never an opportunity to serve, but at least employment kept some politicians moving. Over time, politics has evolved from a job position to a social class. This new level of social class is the social class of politicians who roam around free, using public infrastructure and savings to do their bidding, while enjoying immunity to any economic and societal shocks that occur in the country. Fear and shame have left their laps as they breed the next generation of this social class through their children who will wake up to the same undeclared luxuries, and grow up to be similar to their predecessors.

We need to end this and to successfully do that, Sri Lanka needs to introduce term-limits to all politicians.

Leaders seeking to extend their hold on power are generating controversy and conflict around the globe, including in Sri Lanka. Term-limits are not such an alien concept – we have it right here in Sri Lanka, with Presidential term-limits. However, before harping upon this idea, let’s look at how introducing term-limits to all politicians will positively affect the political sphere of Sri Lanka.

#1: Increased Accountability

The existence of term-limits will increase accountability in Sri Lanka’s leadership. The biggest challenge to transparent leadership in the country is the practice that politicians acquire a job for life when they are elected. When politicians get elected and then seasoned enough to play the party politics, they keep playing it forever. The existence of term limits would drive politicians towards being mindful of the consequences and impermanent nature of their job, making their climb to an uppity social class impossible. This will increase judgment, reducing election-related incentives for wasteful government spending. It will remind them that when they retire, they will need a new job – maybe in the private sector, which will demand them at their best performance as a politician.

#2 Increased Adaptability of Governance

When term-limits are imposed on politicians, it will increase the number of freshman politicians getting involved in Sri Lankan politics, heightening the relevance of political parties to the evolution of time. It will also demand political parties to invite, train, and engage new politicians to lead the country which will allow new candidates to run for office, and ease the tensions of representative democracy in the country.

#3 Dismantle the Social Class of Politics

Term limits will also dismantle the social class of politics. Currently, politicians view their positions of service as a life-long career as opposed to a responsible job. Many of them have had the guts to pull their children into politics, nibbling on the elevated status-quo by having access to unlimited government resources and power. Term-limits will impose a reality check on power grabbing families and provide the general public with a better chance of relieving them of their duties. This would also reduce them to the status of an average citizen and enable them to be more connected to our realities.

#4 Strengthen Our Democracy

At present, the people of Sri Lanka have a choice – to reelect the people in power or not. Today, however, is an exception, as none of them are worthy of “a good choice.” If democracy is having a choice, then our democracy has failed us. By introducing term-limits, and through the induction of freshman politicians, the public of Sri Lanka will receive the democratic right to choose a candidate to their liking.

Term-limits has its own negatives. However, at a critical time like this, I believe a call to action is needed. A heavy hand must fall upon the leaders who opt to neglect the security of their people and to remind them of the impermanence of their role because the essence of democracy is the power that lies with the people.

Article by Nipuna Ambanpola and Karen Raymond