Saturday, July 20, 2019


Why aren’t good people in the Parliament?

Can educational qualifications be prescribed for parliamentarians?

Every nation is supposed to have the government it deserves. Does it mean the type of Parliament we currently have is what we Sri Lankans deserve? Technically it cannot be so with a highly literate population and a history of a high level of education even from the colonial times.  Then what went wrong?

By Gamini Abeywardane

The diminishing standards of our parliamentarians have been a matter of grave concern to many in the recent times. The apathy of many MPs towards vital economic and national issues, the poor contribution they make through their parliamentary speeches and worst of all rowdy and unruly behaviour of some of them have triggered the question whether it is possible to lay down some minimum educational qualifications for parliamentarians.

Many ask, if you need a paper qualification even for the lowest rank job in the public sector how can one become a member of the highest law making body without any such qualification. Their question sounds logical and reasonable.

However the issue is, in a democracy where universal franchise and equality are highly regarded it is not possible to deprive any person of the opportunity to become a representative of his or her people purely on the ground of educational qualifications. Probably that is why most democracies in the world do not have such limitations.

This position has been recognized by Section 90 of our Constitution which states that every person who is qualified to be an elector shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament unless he is disqualified under the provisions of Article 91. That literally means if you have the right to vote you also have the right to stand for election as a Member of the Parliament.

Therefore under our law it is not possible to stipulate educational qualifications for parliamentarians. In our neighbouring India the situation is quite different although they do not legally stipulate such qualifications. About 75 per cent of MPs in the current Lok Sabha have at least a graduate degree, while 10 per cent are only matriculates, according to a report by PRS Legislative Research (

The Union Cabinet always consists of highly educated academics and professionals mostly with multiple qualifications. The current Cabinet of Narendra Modi who himself holds a Master’s Degree has 25 members out of which two have doctorates, six have postgraduate qualifications,  12 are graduates while only five have not received university level education.

Every nation is supposed to have the government it deserves. Does it mean the type of Parliament we currently have is what we Sri Lankans deserve? Technically it cannot be so with a highly literate population and a history of a high level of education even from the colonial times.  Then what went wrong?

Terrorism factor

There are several possible reasons and prime among them is the terrorism factor, specifically that of the LTTE which posed a threat to the ruling class. In short they eliminated the best of our potential leaders --  men like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, C V Gooneratne, Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Janaka Perera, Lukshman Kadirgamar who could have changed the destinies of our country.

When a country has educated leaders at the top level they in turn tend to attract like-minded people for the important positions and the chain reaction goes on encouraging more and more educated and decent professionals into the system. The best way to weaken a country or its government is to destroy its best leaders both the current and the potential.

The LTTE tried to achieve it by eliminating the clever, educated and pragmatic potential leaders from the south and with that threat no good men entered politics for several decades. So the vacuum was filled with those closely connected to existing politicians and their cohorts often promoted from the local and provincial government levels.

On the other hand the LTTE was very careful about whom they wanted to eliminate. They targeted the broadminded and liberal politicians with a vision for sorting out the main issues confronting the country while leaving out the mediocre ones. They never touched the peripheral, communal and chauvinistic ones whom they thought would ultimately help their plans in the north.

PR system of voting

The much maligned Proportional Representation system of voting is another major reason which has discouraged good and educated men from entering politics both at national and local level. In the earlier first- past-the-post system, a good man with some reputation could always aspire to enter the Parliament with a reasonable amount of campaigning within his electorate which is geographically not a vast area.

The campaigning or canvassing in such an area could be done without much cost and moreover if the candidate is from the same electorate it became quite easy because the person is already known in the area. With the introduction of the PR system the electorate has become larger and now it’s one whole administrative district.

Campaigning in such an area is not possible without a colossal amount of money and unlike in the early days soon after independence, now it’s the corrupt that have more money and inevitably the good and the educated are not able to compete with such people and win an election.

Then there is the National List which is expected to be a platform to accommodate some educated members who are able to make useful contribution to national life although the Constitution does not lay down any specific criterion for these appointments. Unfortunately this list is also is being misused as a means of appointing candidates rejected by the people at national elections as Members of Parliament.

In such a situation it is not fair to blame the people for electing wrong members to Parliament. The kind of Parliament we have now is not what the people deserve, it is an electoral outcome distorted by the LTTE’s terrorism through its systematic elimination and made worse by the PR system of voting. Now the LTTE menace is over and we should at least modify the existing PR system if we want to have a set of better parliamentarians and consequently a better government.


  1. Yes, we cannot look forward to good governance without a set of good Parliamentarians. Here, I recall a question posed by someone on the Facebook: "How can we vote for horses if they field only donkeys?" Political party leaders are also to be blamed for the current state of sorry affairs. If we are to get the same set of corrupt politicians once again, it would mean the doom of the Parliamentary Democracy!

  2. Gamini has raised a sane voice! Let it not be a cry in the wilderness!