Yatharthaya – A Platform for First Time Candidates
In many ways the campaign for the forthcoming parliamentary elections is different from all others held before and we have COVID-19 to thank for most of that. Even though some of the mainstream political parties have gone ahead with large scale election rallies, in comparison to what it used to be, today’s meetings seem to have shrunk in size, simply because everyone of us must adhere to Health Ministry guidelines.
It is also a fact that come election time, it is the same politicians and main political groups that get the most exposure. In fact media monitors have consistently shown that most exposure in all forms of media is given to the two main parties, now four after the various splits; the SLPP/SLFP and the UNP/SJB, while even the JVP which has been a legally recognized political party for more than twenty five years, always ends up a poor third. Lesser known parties often get step-motherly treatment despite guidelines from the Election Commission which states that all parties should be given equal exposure.
In light of all that, getting to hear the views of lesser known candidates, especially the first timers, through the Yatharthaya programme of Jathika Handa using an on-line platform is a refreshing change. As well the live-wires behind this programme are all women. Counterpoint spoke to one of the Co-Convenors of Jathika Handa, Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka to learn more about the programme.
Counterpoint: Tell us how Yatharthaya came about.
Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka: Jathika Handa, is an independent Civil Society Organization that acts on matters of National Interest. I am one of the Co-Convenors; the other is Manu Thissera, Communications and Advocacy Specialist. Manu Thissera, and I along with Soraya Deen, a lawyer and activist are the moderators of the programme. We wanted to create a non-traditional political show that would empower citizens to hold those who are elected to parliament accountable. As you know, most Sri Lankans have been disappointed with our elected representatives for some time. Most want all of the 225 parliamentarians rejected. So we thought it’s time to create a platform where other aspiring politicians could be heard. The whole purpose is to give citizens the opportunity to make an informed selection of who they want as their parliamentary representatives. We launched “Yatharthaya” for that purpose.
We have seen how attempts are made to polarise Sri Lankans and the restrictions citizens face to uphold democratic governance.
Counterpoint: How did you go about selecting the participants for the show?
TW: As you know, we are featuring only first time candidates from all of the political parties. We have chosen participants from all ethnic groups and geographical locations. We adopted selection criteria and participants had to agree to abide by the March 12 Movement/PAFFREL recommendations signed and agreed by all Party Leaders, Election Commission and religious Leaders.
One of the crucial questions candidates invited to appear on our show had to respond to was whether they have or have had any civil or criminal cases filed against them in a Court of Law.
This is to ensure we present a credible individual. As an independent CSO we believe that we should be responsible and accountable in maintaining the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. There is a clarion call to reject all 225 and we salute that call. We were not afraid to reject those who were in violation of our selection criteria.
We had representation from as many districts as possible and from little or unknown parties unlike what you see on mainstream media. It was quite challenging to find first time females or ethnic representation within the bigger parties.
Counterpoint: Apart from giving new candidates a platform and viewers an opportunity to listen to their views, how else has this programme been different?
TW: Every candidate on our show pledges to actively work on resolving at least one national issue. Some of the pledges have been about whistle blowing if there is misconduct amongst parliamentarians, revolutionary changes to education, ending ragging (in Universities), ending corporal punishment of children, stricter social media safety to stop cyber bullying/harassment, increase participation of women in politics, abolishing special privileges for parliamentarians including the payments for attending sittings, etc. As well, all of the candidates have agreed to make an Assets Declaration.
I feel that one of the most valuable key features endorsed on this programme is that every politician MUST be able to say “sorry’ – humility is an essential quality of the success and strength of Leadership, often misinterpreted as a weakness in Sri Lankan culture.
We strongly believe that good governance and reconciliation can be established only with the support of the citizenry that decorates the power transfer from the citizen to the politician than the opposite pathway enforced by a special task force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined and Virtuous and Lawful Society.
Counterpoint: You stated that all candidates on the programme pledged to continue working on various national issues. However, not all of them will be elected. What is your plan, post August 5th, especially when the candidates are from different political parties and hold different political ideologies?
TW: Jathika Handa intends working closely with these public representatives, irrespective of whether they are elected or not, to build a bridge and close the gap that has been created by successive regimes between the citizen and public representative thus contributing more effectively towards the unity and progress of our island paradise. It is imperative that public officials are responsible, accountable and easily accessible to the citizenry to overcome the challenges of the 21st century’s global, political and social issues collectively instead of the untouchable divine VIP status of the colonial governance which has been followed for the past 72 years.
Jathika Handa is a forum for any concerned citizen. The fundamental problem we have is that people think national issues require specific political party solutions. Commonly government must resolve it and opposition must be against it. But we are promoting a mutually supportive, truly progressive path where citizens both within and without parliament work together. Build bridges to close the distance with the citizenry; empowerment beyond petty party policies or ideologies. Frankly, if you read all these party manifestos they all endorse the same key points with a slight variation of terminology. Members of parliament must represent and serve the people not their party.
Counterpoint: What has been the response of the candidates to Jathika Handa?
TW: All the candidates thanked Jathika Handa for providing this unique opportunity to first time candidates. Some candidates belong to unknown or little known political parties. However, we have been non- discriminatory and non- partisan in the selection of candidates, as long as they met the criteria we outlined. We promote real time solutions to issues of national significance that are raised by the candidates themselves. There is no prepping of the candidates before the show, therefore responses were spontaneous.
Counterpoint: Yatharthaya has been running for more than a month now, what has been the reaction of the viewers?
TW: There has been tremendous audience feedback with each show reaching over 1000 live views each time with average views of 2000. They send in questions while the show is on, and have been requesting that we continue. So ‘Season Two” begins this Sunday, July 12th. We hear that some other groups have launched similar programmes. So we are planning on being progressively non-traditional in season 2.
Yatharthaya can be accessed here : https://www.facebook.com/jathikahanda/