These days, what is more elusive than bread at thirty seven rupees, an interview by General Sarath Fonseka that does him no harm and a balanced and impartial news broadcast on Rupavahini?
A manifesto for the presidential election that everyone is going gaga about these days, I’d say. Yes, there are twenty two candidates in the fray. Apparently the poor Elections Commissioner couldn’t reject more than one nomination-like the many other things that he cannot do anything about. As a result, we have a ballot paper that would be two feet long.
We have a candidate called Sarath Kongahage who is a ‘spoiler’-someone inserted by Sarath Fonseka’s rivals who believe voters will see ‘Sarath’ on the ballot paper and vote for Kongahage. Such are the tactics. But, no, there is no manifesto-from either side.
Theoretically President Rajapaksa has a manifesto: his ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. So says Dulles Alahapperuma, his media guru turned Transport Minister. His job is to keep the wheels of the propaganda machinery well-oiled and turning, even if the wheels at the CGR and the CTB are not turning as efficiently as we would like them to. Now, Dulles is not the dullest in the cabinet of ministers. So, he tells us that President Rajapaksa will not release a new manifesto because his programme for the next six years would be an extension of the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. Or, it just may be that Dulles couldn’t be bothered writing another manifesto so soon.
But this worries me for two reasons. Firstly because of the arithmetic involved. We hear the President saying in his campaign rallies that he is seeking a fresh mandate after four years because he has completed ninety five per cent of the promises he made in the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. Yes, Your Excellency, you finished the task of eradicating terrorism not a ninety five per cent but a full hundred per cent and we are all grateful for that. But maybe they didn’t test your skills at multiplication and division in the good old days, in the early seventies when you were sitting your Law College exams with Jeyaraj by your side. Get your calculators out and do the math. The President completed ninety five per cent of the job in four years. Now, he wants six more years to do the balance five per cent. It doesn’t quite add up so maybe Dulles should listen to his mater’s voice a bit more-or write his mater’s speeches a little bit differently.
The second reason why Dulles gives me the jitters is when he says that we are to have ‘more of the same’- an extended release of the Mahinda Chinthanaya for the next six years. What we were given in 2005 was the abridged version, a sneak preview, or so it seems. That would mean six more years of over one hundred ministers, dengue epidemics, leaked question papers, newspaper editors getting killed, petrol queues every now and then-and who knows, six more years of bickering in the UNP with Ranil Wickremasinghe as the Leader of the Opposition! Why, we would even have six more years of Mervyn Silva telling us why he is a descendant of Dutugemunu-although I wouldn’t quite mind it, if we could squeeze in a repeat of Silva getting bashed and bathed with red paint at Rupavahini with a live telecast to boot-I’m sure they can attract enough sponsors for the event!
What about the ‘other’ side? General Fonseka says he will abolish the Executive Presidency, period. How he proposes to do it is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Maybe he wants someone to come carrying the 1978 Constitution in one hand and a white flag in the other hand, so he can shoot him dead and abolish the Executive Presidency. That would be easy; he can later say he acted out of context, but the Presidency would be dead by that time! What about the economy? General Fonseka is an honourable man so he says he knows next to nothing about the economy. He will let the experts and the political parties that support him decide on that. Not experts like Cabraal, PB Jayasundera and G L Peiris (or is G S P Peiris more appropriate now?), we hope. And it will also be high fun when the UNP and the JVP get together to decide on the economy; the UNP can decide on policy and the JVP can decide when they would picket against those policies at the Lipton Circus-or vice versa. It will be a circus indeed. On the ethnic question, the General is relatively forthcoming. He will come up with a package of devolution that is ‘more than the thirteenth amendment’, he says. Maybe he has surreptitiously attended some tuition classes by Tissa Vitarana, the good professor of microbiology who wins the NATO (No Action, Talking Only) award for his APRC.
So, both President Mahinda and General Sarath are not giving us a clear manifesto that we can discuss, digest and decide. But it is not as if there are no issues at stake at the election. There are. Plenty of them, in fact. For instance, who is responsible for winning the war, the Commander or the Commander-in-Chief? Who is a patriot and who is a traitor? Who has more experience, the one with forty years in politics or the one with forty years in the Army and forty days in politics? Who gave the orders to shoot at those carrying white flags? Who betrayed whom? Who is the more ‘sensitive’ leader? If you think these are, after all, issues of national interest and should therefore be issues at the election maybe you should also ask the Commissioner of Elections to withdraw the polling cards of Prabhakaran’s parents and prevent them from voting. Why, seeking their vote is also traitorous so we will make it official and scrap them from the Voters’ List, Mr. Dissanayake, shall we, because for some this is also a huge election issue?
Then there are other issues as well: Who has more security personnel and bullet proof vehicles? Is it correct to feed people at Temple Trees? Why do the state media always state their support for the Head of State? Never mind the fact that all these issues will be dead on the morning of January 27 2010. Never mind the fact that we know next to nothing about what our leading candidates would do with our economy, our healthcare, our education and about restoring peace with a political solution to ethnic grievances in the country.
Take your pick, you have a choice. You can look at the ugly spectacle of Nimal Siripala explaining why Sarath Fonseka is a traitor. Or, the not so soothing sight of Mangala Samaraweera bashing the ‘sahodara samaagama’. Or Sanath Jayasuriya asking you to vote for the ‘experienced and sensitive’ candidate. Somebody asked me whether a candidate called ‘Maubima’ was contesting. I looked through the list of the twenty two candidates and found quite a few names beginning with M, four to be precise, but there was no ‘Maubima’ among them. I asked him why he thought ‘Maubima’ was contesting. He said there were so many advertisements on television saying ‘Maubima dinawamu’.
But that is probably what would not happen, regardless of who wins. Someone said this election is like twenty two jackals seeking the votes of twenty million jackassses. He may be closer to the truth than we all think.