After the New Year Mrs Anumaana had been talking to her neighbours, and they all seemed to be saying the same thing. They were all broke. With the skyrocketing cost of living, expenses involved in meeting the social obligations of the festive season had left some in debt. It was bad enough having a fuel price hike sneaked past them while they were distracted with the World Cup Final not so long ago.
Recalling the many promises that had been made by politicians during the course of the elections held over the past few years – presidential, parliamentary, provincial, local government (there had been so many, they had lost count) Mrs Anumaana and her neighbours couldn’t help but wonder why Sri Lankan politicians couldn’t be more like their South Indian counterparts.
The question some were asking was, why we couldn’t have “Mixie-grinder elections” like those just held in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi’s DMK party had promised voters rice, a mixer or grinder, and a laptop. His arch rival Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK party not to be outdone has promised rice, a mixer AND a grinder, and even more laptops. Either way the voter was up on the deal, they figured. Everyone would get the freebies regardless of whom they had voted for.
Mrs Anumaana couldn’t help thinking that since elections were held with such frequency, if only “Mixie-grinder elections” had been the norm, by now she would have had a fully refurnished house. Well, almost. Her neighbourhood welfare committee has now decided to present a proposal to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, asking its members to consider the merits of the “Mixie-grinder” electoral system (MG) over the First Past the Post (FPP) and Proportional Representation (PR) systems that they are currently studying.
To make the Committee’s task easier, these civic minded citizens have compiled a list of preferred items that should be offered by parties contesting an election. Heading it was a package of food items including rice, flour, sugar, dhal and coconuts. This was easily agreed upon. But reaching agreement on the desired household appliances took a considerable amount of time, since there were differences of opinion as to which items should be given priority.
There was little debate over the laptop. But some wanted a fridge to come next on the list while others wanted a microwave cooker. There was disagreement on whether TV sets should take priority over DVDs. Careful consideration was given to the relative value of washing machines over dishwashers, fans over floor polishers, rice cookers over gas cookers, electric kettles over steam irons, blenders over grinders, and so on. Lower down on the freebie list were coffee makers, cake mixers, ironing boards and pop-up toasters. A request for a BBQ grill was vetoed, and a suggestion of a Home theatre system was dismissed out of hand.
The neighbours unanimously agreed not to specify brands, since they did not want to place excessive demands on the party leaders. The proposal argued, however, that the millions of rupees wasted on intense propaganda activities by political parties could be more usefully diverted into “mixie grinder benefits” for the voters. The freebie list was to be circulated to all major political parties contesting an election.
Having finalized the document with painstaking effort, the next task was to make sure it reached the highest levels of government, and that it was given top priority once it got there. It was thought preferable not to channel the proposal through the newly elected chairman of the Local Council, since he happened to be the neighbourhood thug. Mrs Anumaana said she would ask Mrs Aandupaksa to use her good offices to deliver the proposal, and everyone was happy with that.
Mrs Anumaana’s community had become quite fed up with the sight of politicians and their gangs of ‘supporters’ who came canvassing votes at election time. They were thoroughly disgusted with the posters, cutouts and what-not with which these candidates kept disfiguring the landscape periodically. But since they put up their proposal for the ‘MG’ electoral reforms, they have become more optimistic. In fact they are now eagerly waiting for the next election.
The writer is a senior freelance journalist