Whoever wins, paradise lost
As the Presidential race draws to a close with campaigning to conclude tomorrow, there are mixed feelings among the voters. On the one hand, a sense of resignation that whoever wins, the lot of the common man changes little with these periodic, almost annual elections; on the other, the sense of responsibility that after all, this is a crucial vote - for the job of CEO of Sri Lanka Incorporated.

While one section of the people is looking at a candidate who can lift the country out of the economic rut it has fallen into over the years and thereby raise the standard of living, another segment is looking at a candidate who they feel, will ensure the unitary nature of the State and defeat the forces of terrorism and separatism.

Unfortunately, those who want both have only one vote. In 1994, writing before the election we summed up the choice before the people as "close your nose and vote for the (then) Government; or shut your eyes and vote for the (then) Opposition".

The people gave their verdict and repeated it in 1999 as if to emphasise that they did not make a mistake in 1994. Now, they can look back and reflect on whether they are better off in 2005 than they were in 1994.

One man is going to win - and another (nay, 12 others) are going to lose. Even if there is a tie between the first two - the Elections Commissioner can cast his vote and decide the winner!

And by all accounts, a little over 50 per cent is going to vote for the winner; and a little less than 50 per cent of this country is going to vote against that winner. So the future President of this country is, in fact, going to be the President of half the voters of this country.

The argument will be that that is how democracy works and there is still no better system than the 'one-man (or woman)-one-vote' democracy that has been evolved since the introduction of universal adult franchise.

All candidates now claim that - once elected - they will embrace all political parties; all religious groups; all ethnic communities; all social groups and all linguistic groups, but that has all become a stale joke.

We know all too well that political IOUs have to be encashed - and a few good guys among a majority of utter rotters from among the 50 percent of the winners will be appointed to power and place while a pool of good guys from among the 50 percent of the losers will be ignored from the administration of the country.

What is therefore more important for us to focus on now is the post-election scenario. Whoever wins, this country and its people will have to face hard facts, if not hard times in the months ahead. We are just enjoying a temporary respite between a rock and a hard place because of the election.

The new President will face such great challenges or problems than one simply wonders why on earth there is this mad scramble for a crown so full of thorns. One thing a President can do to ease those headaches is to permit the independent Commissions in terms of the 17th amendment to the Constitution to function.

Although the politicians of this country were able to bring about these independent Commissions in 2001, their functioning leaves much to be desired.
We saw the sorry sight of the Muslim parties dragging their feet in appointing a nominee to the supreme Constitutional Council which resulted in appointments to other independent institutions - the Court of Appeal, the Police Commission etc., being delayed.

The outgoing President blocked the appointment of the independent Elections Commission by her sheer obstructionist, politically motivated approach to such appointments.

Whoever becomes President, there is a crying need to de-politicise these vital sectors of public administration. This will leave the President free to concentrate on other crucial political issues like the settlement of the northern insurgency and the desperate need to raise the economic standards of all Sri Lankans.

We cannot close our eyes to the unpalatable truth that Sri Lanka is fast slipping into the basket of the poorest countries in the world where people are willing to risk their lives to sail in fishing boats to faraway lands like Italy, going in droves as housemaids to West Asia, and where professionals are in search of greener pastures gaining an unfair advantage over those who opt to stay behind.

The campaign slogans themselves are an indictment of the level to which politics in Sri Lanka has descended - candidates promising milk powder, jobs and cheap fertilizer. So let us steel ourselves -- not so much for the election next Thursday, but for life in this lost paradise thereafter.

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