SF– caused only ripples with the rural masses

Memory of the victorious war still lingered, the people paid their gratitude and settled scores
By Gomin Dayasri

Why did the smart and slick heavily funded Sarath Fonseka campaign crash in the worst election disaster in recent times? Hardly was there any real competition from the over spending Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) campaign managers who ran probably the worst campaign in living memory until the President took over the campaign during the last days.

The majority swelled for MR during the last two weeks of the campaign, after the people unofficially took over the campaign with a fear of a possible defeat for the President. Never did Sarath Fonseka (SF) come within striking distance of winning but the intensity of the SF campaign created ripples to cause doubts in the minds of the people. It was the hype and the psyche among the Colombians that activated the people and brought forth thousands of the shirtless to the forefront, to become MR’s self appointed campaign volunteers. It was a major error made by the SF team to let loose jubilant Colombians on a victory march to enable the rural poor to react.

Sarath Fonseka

The news from the metropolis reached the urban districts to the rural constituencies in a society armed with hand phones. With the people taking over the campaign purely on gratitude, putting aside the hardship they were facing, the majority swelled beyond expectations in excess of the MR poll watchers who had lowered the high estimates set at the beginning of the campaign.

People were not prepared to send MR home and they did not desire to be named for ingratitude. Victory became personalized. They thought they were standing for the country, but actually stood to safeguard their own name and prestige. Gratitude has been paid to whom it is due in the people’s belief and scores are now settled. It will be wishful thinking that it will get carried over to the General Elections.

A major blunder made by the SF election strategist was to concentrate on the upmarket sector, slicing the country into three units - urban, semi urban and rural, and focusing on the issues of the middle class. High prices and the cost of living, the prime issues that touched the people were relegated low and the upfront issue was corruption and nepotism that did not click beyond the middle class in big towns. The big screen showed a clash of personalities. The people decided and voted for the person who in their view was responsible for defeating terrorism which has given them security.

The poor visual and the word play of SF contributed to his downfall. It disturbed the elegant and educated with language unsuitable for a person aspiring to be the President. MR displayed himself as the father of the nation caring for the young. The military uniform was frightening and SF media people quickly changed his garb, but too late. Yet, he could not discard his military bearing with the choice of words that was to haunt him throughout the campaign.

In the villages neither the SLFP nor UNP campaigns clicked until the Colombian Mexican wave hit the villagers; and the comeback in retaliation was spontaneous which developed into a giant wave for MR during the last 3 days of the campaign that none could fathom. The presence of the JVP was a deterrent factor in the villages as the UNP and JVP had killed each other years back and was not forgotten by their respective heirs. A fraction of the JVP vote deserted the party while few UNP hands joined the President due to the presence of the JVP, while the UNP village supporters left the campaign in the hands of the JVP as they forcibly took over the leadership with meagre human resources as the party was split.

The presence of the anti war elements on stage gave an impetus to the story (true or false) of a pact with the TNA. The gain from the North was minimal to the loss in the South. Showing Sambanthan as an ally of the LTTE on stage was like waving a red handkerchief to an angry bull. Karuna and Pillayan had fought the LTTE. To make it worse the entire anti war lobby was displayed to convince the unconvinced, the credit of the victory was the province of MR. Such persons praising SF for his war efforts did not click with the masses who felt SF may usher in another LTTE era with insecurity.

The secure public did not want a change - which SF promised to provide, as a genuine change. Undoubtedly on the security front, the people had experienced a change for the better. People were not prepared to gamble on a change which in their perception could turn for the worse. With it SF blew his campaign theme.

SF being a rookie did not have insights into politics as against MR who could handle difficult situations and overcome problems while the former waded into the danger zone. To make it worse SF did not have a party or party supporters to guide him and was the recipient of mixed signals from contradictory sources. A new face steeped in politics from the UNP with the symbol would have done better without joining the JVP. The JVP tactics of experimenting with a non party candidate was a disaster. It gave them the opportunity to steal the centre stage. To satisfy the JVP, UNP sacrificed too much yet it makes Ranil look better as SF performed badly after the UPFA has held the post of Presidency for 16 years without a break.

It was too early after the victorious war to challenge the President. When the nationalistic wave had spread in the South with the war, the SF team failed to produce a single patriotic or military leader on stage. The JVP lost the patriotic title after the feud within the party. With MR firing all guns on the patriotic front SF did not have people to counter.

He could have kept his image of a national hero if he contested only the General Elections. He stands bruised as an unsuccessful politician opening a platform for the return of Ranil Wickremasinghe. Even in defeat RW bows out gracefully and is a contributing factor for the absence of post election violence.

(The writer is a senior Attorney-at-law)

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