Will local council elections foretell the future?

By Gomin Dayasri

The government struck a thorn in holding elections in two phases-- rural pradeeshiya sabhas followed by the cosmopolitan municipal and urban councils. If both were held together, the wins and losses would have evened out the final result. On an election graph, held separately, a dip in the rural ballot can turn into a dive in an urban vote.

The strategy is to win comprehensively the rural vote hoping the urban vote will follow the trail. At the last general election it swung to a "winner takes all" where the municipal/urban council voters plunged into the lap of the government after watching the presidential election. This time it can rebound.

The government is in for a rough ride but may not falter with the machinery at its disposal and making the country secure by winning the war. The voting pattern could reflect a sharp drop for the UPFA in contrast to the majorities in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

At local elections, polls are low with some staying away in protest. Naturally it reduces majorities but the comparison counts. A dangerous trend could develop if along with some losses, the majorities are thinner on the aggregated pradeeshiya sabhas' to an electorate. It may not need a calculator and be obvious to the naked eye. The rural minds hold the President in awe for ushering peace though the triumphs at war is fading from memory.

A downward trend at elections impacts the public sector, its servants forever watching political weather vanes to waltz. These good weathermen (Yes, amigos! types) react fast to trends and tread rapidly to switch allegiance secretively as insurance covers against regime changes. Public servants act as a political barometer to test shifts in public opinion.

It hurts a government, heavily dependent on public servants that voted overwhelmingly in favour, to carry out its policies by becoming scientifically and systematically uncooperative after interpreting results. The budget did not produce the promised wage increase on schedule to public servants while the economic policies throttled the fixed wage earners and the pensioners.

State financial wizards, unwittingly and unconsciously, undid the government, making it a boom time for the corporate capitalists at the expense of the masses that brought Mahinda Rajapakse to power. It may dawn on the President, on reading results to ask for whom his team is working? The President has created a passage to enter a third term and that sure will make him alert and angry.

At a recent award ceremony for the Top Twenty of the business community, eighteen of them showered praise lavishly and slavishly on the government for the good done to them. Hardly a critical word did those great men in business suits sound since a bountiful tax structure has been laid before them to increase profitability hoping the benefits would percolate below.

In serving the Top Twenty without caring for the lesser could lead to harming the bottom Two Twenty that vote more assiduously for the government. In the first budget after the elections, was there sufficient for the majority that voted for the government and provided their children to the forces, compared to the benefits offered to the moneymen that voted for Sarath Fonseka and Ranil Wickremesinghe, never helped to win the war and thought the terrorists are unbeatable? It is a case of reverse gratitude!

Some in the private sector are permanent weathercocks that swirl in several directions with each passing wind, picking any pocket along the way with both hands. Bribery and corruption often have their origins in the private sector.

It is opening a window to neo-liberalism or market economy, hoping it will kick off a mini boom: but at take off point it spells more gloom for the voting poor. Its being tried again after it undid the UNP twice before. Time will tell the outcome in its third outing.

Rural folk see a network of roadways bisecting the village making it easy to come to town, electricity has reached their doorstep with a developed village infrastructure as against rising prices, lack of employment for youth and the down grading of education and health facilities. In the emerging economy the town has swallowed the village and village self-sufficiency is no more a home truth. This makes cost of living an issue for the villager, more than in the past. Local government elections hinge more on parochial than national issues.

At future elections, high society will consolidate itself strongly with the newly acquired wealth and strenuously search votes to tilt to the opposition, of the disenchanted that voted previously for Rajapaksa: for their onward advancement. The downtrodden may teach a lesson to the government at an election that will not change the government or the President.

It's the Ban Ki-moon report, likely to surface before elections, condemning the Defence Forces that might rescue the government, a rallying point for patriotism. No credit to the UNP for failing to win votes in its own name. Instead targets each other and thrives on the disgusted default vote of the government. Ironically the UPFA thrived on the many infirmities of the opposition: the people hold no pluses as both parties score marks on the minuses of the other.

At least the government did show results for which they were rewarded. What has the UNP to show while in opposition? What confidence does it attract for doing what?

If the UNP wins, it should first thank the government and still more those who did not come to vote.
A lackluster performance by the UPFA may provide the shock treatment the government needs.

An improved performance by the UNP will enable Wickremesinghe in the ring on the mat for the countdown, rise to his feet while his opponents wait impatiently to hear the bell ring. He needs to wait, until the Municipal/Urban Councils vote, for the prizefight.

The writer is a senior lawyer

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Column By Gomin Dayasri
Will local council elections foretell the future?


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