In eight days voters will head once more to polling stations this time to elect the country’s 15th parliament. Those who like their perceptions summed up in pithy phrases say this will be the mother of all elections — parliamentary elections that is. Why is this appellation attached to this particular election when the country [...]


Mother of all elections and promising politicians


In eight days voters will head once more to polling stations this time to elect the country’s 15th parliament. Those who like their perceptions summed up in pithy phrases say this will be the mother of all elections — parliamentary elections that is.

If it is the LTTE by another name, it would smell as bad: CfD leaders leaving the Jaffna District Secretarian after handing over their nominations. Pic courtesy

Why is this appellation attached to this particular election when the country has witnessed previous battles for political and personal supremacy? The word battle is used advisedly for over the years our elections have never been the peaceful, democratically conducted polls people would have liked to see as in some other countries where democratic governance has taken root and had been carefully nurtured over time.

Our electoral battle grounds might not have been littered with the bodies of hundreds as in the Wanni war not so long ago. But they have also seen the battered and bloodied scattered around the political landscape, not the best advertisement for our much-vaunted democracy touted as one of the oldest in Asia.

While pre- and post-election Sri Lanka has had its share of physically and morally wounded politicians and their henchmen, the coming election seems to have been preceded by less violence — at least at the time of writing — than at some previous polls.

One reason for this might well be the more stringent application of election laws by the Elections Commissioner and his officials and the guardians of the law performing their tasks more impartially than they have been wont to do in the past when political and power and the fear of retribution dictated the actions of officialdom.

What will happen between now and election day is hard to say but at least the walls of city buildings both official and private have been largely spared leaving the police and others to engage in more productive work than scraping off the mug shots of competing politicians extolling virtues unseen and unheard of before.

Why this has been dubbed the mother of all elections is, I suppose, because it has turned out to be like an old morality play. The election campaign — or what one reads or hears of it via the media — has not turned out to be one of competing economic and social policies.

Admittedly plenty of promises have been made. Each promises to increase this, that and the other. So increases in minimum wages, scholarship funds and jobs for the millions are waved around with some abandon as sops to the voters. There is nothing new in that.

While certainly the cost of living and employment are vital issues and each promises largesse that is easy to make but hard to keep, the wider issue is projected as a struggle between good and evil. The good is seemingly represented by those who wish to install good governance, clean politics and democratic values and evil by those who have practised authoritarianism, abandoned the rule of law and opened the doors wide to corruption and graft.

There is something Faustian in what is posited as a titanic struggle for the soul of the nation and in that sense this election is a continuation of the competing perceptions of what the Sri Lankan state should be and the direction the country should follow that formed the epicentre of the presidential election last January.

It is this apparent continuation of that epic battle at the presidential election between two individuals from the same party to be the custodian of the nation’s ‘soul’ that makes this election worthy of the appellation.

There is a secondary reason why this is a unique election. For the first time in our history an incumbent president defeated at the presidential polls has emerged as the presumptive prime minister in the parliamentary elections seven months later.

Certainly this election has not been short of allegations flung at each other but rather sparse of evidence to back all of them. At least it has provided the public devoid of real entertainment on our television screens something to ease the pain of daily existence when even the use of a clearly marked pedestrian crossing is a life- threatening hazard.

While a public intoxicated by a plethora of parables meant to set forth the alternative paths before them and which one to take to ensure good governance or the integrity of the nation preserved, there is another side to this election which seems to have gone unnoticed or been subsumed.

The much wider and deeper morality play as this election seems to enact has thus buried the sub plot being played out in the north. If looked at in what some consider the correct perspective, it has a comic element. One might have said with the poet “for this relief much thanks”.

But this is too serious an issue to be dismissed with the frivolity with which many of our citizens seem to treat the honeyed words of our very promising politicians. I refer, of course, to that newly emergent political grouping in the north which calls itself the “Crusaders for Democracy” and have ten or so candidates contesting this election.

There is nothing wrong in being crusaders for democracy. In fact, those who value democratic ideals and are committed to pursuing its norms should be loudly applauded. After all, are they not pursuing the same goal as some in the south who want to ingrain those ideals in the Sri Lankan nation state?

But this commitment to democracy by the so-called crusaders must surely be viewed against the backgrounds of those who form the core group and what their objectives are. Some, if not all, of this group were combatants or activists of the LTTE and were close to the LTTE leader Prabhakaran. Some of them lost their limbs and one could very well sympathise with them at their loss.

They are crusading now because they are free. Why did they not crusade for democracy when they were still with the LTTE? Could they provide any evidence to show that the democratic norms they have suddenly come to value were ever observed in the LTTE-controlled territory? Was dissent and expression of free opinion ever allowed by the LTTE or under its ‘rule’?

On the contrary at the early stages of the LTTE’s emergence Prabhakaran and the LTTE eliminated the leaders of other Tamil militant groups whose opinions and approach were viewed as a threat to Prabhakaran’s ascendancy. That is how an important ingredient of democracy, the right to free expression, was upheld and protected by the LTTE leader.

That is not all. It is well known that at the 2005 presidential election Prabhakaran did not permit the Tamil people to exercise another important ingredient of democracy, the right to exercise their franchise. While presenting their so-called manifesto the CfD could not but mention Prabhakaran’s name. Some have already described this group as a rebranded LTTE. If it is the LTTE by another name, it would smell as bad.

How the ardent followers of a fascist ideology suddenly embraced democracy does indeed sound strange. It might not be as dramatic as the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, but it would sound somewhat comic had this not been a serious case of revivalism in the guise of Gandhian philosophy.

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