Tuesday, September 16, 2014

That time of the year again

It’s election time. Again. As is endemic to that time of the year, politicians talk. They begin to care. Prices come down. Promises are made. Challenges are made. Predictions are made. Pigs fly. Yes folks, this is election time. Again. Time for prophecies of doom and unsubstantiated claim. Time for bringing on the victory-wagon, when in reality what is being prepared is the excuse-wagon (as in, “we have an excuse for our defeat: government thugs”). It becomes increasingly difficult to sift the sane from the (insanely) insane at a time like this, and considering that this involves politicians who can’t put two words together without denying them the very next day, I am not sure whether such an attempt should even be made.

Politicians are people-pawners. If you’re in Sri Lanka, that’s the way it is. So we have concerts organised as part of the forget-exercise, so that people can be conditioned to vote for the Party with the Most Singers. Forgotten here is the fact that concerts can be pretty alluring to music-lovers, and at times the party being voted for becomes, in the minds of some voters, indistinguishable from the musical tastes they indulge in.

There are claims made to the effect that government “thugs” are wrecking havoc across Uva. Shasheendra Rajapaksa has categorically denied these claims. Mahinda Deshapriya has supported the denial. Deshapriya is the Elections Commissioner. He is, on paper at least, independent. The government has extrapolated this (obvious) fact by way of saying that the opposition cannot influence him through wildly unjustifiable claims of violence and thuggery. That’s playing the political game smart. Come election time, and claims of violence are countered with feel-good labels like “independence of the Commissioner”. The UNP should know this more than anyone else. Perhaps it would do better by paving another path.

There’s the drought issue, for instance. The Supreme Court has approved drought relief to the tune of 2,500 rupees for people in the Moneragala district. Deshapriya claims that this is a violation of election law. PAFFREL is taking issue with it. They've filed a motion. Farmers in Moneragala aren’t happy. They’ve filed a Fundamental Rights petition. Both against the government. This is a win-win situation for the opposition. Laying aside the fact that the government can and will go ahead with the relief program (whatever Deshapriya may say), you can view the move either as a violation or as a populist vote-grabber. Whichever way, the government is badmouthed. It is indeed a happy thing to see that both UNP and JVP are taking note of this. This isn’t enough, though. There’s much more to be done.

The Passara rally was a disaster for the UNP. A bad one. Holding hands to symbolise interparty unity is good for publicity. But what we had was Ranil claiming that he has three hands: Sajith Premadasa, Daya Gamage, and Wijedasa Rajapaksa. That’s conveniently forgetting other names, some of whom were present then and there. Snubbing of the worst order. But then again, what can one expect of someone of Ranil’s calibre? Sajith has become No 2. Thankfully. Nonetheless, one can’t be too sure of how things are working out within his party. Tissa Attanayake is all song-and-praise over Sajith’s re-entry, but one wonders why the man would be so much affianced to someone who wants to bring down the Leadership Council (i.e. the Council Attanayake is part and part-parcel of). Things don’t look so good for the UNP. Barring one big exception: Harin Fernando.

Fernando has charisma. That can’t be denied. At all. This is not the “apé miniha gamé mihina” charisma Mahinda has. Nor is it the “One Shot One” aggressive machismo-puff seen with the likes of Ranjan Ramanayake. Harin has won heart. A lot. It’s a little too early to see whether Shasheendra still has an edge over him, but this much I can be certain of: he is a force to reckon with. That’s saying something, considering the deplorable charisma-void UNP politics has come to in recent times. Credit should not just be given to him, of course. There are other politicians. Ajith Perera and Harsha de Silva, for instance.

Facebook politics isn’t very palatable when it comes to Sri Lanka. Not every voter has access to social media. But playing the political game (come election-time) has its share of Facebook-ers. Harin Fernando knows this. He has capitalised on his vote number (18) to create something of a trend across social media community. Shasheendra hasn’t equalled this yet. That speaks of a lot of things, naturally. Tact, for instance. By this, I am not predicting victory. I am merely commenting. The UNP isn’t ignoring Harin. Promising. The opposition in recent years has become something of an anchor-less ship, going from common candidate fiasco to leadership muddle without as much as a snowball-in-hell chance of political benefit. Uva may well be the party's baptism of fire.

Needless to say, the JVP is in a (very) big muddle. Again. Anura Kumara Dissanayake has, with all due respect, not set himself up to the task of acting “successor” to Somawansa Amarasinghe. Considering Amarasinghe’s disastrous leadership “stint”, it would be something of a miracle if Dissanayake can pull it off, but still, the man hasn’t exactly made use of the chasm between government and UNP. There are pro-government and pro-UNP loyalists. Not very much so with the JVP. This is obvious on two counts. Firstly, the party hasn’t exactly gone by way of erasing past infamy. Claims of corruption, democracy-infringement and rule of law-absence do not exactly ring true when spoken by representatives of a party which doesn’t have clean hands. Secondly, the JVP hasn’t come up with a proper manifesto or program. Slogans and claims will do little to compensate for this. Imitating government politicians and bureaucrats on stage will do even less. There's much more that needs to be done here, obviously. Problem is, is the JVP up-to the task?

Election-time is always cause for celebration. For the vote-seekers, that is. It is a time for promises made and (later) un-kept. Politicians play the forget-game. Easily. They entangle themselves with each other against the common enemy. They part with bitter words to the tune of “I will deal with you no more”. Party loyalists, understandably, get tired of this. It is hence commendable to see that the Uva election will not have its share of unholy alliances. Or party crossovers. Or wildly unsubstantiated claims (except for the hullabaloo over “alleged” thuggery). At least, not yet.

One more thing. No-one has mentioned Sarath N. Silva’s 18th Amendment “interpretation”. That’s saying something. That’s spelling out “pragmatism”. Big-time.