By Neville Fernando –
A candidate who has recently announced his candidacy for the above position has been touted as a ‘Strong Person’. It is believed that many people, including the Mahanayaka of Asgiriya, yearn for a ‘Strong President’.
In Sri Lanka a politician is regarded as a strong person based on power, money and a big show. If one looks a little deeper one would see that, this power is commonly derived from corruption, intimidation, imparting fear through terror tactics and even elimination of enemies. It is widely believed that, this particular ‘strong’ person has misappropriated, robbed and accumulated a vast amount of money from the government, essentially from the people. Such ‘strong’ activities have contributed to precipitating the country into a disastrous economic predicament.
As for the big show, money for massive rallies and lavish campaign expenditure comes from inappropriately accumulated wealth, from vast numbers of supporters, both in government and the private sector who benefit from rewards and kickbacks.
The typical campaign methods used by this strong person and his ‘royal’ family are devious, cunning and illegal acts that hoodwink the masses. They cloak themselves in the nationalistic, Buddhist, Sinhala mantle and by inference, assume the status of saviours and protectors of the ‘Motherland’. They use the Buddhist clergy for photo ops, which broadcast to the masses that they are the most devout and committed Buddhists. Nothing can be further from the truth — they have committed the most atrocious crimes directly or though their acolytes.
They use their illegal money to most effectively rob the votes by resorting to a variety of methods. Such money buys mega advertisements and programs in the broadcast and print media. Private sector enterprises are pressured into ‘donating’ financial and material support by notifying them of consequences of non-cooperation. Massive public displays in the form of billboards, posters and displays are used as marketing techniques.
Bribing people to forfeit their independence in voting is another tactic. These bribes take the form of ‘gifting’ of house construction material, clothes and other items. Typical such items are roofing sheets, cement, lavatory squatting pans, saris and so forth.
With a big hoopla, this strong person was introduced recently to the masses. The fantastic rhetoric and the spectacle created by the candidate, amounted to an aura of a messiah coming from heaven to save the country. What a display of lies, grand promises and whitewashing of the criminal past record! Unfortunately the average voter in Sri Lanka is mesmerized by the cult of personality thus created.
One of the significant findings of a recent survey made by a group of interested citizens who interviewed a large sample of people in both urban and rural areas all over the country, and of all classes, was that 70 per cent of them are fed-up with the present politicians. They specifically mentioned the members of parliament, citing their lack of any qualifications, and recruitment purely on immoral political considerations.
The voting public has been misled by grandiose promises, during the past 15 or so general elections. The result is that we are up to an 80 percent deeply indebted nation, we are almost the bottom-performing country in Asia and we have sold our country to various foreign interests. Furthermore, the country is witnessing deep erosion in civilized behavior and morality.
What are the odds that such a ‘strong’ man will work hard, ethically and democratically to improve the lives these average voters? The track record of the party of this strong man is such that the ‘strength’ will be used solely for the furtherance of power and wealth for the family and its supporters, with crumbs and the denial of democratic freedoms for the large majority.
We need to go beyond this definition of strength. A country, especially country that has fallen to moral depths, does need a strong person to lead it, but it needs to be a moral and wholesome strength, not the strength of the wielders of guns and white vans. True strength comes from righteous and firm convictions. The strong person our country needs at this hour is a person that treads the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path: he or she should be a person who treads the path of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Glossed in our modern vocabulary, such a person of moral strength is a genuine democrat who believes in basic democratic rights for all citizens, and a person of modernity and urbanity thought and belonging.
Numbed into accepting a succession of inefficient and corrupt political leaders over the several decades, Sri Lankans find it hard to believe that a person that treads that noble path can emerge from the mire of our politics.
They are right to believe so. It is indeed true that no such leader can emerge from the existing political mire.
But there is hope, because someone can emerge from outside that mire.