21 September, 2019

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Alternative Political Groups & Their Challenges In An Election Year

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

In recent months, there has been a lot of attention paid by sections of the Sri Lankan community at home and abroad in regard to alternative political groups that are critical of established political parties and their activities since independence.  Mr. Nagananda Kodithuwakku supported by Vinivida Foundation has been making a critique of the existing legislature, judiciary and the executive along with the main parties such as the UNP, SLFP and Podu Jana Peramuna.  Mr. Gamini Wijesinghe –former auditor general- has also been critical of the state of country’s finances and expenditure along with inefficiencies of governance, development policies, etc. Other groups or associations such as the United Professionals Association(UPM), and National People’s Movement(NPM) have been active in organising events to promote various messages to limited groups of people in the districts and in Colombo. Dr. Ajantha Perera is the latest to add to the list.

Those who are becoming aware of these groups and their activities mainly through social media are wondering as to whether their organisations will be able to make a significant impact on the thinking of voting public in an election year? Even if the messages that they want to promote are correct and even reflect the ground reality, is it possible to change the attitudes of voting public merely by such messages when the society they live in is built around various hierarchies that allocate power, wealth and status in some manner to those who do not possess them? Moreover, the classical questions in sociology about the nature of social movements, how they arise, how to sustain them, and the role of leadership and organisation matter in thinking about the potential or otherwise of such alternative political groups.

It is true that people, especially those at the lower socio-economic groups as well as in the middle class face existential problems in the face of growing inequalities, concentration of power and wealth in the hands of elites and those in the upper classes.  It is also true that national elections have become exercises where the masses (those in lower strata of society experiencing various disadvantages) transfer their sovereignty to the well to do classes to govern the country with no transparency, accountability, sustainability or responsibility. One could say that the people at the grass roots level have become impotent and disempowered in the face of various governing structures set in place over the decades. Receiving a government service or one from a local body as a matter of citizen right has become alien to such a society. Personnel in charge move only if someone in authority at the top level give directions for trivial and not so trivial matters. When people suffer from various injustices, difficulties in obtaining services from government institutions, or unemployment etc. will they look for alternative political movements or simply change parties like changing pillows? To answer these questions, one has to understand the nature of Sri Lankan society, human behaviour, influence of hierarchies and those in authority at various levels from the city to the village.

If alternative political groups think that people will change their attitudes about who should rule the country next simply by listening to a video posted in social media or a talk given at a seminar in a suburban town, they can be utterly mistaken. A machinery is required to spread the message through networks, word of mouth, experiential and localised knowledge, communication brokers and culturally acceptable symbolism. Main political parties and the JVP already have such machinery via their branches, district organisations, local government representatives, and so on. Such machinery includes those who matter at the grass roots level. At critical times, they are able to mobilise such machinery to organise meetings, and other events in the capital and outlying areas or bring them to Colombo for essential political talk couched in nationalist jargon.  To supplement these activities, they also spend a lot of funds for advertising also.  Unfortunately, mainstream media provide free publicity to representatives of these established parties through their regular talk and discussion shows as well. In such a context where the space is deprived, alternative political groups have an uphill battle.

The manner in which those in lower socio-economic classes and other deprived communities absorb various messages regarding the governance of country, future prospects, challenges and solutions is by listening to somebodies in society.  This can include monks, teachers, doctors, local government officials or councillors, other government servants, landowners, those serving in the security forces and shop owners. They seem to attach much value to information filtered through those associated with the governance structures or those close to them rather than others who simply criticise as a habit. In this situation, alternative political groups have to investigate how to spread their messages to somebodies in society rather than address people as an abstraction or a collective entity. Concrete groups in society exist and they need to be educated in a systematic and targeted way. In this regard, the fact that Podu jana Peramuna organised a meeting of its female members and supporters recently makes much sense.  JVP also organised a meeting of local government councillors. In such events representing various segments of society political leaders are able to communicate their message directly and personally in a targeted manner. Such messages sink in the minds of participants. Furthermore, they get a sense of belonging and politically massaged identity as well.

While the efforts made by Mr. Nagananda Kodithuwakku is admirable in the present context, his sole focus on the constitution or the judiciary and the use of legalistic jargon prevents effectively communicating key messages regarding the broader economy, polity, and society.  The average voter is not conversant about the intricacies of how the judicial system or the parliament function – not to talk about who is right and wrong in complicated matters of justice?  Of course, they are aware of the long delays and expenses one has to incur if one is unfortunate to seek justice via the justice system. What is far more important to them are localised issues and those relating to living conditions.  Measures proposed by parties to improve the conditions, though they won’t be fulfilled in the course of governing, receive traction rather than facts and figures or judicial jargon. From past campaigns, we remember how words such as Dharmishta Samajaya, Yahapalanaya or Diyunuva with Humanism appealed to people.  In the current phase of the electoral cycle, we have not seen a similar phrase that captures the mood of the people or their aspirations yet? The idea of a new constitution, new parliament, new judiciary, and a new bureaucracy as Mr. Kodithuwakku proposes can be a risky and short-lived adventure for the voter. Voters in Sri Lanka tend not to go for such radical change to transfer their sovereignty with largely unknown and untested personalities.

The point here is that the messages being developed by alternative political groups is one thing and how to communicate them in an effective manner to the larger populace is another. Weaknesses in top down political movements come to the fore in such considerations. Sri Lankan voters are very good in listening to political talk in the media and in meetings etc. However, how they vote can be a totally different matter. What factors are pertinent to their decision-making need to be investigated by social research. How and why they change their attitudes and decisions from one election to another need to be investigated as well. Developing bottom-up people movements to cater to people’s true aspirations can be a worthwhile venture in the long run compared to ones based on middle class grievances especially when the country is facing an existential dilemma due to its dependence on foreign sources for aid, loans, expertise etc.and the lack of national leaders who safeguard the national interest rather than their party-political interest. 

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Latest comments

  • 14
    0

    Nagananda is the only contestant who has the formula to make the most essential changes to the infrastructure of the Sri Lankan administration.NPM has too many experts including several businessmen who could include their personal agendas to sideline NK. However, becoming a ceremonial head of state head of state is not going to bringabout any changes what the citizens desire. It is only NK who is applying the correct approach to make the necessary changes. NK’s attempt is more effective than Sobitha Thero’s attempt if all the people rally around and give the support he needs. Once placed in power, he will execute the changes systematically with professionals. People must give him a chance his time.

    • 4
      0

      I agree, but hitherto, he has been courting only the type of voter who has hours to spare viewing Youtube. It is good for him to be doing that, but, upto now, he’s not getting through to the “somebodies” that matter as he says in the fifth paragraph.
      .
      I have spent hours listening to the videos, and feel that this may be deliberate. For this election campaign to proceed at sustainable speed we need to be certain as to which election will be held, and when.
      .
      Two other points strike at this time. First, educating the public on the possibility of voting strategically using Preferential Voting is going to take time. The start made by Prof. Kumar David is admirable. People like me, who have the time, are doing our best to speculate on the hypothetical situations that may arise, but I feel that busy people read only the main article – and rightly so. In making my comments, I have tried to be consistent and reveal my precise identity to counter the possibility of specious arguments for which responsibility is not taken.
      .
      Somapala is right. When the candidate is announced, the public should feel that it is the best person who is nominated. Nagananda could be the nomineee, but it must be handled very differently from the UNP way. My many comments on Nagananda testify to the faith I have in him; comments on the videos show Naga-hysteria at the prospect of another candid. If, in the end, some other convincingly good candidate is nominated, many are the sceptics who will be won over. The hysterical young supporters will remain faithful.
      .
      In other words, Nagananda can convince us of sincerity only by being genuinely sincere!

  • 6
    0

    The first thing the like minded patriots have to do is to get together and climb onto a common platform. They should talk to JVP and get them on board. For the presidential elections they should nominate the best person among them. Otherwise all the efforts made by them with good intentions will be just wiped out without any worthwhile results.

  • 2
    11

    Mr Kodituwakku is just wasting his time. He has nothing to offer in a country. I have not come across any vivid ideas on body politics and nation state from him. He is just jabbering some outdated concepts on reviving judiciary, gaining the supremacy of the rule of law and enshrining of the constitution. These are camouflages for the inherently power seeking individuals to be talking about. He is just another power hungry individual trying to capture the attention of the nation. Choose someone who can work within an infrastructure with a sustainable approach.

    • 2
      0

      Dear Mr Perera,
      .
      You keep saying vague things which you don’t and cannot substantiate. You did that here – same name and gravitar. You can’t fool all of us all the time.
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/royal-institute-acts-supremely-above-the-law/
      .
      Readers will see that two of my comments also have been “moderated out”. Why? CT doesn’t like us giving references to other Sri Lankan websites instead of proving our point by taking the trouble to explain, and without using unduly strong language.
      .
      Comments there have ended; interspersed with the last words that I had submitted were links which showed that Royal Institute had commenced as early as 1971, while the Rector of Aquinas whom Mr Perera was quoting was appointed as late as 1989. I leave it to readers to figure out how reliable the claims by Mr Perera are.

      • 1
        3

        Dear Sir,

        You may have heard that there is something called rules of evidence and procedure predominantly followed in exercising the jurisdiction of the courts in dispensing justice. The rules of evidence reveal that substantiality of a claim does not depend on the predicament of the difference of time in respect of the author of the evidence and the factuality of the cliaim. Hence your point on the timing of the Rector’s appointment I referred and his knowledge of Mr Bandara is irrelevant. These are not unfathomable mysteries but are self evident memories of yester year that the Rector was entitled to express.

        I care less for your effort to prove me right or wrong and the reliability of facts disposed of. These remain as they are . One tries to prove one is right vigorously when there is doubt whether or not his own utterances were right. I no longer intend to engage on this point of Bandara and RI with you as you seem to doubt even your own statements. So let us move on dear. Furthermore should you wish to know I was myself a student at RI.

        Now if you wish let us talk about impending disaster with the elections.

        • 0
          0

          O.K., OK, Let’s agree to a truce on Royal Institute of which I have no personal knowledge, or of Bandara, whom I have never met, or even talked to.
          .
          My interest is in Education as a whole, not in the fortunes or misfortuned of Mr Bandara.
          .
          I’m not yet accepting “the elections” (by which you obviously meant The Presidential of that ilk) as a definite disaster. Take the voter of Sri Lanka. One man’s notion of victory is another’s notion of disaster.
          .
          Right now the favourite to be elected President is Gotabaya. That for me spells disaster – and I say it although I have clearly revealed my identity.
          .
          I think that I have already indicated very clearly where my First Preference will go. You are entitled to vote as you see best. You don’t seem to agree with me even on that. Why not tell me, clothed as you are in anonymity, whether you understand that each voter can indicate 3 choices on every balloting paper?

  • 3
    0

    SL has a history of voting for the party & not necessarily for the person. SWRD exploited the sentiments of the majority Sinhala Buddhist vote base by bringing in Buddhist clergy to politics & all political parties since then have followed suit. The average man on the street / villager is not concerned about foreign debt, foreign policy, sustainable economy & the true cost of ‘development’, even though all these factors are directly liked to the cost of living which effects us all. Racial & religious sentiments are vote winners, not necessarily, economic strategy, & it is not limited only to SL. Trump came to power on the white Christian middle American vote with the hype of making America great, Boris Johnson on ‘delivering’ the Brexit & even in tolerant Europe, extreme right wing politics is gaining ground.

    In this context, much hyped strongman, Gota, despite his corruption, human right violations, abuse of power, murder & large scale corruption allegations (not to mention pledging his allegiance to a foreign country), seems to be in the fore front of the current Presidential race. His possible self appointed contender, Premadasa jnr, with all his foreign education & LSE qualifications, indicates naivety, promising funds to increase the population of Buddhist monks and for building houses. Apart from not getting his priorities correct by addressing burning issues, such as, promoting racial harmony & religious tolerance, security & justice for all citizens, economic development, etc., his focus on short term irrelevant issues, says a lot about his prudent thinking & competence as a visionary leader. The fact that he seems unaware that forcing children in to priesthood is no better than child abuse (parents should not be enticed into selling their children for priesthood) & his distribution of land would create slums & ghettos, indicates that he has not benefited from his higher education.

    cont…..

  • 1
    0

    SL has a history of voting for the party & not necessarily for the person. SWRD exploited the sentiments of the majority Sinhala Buddhist vote base by bringing in Buddhist clergy to politics & all political parties since then have followed suit. Maybe it is this influence or it is the IQ, the average man on the street / villager is not concerned about foreign debt, foreign policy, sustainable economy & the true cost of ‘development’, even though all these factors are directly liked to the cost of living which effects us all. Racial & religious sentiments are vote winners, not necessarily, economic strategy, & it is not limited only to SL. Trump came to power on the white Christian middle American vote with the hype of making America great, Boris Johnson on ‘delivering’ the Brexit & even in tolerant Europe, extreme right wing politics is gaining ground.
    In this context, much hyped strongman, Gota, despite his corruption, human right violations, abuse of power, murder & large scale corruption allegations (not to mention pledging his allegiance to a foreign country), seems to be in the fore front of the current Presidential race. His possible self appointed contender, Premadasa jnr, with all his foreign education & LSE qualifications, indicates naivety, promising public funds to increase the population of Buddhist monks and free plots of land to build houses. Apart from not getting his priorities correct by addressing burning issues, such as, promoting racial harmony & religious tolerance, security & justice for all citizens, economic development, etc., his focus on short term irrelevant issues, says a lot about his prudent thinking & competence as a visionary leader. The fact that he seems unaware that forcing children in to priesthood is no better than child abuse (parents should not be enticed into selling their children for priesthood) & his distribution of land would create slums & ghettos, indicates that he has not benefited from his higher education.

  • 1
    1

    cont. …

    Although we need, preferably, a political novice, with integrity & a suitable education, minority parties, apart from the JVP, have little or no exposure to the common man on the street. SL is still not advanced in the digital age for everyone to benefit from the internet & social media. SL media is biased & ‘fake’ news is rampant, so, as Mr Gamage has correctly identified, independents like Mr Naganada Kodithuwakku, are at a disadvantage, when it comes to conveying the political manifesto, even though any reforms pledged are unlikely to have any impact on the general voter. It is unlikely that any outsider, however good, will have a fighting chance unless supported by a mainstream party but entry barriers are high for such people.

  • 0
    2

    Lower Socio Economic Groups.. Thank you Dr Gamage for at least remembering them, although you called them a group .

    In,fact they are most of the 70 % of the inhabitant population .
    And even the current UNP Front Runner for the President Gig said it in Public .

    The Front Runner in fact promised to put another 600.000 on the Samurdhi List before the Election.
    And one Minister Daya Gamage . I don’t know whether you are related, also confirmed that the Front Runner is right..

    I know the traditional guardians of the Lower Socio Economic Group, the Wijeweera descendants of the JVP have distanced from them whole sale ,after their Boss ADK got paid LKR 25 Lakhs from Dr Ranil.

    And joined the Vellala Party Sampathar after Sampathar gifted ADK his old Beamer and made them the Opposition Spokesman.

    This Kodithuwakkau and the other Dude, do they have any idea of those in the LSEG?.
    Because I never heard them talking about , developing the Country, Creating Jobs, Paying reasonable Wages,Reducing Unemployment, Spending on Free Education and providing decent Health Care?..

    Do they also preach to the converted during the day and retire to the Cheers Bar at the Cinnamon in the Night to refuel and re charge the Election Campaign?..

    I felt bad when I saw the Drinks Menu which had 25ML Courvosier at LKR 900 and Rusty Nails at LKR 1100.
    I jut ordered a Carlsburg ar LKR 590 .

    I contemplated how the elite , and Anglicans indulge in this sort of Luxury when our LSEG don’t get even LKR 20.000 a year if they are lucky to have job.-

    And I felt good picking the Carlsberg because it gave me a lot more time at a budget rate, to contemplate about our poor while watching the new Rich, both Old and young enjoying the Yahapalana Life paying LKR 900 up wards for a Imported Shot.

    • 3
      0

      Someone should write a book about the lifestyle of the rich, I mean new rich (via politics). Then we can wonder how much they are Sri Lankan?

      • 0
        0

        Well, Sir, the nouveau riche of Mother Lanka in Mother Lanka are doing rather well. They have everything they want including as many servants as they need. Only thing is that they still cannot get rid of their old kakusi habits. Actually, some have found out what a bidet is for. Never mind, it will take time. After all it will be a few years before the children who have been sent to college overseas come back and enlighten those left behind.

        The book will be written one day, probably by the children who come back.

  • 1
    1

    Good politics is not a matter of personalities or parties.
    It can come only emerge from a sound political programme.
    People need to be politicized as every level to challenge authority, especially when it is abused.
    The Left did it at one time until the main parties got sucked into the system.

  • 2
    2

    Nagananda, Pallewatta, Wijesinghe, Colonne and many other contenders have no social/political base across the country. What they “Preach” could be good, but the question they ignore is “How to get the most wanted VOTE to become whatever they want to be. Nagananda has already lost “Steam” in trying to “Sell” a “Constitution” made by him and according to him “Few” others who are not known to the people. He has not realized that “Constitution Making” is not that simple and merely saying that : “Once I become the President and signing “His Constitution” the present Constitution will become “Null & Void”. has already gone down to the people as an attempt to be “Dictatorial” in matters of Governing. On top of it he has started collecting “FUNDS” in his own name, and unfortunately he is not aware the implications such how actions would throw doubts on his own credibility. Social media has already started casting remarks and most importantly the opposing candidates will go to town with it to discredit him and the people would naturally give him thumbs down. Now Pallewatta joining him is not going to help either of them. As the writer says, the success of any contestant depends on how FIRM he/she is able to attract the attention of the larger segments of the voting population. Most importantly what I see is , no contestant has seen or read what a FUTURE PRESIDENT would be and could do in the present context of the “19th Amendment” If PEOPLE read that INTELLIGENTLY and CONSTRUCTIVELY all these “PROMISES” and “POLICY PLANS” would be washed down the drain. The question: WHAT CAN A PRESIDENT DO in the present context of the “19th Amendment” has to be looked at seriously.

    • 0
      1

      With due respect to you Mr.Nagananda, you would obviously during your long residence in the UK where you had been practicing as a Solicitor would have heard about ‘The Raving Looney Party and it twin The Lord Such Party”.,
      Both of which contest every general election unfailingly.
      People who do not like the Tory ,Labour, Liberal ,or Green Party vote for them too and both the said parties always lose deposits. This has been going on for years.
      I do not wish to say anything more.

  • 5
    0

    Dr.Gamage

    Alternative Political Groups & Their Challenges In An Election Year

    Sorry to disappoint you. To achive what you are saying you have to have a Fertile Ground. But sadly in Sinhala Lanka for that to happen and Freedom and Fairness to Flourish the ground is not suitable . It is BARRON full of Racists. Rural masses are born racists just like MR. GOTHA , MS & even RW included. They wont vote for anyone who promisses to bring that about.
    Look at the effort that has gone into address the issue of Reconiciliation.
    1) Electing Gotha to stand for President. At least that will plunge the country into darkness and he is a Persona Non Grata. So is MR. especially with the West and India
    2) Appoint of Shavendra a War Criminal

  • 1
    0

    An alternative political group, in my opinion should come to govern and in line with the NK precepts all systems should change and correspondingly the personnel should change. A completely revamped constitution will have to be brought.in, whether that is possible is the question. Relationships survive on trust only, nobody in office today whether politician or official ( Administration ) is sincere or honest,

  • 1
    0

    Siri Gamage has outlined exactly the problem facing NK and like. You Tube and walkabouts are not enough to win the hearts and minds of simple folk in Palugaswewa, Bingiriya and Paranthan. He needs to do more work; maybe get a seat in parliament, make his voice heard, then create a network that will take his message to all corners of the electorate. Time and money, and no short cuts. AND, NK do not be be seduced into offering daft promises. Remember that ambitious Mr Solomon West Ridgeway D-B who promised our people the Earth but left us just a heap of dust. Screwed the Nation good and proper and set us back probably a hundred years. Then the converted PM and Mathinee had the gall to send their children to study overseas. Mathinee cheekily told us “they will come and lead the people” . . . you cannot make it up!

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