9 August, 2020

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An Election Without Grand Policy Themes 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Even as the election campaign comes to its penultimate phase there is a dearth of hopeful and inspiring campaign themes. The nearest that any political party has got to such a theme is the ruling party’s appeal for a 2/3 majority to give it the ability to the change the constitution. The kingpin of this campaign is the need to strengthen the hand of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the presidential election last November, with a large majority but continues to be trammeled by constitutional restrictions on his power.

The main target of the current election campaign is the 19th Amendment to the constitution which was brought in to be a necessary check and balance on the over-powerful presidency. It shared power more equitably between the single individual who is the president and the prime minister who has 224 other MPs to account to, and equally significantly, sought to keep the public service, judiciary and other state institutions free from political interference.

Nine months after his convincing election victory the president, who is new to politics, continues to remain the hope of a transformation in governance in the minds of much of the electorate. It would not be incorrect to say of the Sri Lankan electorate that in the words of Alexander Pope (1734), “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blest.” Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has, however, been circumspect in his call for a 2/3 majority in parliament.

The state media has reported him urging the public to give a two thirds majority to the government at the upcoming election for the broader purpose of ensuring that the constitution could be changed for the benefit of the nation. The prime minister is reported as saying, “We have a diligent President, but we still need to establish a stable government to see his goals fulfilled. For this, the public must vote in a stable and strong government.”

Campaign Themes 

In a context in which Covid has ravaged the economy in Sri Lanka as it has worldwide, the prospects for development that the prime minister promises the people remains bleak. There is great economic hardships at the ground level with enterprises closing down with minimal compensation to their employees. The high profile projects, such as the Colombo Port City, are more likely to be to the benefit of the upper strata of society than to the lower, as government policy for the past decade or more is in favour of taxing the poor rather than the rich.

In this parlous context, there is a distinct absence of interest in the forthcoming general elections that is directly related to the low expectations of the electorate in the visions of change that are sketched by the main political parties. In the past there were manifestos with grand themes that captured the imagination of the people, even if the governments that won on the basis of them failed to deliver thereafter. This has resulted in desultory and disconsolate public attitude towards the elections.

A comparison of the issues presented at the forthcoming elections with those of the three previous elections give an inkling of the public attitude towards the elections. In 2005, there was the promise to contain the LTTE which was striving to extricate itself from what it saw as the trap of the Norwegian-facilitated Ceasefire Agreement. In 2010 there was the hope that the government that had just won the war would now unify and develop the country. In 2015 there was the promise of good governance and personal integrity in politics that captured the imagination of all sectors of the population, including those from the majority and minority communities.

The presidential election of 2019 too brought a grand theme to the fore which was the need to protect the sovereignty of the country against international conspiracies. The failure of the previous government to heed repeated Indian warnings about the Easter attack was described being the result of an international conspiracy. The election campaign claimed that this was the last chance to save the country, and resulted in a massive voter mobilization from the majority ethnic community in favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidacy.

Feeling Trapped 

At a recent public meeting I attended organised by the Civil Society Platform at the in Kalutara, most of the audience who asked questions or made comments expressed a sense of betrayal from voting for politicians who did not deliver. They felt trapped as these same politicians have been nominated once again for the forthcoming election by their political parties. Several participants said that an option was to vote for the new faces so that there would be change in the parliament. There were fears expressed by many that there would be crossovers after the election. They argued that the crossover possibility violates the mandate given by the people to represent them unless accompanied by the need to face a by-election for the crossover.

One of the proposals made was for the introduction of a new law for the electorate to recall a parliamentarian if their performance after elections was poor. An example would be the Recall of MPs Act 2015 of the UK that makes provision for constituents to be able to recall their Member of Parliament and call a by-election. This is an indication that the electorate is getting increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable about practices in other parts of the world.

At the present election too, the belief that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is different from the rest of the politicians continues to hold sway. Despite concerns that the president is relying too much on the security forces and on his old military network where he once served, he has become the national leader in whom the majority of people repose their trust. The government’s first nine months in office has seen unprecedented crises, most notably due to the Covid virus, for which the government’s handling has generally obtained favourable assessments most recently from the Sri Lankan WHO representative.

On the other hand, the hope of change that would result in a government that is more sensitive to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, and less prone to corruption and to favouring the rich and powerful, has yet to materialize, which is the campaign theme of SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and the JVP. The challenges facing the country are immense and need a collective response. It is important that political parties and civil society alike urge voter participation at these elections to strengthen democracy. The political parties need to conduct their election campaigns in a manner that permits collaboration after the elections, because the enormity of the problems the country faces requires all to work together.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    4

    Jehan Perera,
    .
    After your celibated yahapalana “Grand Policy Theme” we don’t need any theme at all.

    • 4
      7

      If Media mafia was not handled by Rajaakshes (Basil BP Rajaakshe).
      .
      There were good steps taken by GG govt for sure.
      But those who have been brainwashed for some reasons, seem to be not seeing it yet today.
      :
      SCP, tell us if youa re a healthy person ? Some say you to have brought some pride to srilanka in terms of Cricket, but your general knowledge should be even lower to that of Wimal Buruwanse and alcohol Jonnie.
      :
      Why dont you let your grand children teach you the good and the bad ? Minors could show you the way for sure.

  • 0
    2

    Dear Jehan

    A lovely summary indeed.

    If I may share my observation why all the elected GOSL failed post war promises is because the minority parties did not raise themselves to the task of Nation building post war constructively. They did not even learn how to be an opposition nor a successful NPC management for Northern Province building? Nor do they know what the consequence tomorrow sorting out the Muslim needs in the North and East? That is due to Minority parties stuck in “their no mans land” with their own “National Question” pandemic. Just as we did with Brexit (several MP’s crossing over to create all kind of scenarios as required because is allowed in the system) in the UK to deal with the misinformation campaign we are still dealing with the Minority party campaign results for the past 70 year?? The repercussions of the Brexit is also covered under the Covid in the UK too as we are about leave without any deal soon. Minority party positions also used by the foreign powers to buy/assert their interest in pre and post war Sri Lanka makes it difficult for any elected to make the changes they were given mandate for etc.

    • 0
      2

      Just as we did with Brexit (several MP’s crossing over to create all kind of scenarios as required because is allowed in the system) in the UK to deal with the misinformation campaign we are still dealing with the Minority party campaign results for the past 70 year?? The repercussions of the Brexit is also covered under the Covid in the UK too as we are about leave without any deal soon. Minority party positions also used by the foreign powers to buy/assert their interest in pre and post war Sri Lanka makes it difficult for any elected to make the changes they were given mandate for etc. Corruption issues are all interlinked to this situation as Minority parties used their position to “lockdown” the elected GOSL opens up all other doors not in the interest of the Nation too?? a cause and effect not discussed enough by the Civil societies/NGO’s either for whatever reasons?? not sure.

      • 1
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        Mr Venugopal
        You keep writing just as we did with Britexit…… Are you a British as I suggested in one of my previous comments , Or are you Srilankan ? You seems to propose solutions to the present srilankan situation as if you are a srilankan, but at the same time your posting has let the cat out of the bag. I think you are like your Boss, a duel nationality holder. Waiting to jump the fence like your father, who duped the voters of Vaddukkodai. by the way how many MPs of British Parliament crossed over to the ruling party for financial benefit??

  • 0
    1

    I think if the Civil Society Platform is used to explain a “gap analysis” regards to the Minority party ‘non requirement’ in our Nation(should have been the case from the day the war ended 2009) for a better tomorrow it will allow the war affected to vote independently to support changes along with the rest of the Nation(this was robbed out of them in 1977/1981 systamatically through thuggery and killings no Civil Societies were functional then to tell the world what was happening in Jaffna 1970-1977-1981 unfortunately as we were taking the bullets at the front line of what to come then) bypassing the Mafia grip of power by the Minority parties in their respective enclaves/ghettos.

    However this is an unlikely scenario as you need to appear neutral for all??? that all is “who” is something you have to resolve within your organisations so you can bring better clarity to the masses when questions are paused in the future??

  • 0
    0

    well Jehan
    they are trying hard to resurrect the dead tiger.
    Apparently Namal Rajapakse was in the hit list; so brags one candidate Lokubandara. He further goes on to say the because of Gota he and Namal are alive.

    Please vote for us we were on the LTTE hit list!

  • 3
    0

    JP,
    I don’t think there is no themes in this election. They may don’t have an economic or social themes but they have political theme. The prime theme of the government is create a Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalist nation or kingdom for Mahinda Family. Unless they have a two third mandate, it is impossible. to reach that theme.With the simple majority they can pass the budgets for economic development, changes to the law to deal with the corruption, rule of law etc. But their focus and goal is family kingdom forever.

  • 1
    0

    It is a good idea to bar crossovers after election. Once a MP is elected as a particular party member, the public voted on the manifesto of the party and not because he is Mr A or B. The crossovers are real culprits who gives democracy a bad name. Crossover is very common in Srilankan politics, especially by the minorities. AS we saw MR Thangavadivelu was elected as a TC member for Waligamam West ( Vaddukkodai) but he crossed over to SLFP for financial gains–to educate his son Thiagarajah Venegopal in the UK, there are many more examples like that in SL politics. I hope Gotabaya Rajapakse will introduce this clause in the new constitution. I am of the opnion whatever happens in the August election he will have sufficient number to make up the 2/3rd majority ( SLPP + UNP + CROSSOVERS).

    • 1
      2

      Dear Umberto

      Thank you. First and foremost I totally agree the cross over should be stopped and reelection held should a candidate choose that is not a party for him/het etc. We should make this a law indeed.

      Given it was legally allowed then and now one can do that therefore no legality were broken but one can argue on the moral grounds yes??

      The TC leader lost the elections in Jaffna and choose to join to form TULF for a separatist cause is quite unprecedented indeed and this is a policy change.. it is rather like the party leaving the people/candidates etc not those who were elected on party manifesto it is like someone changed the manifesto if you like.

  • 0
    2

    There are several other MP’s also were affected by this too and they had to do the same. Furthermore TC is not a Tamil Federal or Separatist party as you may remember Hon GG was one of first Industrial ministers in the country. Tamil Congress was to serve the people…that is what all those who joined the GOSL did, and they further helped a very Leftist/Socialist government during southern JVP uprising by giving stability etc. Little you may know the people were served until end of the term lovingly/sincerely dodging all the bullets…..the service may not to your liking nor would have included your preferences?? I am not sure what they are and who you are etc??

  • 0
    1

    Above is on a rational note/man to man conversation with all due respect etc.

    The following insinuation someone had personal gains and self reasons tells me something else about you and justifying a killing of people because you sight something is a matter for law and order and not your personal choices?? This completely removes you from any human society altogether under any human society??

    There were few others did this in this forum not sure if you are all the same?. I did invite you to come to meet me in person to identify the killers/planners as they are yet to be prosecuted under the law for killing someone happened to be my Father.

    Finally for you to trample on my right to express what I like and sight my Father and his killings is beyond human curlily shows me you may very sick or a victim not sure?? or just not well informed etc. This forum is a great opportunity to learn too and kindly take advantage.

  • 0
    0

    “The political parties need to conduct their election campaigns in a manner that permits collaboration after the elections, because the enormity of the problems the country faces requires all to work together. “
    The greatest, dreamful, fancy election theme so far is the last one(Nov, 2019) there King’s team asked Sinhala Buddhists to keep Muslims out in that election; and that worked.
    I think political parties have been working together from 1948, in looting, raping, using pogroms to achieve election victories and then find impunity for all criminals. The unity of the Muslim-Sinhalese Governments is, from 1956 until now, not one person in the government is punished for committing crime against a Tamil, though many times the governing parties’ combination have changed. During the 2018 coup Ranil, New King & Old King met 6 times. That is how they are unified but they well managed keeping the Local Modayas and IC diplomats to believe that there was a coup in Lankawe. Then Ranil went to Singapore hospital to prove that an American citizen (King), who had free Medicare, was in Singapore hospital for heart bypass surgery, so Ranil went there to inquire about his health. Before election date was announced, Ranil had negotiated for another Unity Government. Vaalaiththodam had booked for him the PM position of the slap party. What a unity(for looting in CB)

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