By Vishwamithra1984 –
“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.” ~Simon Mainwaring
As was shown in the Uva Provincial Council election results, there is no denying that the ‘Rajapaksa brand’ did suffer quite badly. To lose in a multi-ethnic district like Badulla and dropping 25% from the earlier poll in an almost 100% Sinhalese Buddhist district such as Moneragala, despite the fact that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which was expected to score heavily managed to secure only less than 7%, in the context of current measurements, is close to dismal for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). This poor performance at an election held on the brink of the Presidential Elections may have been due to multiple reasons. But the very fact that the voters of these two districts, Badulla and Moneragala, showed some semblance of ‘guts’ to teach the governing circles a lesson or two may have gone too far for the liking of the so-called strategists of the Government. The next follow-up question is: “Has the Rajapaksa brand suffered?”
In the writer’s considered view it is yes, it has. Whether that setback is a temporary one or a one that would have long-term implications is another matter altogether. Before venturing out to say how and why the Rajapaksa brand has suffered, I must define what the Rajapaksa brand is from two points of view. How does the Government project the Rajapaksa brand and how is it perceived by the Opposition and the people at large?
Defined in terms of the Rajapaksas themselves, the Rajapaksa brand in a nutshell is as follows:
1. Defeating the LTTE and making way for peace in the land on the long haul
2. Development of the economy by way of increasing the growth rate up to 7+% and maintaining that rate of growth
3. Massive infrastructure development through building of roads, bridges and introducing new ventures such as Mattala Airport, Hambantota Harbor and Colombo Port City et
4. This trio of achievements, the Rajapaksas may think, would be accepted without any debate or arguments whatsoever by a greater majority of Sinhalese Buddhist masses. Sinhalese Buddhists constitute nearly 70% of the voting bloc in the country and for them the war-victory was more than a military exploit but an inspirational feat that appealed to their emotional core. The centuries-old enmity and suspicion between Tamils and Sinhalese Buddhists which later exploded into the LTTE/Security Forces war in the latter part of the last century that resulted in a crushing defeat for the Tamil militants in the first decade of the this Century, was most craftily exploited by the Rajapaksa-led Government. Although the war was fought on the battlefield by the foot soldiers, airmen in air and seamen in high seas, the political leadership of the country at the time, rightly or wrongly, claimed full ownership to the credit of the war-victory lock, stock and barrel. No one can deny the timely leadership lent to the war effort by the Rajapaksas. Any such attempt would be delusional. Yet, at the same time, no one can ascribe the whole credit to that political leadership. What remains as agitational politics in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) is mainly due to the negligence in the least and deliberate action at worst, by the political leadership. Declaring an all-out military warfare as a humanitarian operation and victory with no civilian causalities is a figment of some imagination of some leaders.
It’s more than five long years since the cessation of hostilities between the two warring factions. The glory of victory and sheer triumphalism that was indulged in by the general Sinhalese Buddhists masses are waning by the hour. More important issues are at play. With that disappearance of the glories of military superiority and in the absence of any other equivalent socio-cultural issues, the Governing clique finds it hard to persuade a voting public to side with them. The results were shown in the Uva PC elections.
5. Economic Development and growth-rate-jumps that are boasted about, more by the Central Bank Governor himself than any political leaders of the regime, have come for severe suspicion by economic experts. Some even go to the extent of accusing the Central Bank of interpreting (or misinterpreting) statistics to suit the Government’s political and electioneering agenda. If there is any iota of truth in that, then the country’s economic situation is much more volatile than one would like to presume.
6. Two big ‘white elephants’ that the Government created during the last five years are the Mattala International Airport at which no international flight lands and the Hambantota Harbor in whose watery bosom no noteworthy ships find solace. Both these projects have been built and left to the fancies of daydreamers and they in no small measure boost up the egos of the powers that be.
When the voting public realizes that the notion of war-victory has outlived its usefulness as a justifiable reason for them to vote for Government-backed candidates with the evident futility of regime’s much publicized empty economic vessels, it’s nothing but natural that the voter looks elsewhere for an alternative. Like a product in the marketplace, which has not lived up to the promise of promotions and advertising that has preceded its launch, with propaganda it scores in the short run but suffers severe setbacks in the long haul due firstly to buyer’s remorse and secondly, because the product itself is poor in quality although they appear very attractive thanks to eye-catching wrapping on the outside. Political promises too invariably meet with the same rejection by the customer – voter.
But how does the Government program appear to the voter? Under any and all circumstances, other than by the diehard party supporters, no government is viewed in any positive light by the general public. The nature of politics is such that those who hold power are always held in contempt, envy and suspicion by the majority of any population. One might contend, then how come each incumbent is not always out of power in the next election? That is where electioneering, campaigning, the presence of extraordinary leaders and personalities and unforeseen events such as assassinations and their eventual effects on a given campaign etc. come into play.
How does the average man who is reasonable and is having a sense of balance and fairness judge the ‘Rajapaksa brand’?To him the Rajapaksas are a set of corrupt politicians whose only political ambition is to cling onto power and consume the country’s assets and resources; a set of rulers whose advancement in socio-political field is augmented only through their nepotistic extensions; a set of politicians whose core is identified with the absence of accountability and transparency and whose condoning of wild and barbaric conduct of their henchmen and goons is taken for granted. In other words, the totality of the Rajapaksa brand is covered with blatantly misleading wrappings yet the reasonable men and women see through the veneer of a gift-wrapped product. The ‘Rajapaksa brand’ has still not suffered irretrievably but it is definitely showing signs of getting there slowly. The need of the hour is an Opposition that can accelerate the process.