By Vishwamithra –
“I’ll be your mess, you be mine
Election platforms can turn men into super heroes; they can turn politicians into inspiring leaders; they can drive audiences into enraged mobs; they can also turn themselves into caricatures of comical proportions, from which empty rhetoric might resonate for a short time. Some of the rhetoric, like that of Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nelson Mandela in our recent memory and the Ciceros and Mark Anthonys of the ancient world, will echo for ages to come. But the results of those same elections will eventually turn these modalities into more realistic and rational outcomes. These outcomes will eventually tell the wise from morons; the effective from the lazy and the great from the mediocre. These outcomes may have a direct impact on the subject people whom the decision makers are supposed to preside over.
Set against such a directly relatable context, when one examines the various statements emanating from today’s election platforms, one would wonder as to what type of government that has been in power since 2015 January 15. A confrontational political dynamic that has been set in motion by President Sirisena has left many a supporter of the coalition between firstly Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe and secondly the two leading political rival parties, United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), aghast and dumbfounded. Two weeks before a much publicized and overly hyped election campaign, what President Sirisena put in process was a calculated political gamble. In that venture, in terms of Sirisena’s calculations, apart from the direct effect the venture would bear on the electorate, there would be some stirring collateral damage that would follow the process of this confrontational dynamic he has set in.
The direct damage will include, among others, a crack in the coalition, especially between the two leaders, Ranil Wickremesinghe and himself. That major repercussion would eventually entail a cascade of obstacles being erected between the two parties at every level. Starting at the Cabinet level and going down to parliament, this widening of the crack might even lead to open confrontations between the lower level MPs as was seen last week. In an extremely politicized climate as is seen in Sri Lanka today, a local government election cannot go unnoticed and its results are now becoming to be relevant as some pundits have opined during the last couple of weeks.
To bring local government election issues into the national platform and make it a wide and national referendum on the central administration can be dangerous and sometimes seem silly and utterly amateurish. Local government elections, which usually are exclusively centered on local issues and the credentials of local candidates, have been brought to the national stage and the mush maligned issue of the so-called Bond scam is featuring predominantly on that stage, thanks mainly to the Joint Opposition (JO).
Nevertheless, the question remains whether the Bond-scam, which the JO seems to be centering their election campaign on, is an issue among the rural voters when they go to the polls on February 10. Historically all local government elections are decided on one single issue. Whether the continuation of the same party as at the center would or would not help the voters has been the primary question in the minds of the voters. In an electorate so attuned to vituperative political innuendo, the Bond-scam could easily occupy a significant echelon and it gathered tremendous momentum when the full Report came out, at least to the eyes of the President. H chose to express some opinion without referring such opinion to the Prime Minister. Although such reference was neither required nor mandatory, it was, at least in the minds of top UNP leaders, a necessary step President Sirisena should have observed in the interest of the sustenance of the coalition government. If on the other hand, President Sirisena had any misgivings with the UNP and its Ministers, he would have had ample opportunity and time to discuss such misgivings with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. However, that posture adopted by President Sirisena alone was sufficient to motivate some UNP parliamentarians to go into a totally different gear and attack the President openly- the same tactic Sirisena adopted.
When President Sirisena started attacking the UNP either vicariously or directly, the wounds that were festering beneath the outer skin started oozing. This gave rise to a sense of instability in the government ranks and the demeanor of Prime Minister may have helped to calm the stormy clouds, yet how the voter is going to view in the context of the impending elections would be known only after the poll on February 10.
Among the collateral damages that the Government would have to tackle after the election are looming large. Among them is how each Pradesheeya Sabha or Municipal Council would be formed its Council in the event no single party would gain an absolute majority to qualify for that number of winning candidates turning into Council members. That is one major issue that predominates. Such a departure from the agreed coexistence between the UNP and SLFP would cause many local issues that may drift around when the ‘big’ election approaches, come 2020.
Another collateral damage would be the attitude of each Minister in either camp would affect when coming to treating their constituents of the opposing party. Whenever a decision becomes pending on a major matter of policy, looking through the prism of party leaning of each government servant and each private sector would be-contractor or consultant, the tilt of the decision would obviously be expressed within the frame of party leanings. A marriage that was brought about to topple the corrupt Rajapaksa regime might well be in its last laps. Coexistence is difficult; it could be highly glorified at the beginning; it could be immensely helpful to bring about reconciliation between the supporters of each party. Yet an open confrontational stance is going to be condemned by the rank and file of both parties.
How can reconciliation be brought about in an atmosphere of such fundamentally opposite stances taken by the leaders of the two parties? It is always easy to criticize in hindsight. The greatness of great leaders is their ability to foresee such occurrences and have contingency plans to tackle such situations of disagreements. Both Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe are being tested, not by the voters but more so by the circumstances. Clever leaders would certainly know that the best approach to repair problems of coexistence is establishing direct communication without advisors and so-called consultants.
It’s extremely encouraging to know that’s such a meeting between the two protagonists took place during the last few days. Quite a relaxed and unpretentious meeting, as reported by the media, took place at President’s residence and some mutually beneficial and agreeable terms have been arrived at. And the visible results of that meeting might have an unmitigated effect on the elections. Although it would be hard to predict that a strong and powerful political party like the Sri Lanka Freedom Party would be beaten to third place by a fly-by-night political entity such as SLPP whose leadership is that which was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, the current leader of the SLFP.
Containing collateral damage looms much more difficult and large. In such a backdrop how can the two leaders of the parties and their respective support groups come back to trusting each other and continue a very arduous journey together? The glory and glamor of defeating of the Rajapaksas is a faint memory now. The people have moved on and the political leaders need to realize that the reality of politics is changing by the day. They have to move beyond sloganized politics and street fight-centered gerrymandering of electioneering.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org