By Emil van der Poorten –
So far there have been relatively few polls published relating to the watershed election that will soon be upon us and some that I have seen amount to little more than gobbledegook parading as erudition, with the text seemingly contradicting the graphs and other mumbo-jumbo accompanying it! I don’t know whether this is a phenomenon typical of the current political discourse in English in Sri Lanka or whether the so-called “researchers” really don’t know what they are talking about and fall back on concealing that fact with a pile of verbiage.
I should insert a disclaimer here in the matter of polls, surveys and analysis conducted by Social Indicator, the survey research unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu’s much-reviled (by the Malinda Seneviratnes of this country particularly!) publication and organization have published a literate and seemingly balanced analysis of a poll reflecting the current public mood. Thank you, PS & Co. for another example of literacy that serves, among other things, to expose the “Free Lap-top Journalists” for what they are and for whom they act as poorly-disguised apologists.
And speaking of the English language and its debasement, recent copies of the daily and Sunday papers to which we subscribe carry advertisements for candidates in the election soon to be held which, if collected in one volume, could provide the ultimate catalogue of banality and abuse of the English language. Sometimes both, but always hilarious!
Typical of politicians, the slogans are vacuous.
One says, in part, “…the main object of education is not only scholastic achievement but to bring forth exemplary citizens.” Whatever happened to the 20th century school of simple expression that followed Ernest Hemingway’s admonition against using “ten dollar words?” Maybe, they’ve all followed Margaret Mitchell’s ode to banality and have “Gone with the wind!”
Then you have our current (and post-election?) Prime Minister promising to “sow the seeds for a bountiful harvest” in a full-page advertisement, no less. Back to Papa Hemingway and his timeless advice not to indulge in vacuous verbosity!
Then there is the man proclaiming himself a “Visionary Educator.” Based on what? The fact that he is a glorified “tuition-teacher” whose exploits resulted in his being “persuaded” to cross the floor no sooner he was elected as an UNP member of the legislature the last time? His vision, he claims, “is clear. It is to guide and develop the future of four million children in my country.” He goes on to exhort readers of this piffle to “Join hands with (his) vision,”if that is humanly or even metaphorically possible, one that demonstrably excludes any adherence to principled conduct!
The leader of the chauvinist horde in the Ranil-led coalition echoes what one can expect from the likes of him when he claims that, to elect him, will be “To herald an era of GREATNESS. Let us be 1.” At least the man makes no effort to disguise his “master race” proclivities and one can hardly expect modesty in a politician, leave alone the avoidance of thinly-disguised arrogance, both personal and in respect of his “race.”
One candidate has a modest little advertisement that simply says “Integrity.” The fact that even a blasé electorate could well judge candidates by their previous behaviour and performance rather than such a lofty claim doesn’t seem to have entered into this guy’s thinking processes.
Then there is another candidate, very prominent in his own religiously-based community and notorious in the entire nation for constantly fulfilling the most racially stereotypical allegations made against his community of being the masters of vacillation with political behaviour that befits the proverbial weather vane. He requests readers of his blurb to visit his website so that they may “learn more about his vision to empower the common man.” Given his conduct, this should qualify for its entry into something like the Gratiaen or other literary award for works of fiction if not the Guinness book of records for repetition of “principles” that have proved to be in an eternal state of flux.
Another man who once scurried away from a prominent office in the judiciary after the then-President dropped by for a chat subsequent to his house (the legal luminary’s) having been subjected to gunfire, simply says “Dignity of Politics.” What on earth is that supposed to mean? Or is it, stereotypically, legal jargon intended to cause confusion?
Of all the political advertisements I have seen recently the one that makes a truly unbelievable claim is that of the man, inconsistent to say the least in his political allegiances and best known for his connections to the gaming industry (with all that entails), who claims to be “An intellectual the world acknowledges.” Modesty is obviously not this man’s strong suit and it would be interesting to ask him to provide one iota of evidence to back up his claim!
It also helps, in terms of (square-foot) coverage if daddy owns a whole newspaper chain. However, if one wants proof that quantity does not equal quality, the barrage from this quarter provides ample evidence of that fact.
One thing that seems apparent from these advertisements is that the United National Front for Good Governance (have I got that title right?)`does not have a central coordinating person or committee of any description to ensure that there is some commonality in the exhortations, appeals and boasts that their candidates insist on inflicting on the English-reading public of this country. I can only hope that the Sinhala and Tamil media doesn’t carry material of the same quality!
Not untypically, it was the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s advertisement couched in the form of letter to state employees that, very soberly reminded them of the realities that they have already faced and simply asking them to assess the facts before casting their vote. Like the entire JVP campaign, this treated those at whom it was directed with respect, not like buffoons or baboons.
Yes, it is “crunch time” and short of staying away from the polling station on election day, every person of voting age in this country has got some very serious decisions to make.
Do you return the “known devil” in Mahinda Rajapaksa and his fellow candidates or do you opt for Ranil Wickremesinghe and what seems, at times, like a motley crew with a wide spread of political philosophies and a spread of opinions and egos to match? Or – the third choice – do you overcome whatever animosity you still bear the JVP for its monstrous conduct at the end of its second insurrection and vote for an organization that is most unlikely, even in a very best case scenario, to form government but has displayed a disciplined and cohesive approach to its campaign, fulfilling the cardinal rule in any campaign: “staying on message?”
The poorly-written (and insulting to the reader’s intelligence) material that has seen print does not make that choice any easier for the voters of Sri Lanka.
What approaches is a point in our history which promises to live up to that ancient Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times!”