By Vishwamithra –
“Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.” ~ Sholom Aleichem
A few decades ago, our villagers, when they wanted a relaxed evening, gathered around their radio set at 7:30 in the evening and listened to ‘Vinoda Samaya’ (Fun-time), a comedy that was being broadcast once a week. It brought the entire family together and they enjoyed the evening with a lot of fun and laugh. Now the Vinoda Samaya is no more and In fact, we don’t need it any more. If you turn the television on during the time Parliament met, and especially when President Wickremesinghe is present, we can have all the laugh and fun aplenty. Ranil Wickremesinghe is our modern Andare and he never fails to entertain us with his dark humor. Entrenched in the bourgeois culture, nurtured by its anti-poor-class sentiments and lacking in empathy for his fellow men and women, President Wickremesinghe never fails to entertain himself with his shady jokes. He is King and jester in one.
Dearth of seriousness in his approach to solving the nation’s issues, an apathetic attitude shown towards those who care to show seriousness and thereby displaying his inherent ineptitude to lead the country from the verge of the current abysmal status is no qualification to be considered as our President. Discussion in Parliament of the forthcoming local government elections is serious business. One must not insult the intelligence of the ordinary citizen by subjecting the whole parliamentary discussion on the subject of the local government election into joke and yarn; Ranil must be waiting to repeat his performance in parliament to his friends who gather in the evening at his residence for a shot of whiskey and soda.
When asked whether he was going to postpone the local government elections, he said no and went on to explain that when there are no elections what is there to postpone? His cavalier conduct right throughout his presence in the House of Parliament was a mighty eyesore. Utterly embarrassing to the office he holds and preeminently uncouth, this man who calls himself a descendent of the great Wijeywardene family is a misfit on all accounts of leadership in governance. One can understand if Ranil Wickremesinghe is behaving in this shameless fashion after getting elected as President and resorting to his usual theatrics. But after suffering the most humiliating electoral defeat of the last two centuries, he and his Party the United National Party (UNP), without managing to get one single MP elected, Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the office of President solely to manage the rest of Gotabaya’s term as the most trusted henchman of the dishonorably discharged Rajapaksas. He retained all the Rajapaksa-henchmen and allowed them to run amok once again.
Lack of faith on the part of the electorate in the overall system is being reaffirmed and the ordinary men and women who tirelessly work to make ends meet would certainly treat these leaders who gather in Parliament for two sessions every month as a source of scourge. AKD’s articulation of the current status of the country couldn’t be more accurate: the privileged classes are exploiting the underprivileged to the hilt and those politicians who get elected by the underprivileged are never hesitant to sell the electors for a song and a half.
That underprivileged class is not necessarily made up solely of the economically poor class. Any man, women or child who does not share the taste of power with the elected MPs, Ministers, Prime Minster and President belongs to this other class- the underprivileged. The gulf between this fake elite class and those are ruled is not only widening, it’s apparent and becoming more discernible even for a child to see. Instead of closing this ever-widening gap, our rulers have been successful in making it impossible even to make an attempt at a more tolerable rift.
Today’s problems are basically centered on economic hardships and political mistrust. Although accountability as a fundamental concept of governance stands out as the most paramount of issues at hand, the basic mistrust with which our electors hold their elected leaders seems to be at the core of all issues. This is where the NPP and AKD are apparently outscoring all other parties and their leaders. As I enunciated in my last column, the NPP is yet to be tested and tried, but that factor alone is their strength and AKD is playing that to the hilt. As a shrewd politician, amongst a batch of mediocre party leaders, Anura Kumara Dissanayake stands out, not only as a shrewd and cunning politician, his delivery and command of the language when making public speeches qualifies him to be amongst the best Sri Lanka has seen in the last couple of decades.
In a democracy where one votes for the person whom he or she wants to represent the electorate, two critically important elements are preeminent: 1. Command of the prevailing conditions and 2. What processes does the leader use to instill his and his party’s policies and principles in order to bring about a resolution of the prevailing issues. Trust, oratorical skills, personal character could all be considered as sub-elements of these two.
Both Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Pohottuwa group have lost it totally. The people do not trust them and nor do they consider Ranil and the Pohottuwa men as credible anymore. Failure on the part of Ranil to impose a condition of non-retention of those who had already been alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices of bribes and nepotism in the government he was asked to run after Gotabaya’s desertion is having a telling effect on the voter. An erosion of support base of stupendous proportions could be expected at whatever the election that would be held in the coming months and years. The Pohottuwa may recover in years to come, but never in the near future.
SJB and Sajith Premadasa
The SJB seems to be suffering from a serious lack of motivation. Their absence from the social media and halfhearted response to the allegations and attacks hurled by the NPP and AKD would have a negative effect when the polling time comes. Sajith Premadasa’s lack of initiative and creative action was once again displayed when the controversial appointment of the Chairperson of the COPE committee was discussed in parliament. A clever leader would have anticipated the government’s move to prevent Harsha de Silva from becoming Chairman of the COPE and Sajith could have informed his parliamentarians that in the event Harsha’s name is not proposed, all other SJB parliamentarians should not accept the post if proposed. Sajith is not a clever leader and nor is he stern. Mayantha Dissanayake cannot be blamed for accepting the post when his leader failed to act more wisely.
Furthermore, breakdown of trust and faith by the people at large in the leadership of Sajith will be well exposed in the forthcoming LG elections. Sajith is still suffering from the hangover of the defeat at the last Presidential Elections. Added to this situation is the make-up of the SJB with some of the corrupt MPs who were in the last Yahapalanaya government as powerful ministers.
NPP and AKD
The country seems to be burning with the flames and sparks of a coming change: a change from elitism to non-elitism. What the NPP seems advocating is not for an era of the ‘common man’ as was done during the 1956 campaign headed by SWRD Bandaranaike and his army of Buddhist Monks. What the NPP refers to elitism is directly identified with those who occupy the seats of power now and those who had in the past. NPP has not been party to any of the past regimes, barring a very short time when a couple of them including AKD held one or two portfolios; they still remain virtually unstained. The very fact that they do not have experience is being argued by AKD as ‘new and fresh’. When one talks about a System Change, in the minds of the voters, experience does not count as an advantage or a critical factor.
But one must remember that elections are not fought on paper. They are fought on harsh battlefields under very trying conditions. Timely and prudent responses to the opponent’s attacks may well be the difference between victory and defeat. Well-oiled party machineries, clever and creative advertising, social acceptability of the candidates, clever planning of the whole campaign with a central theme backed by relatable sub-themes are all parts of a successful election campaign. What is even more critical is what is projected for the day after the election. Wise men and women will judge the performers not only on the performance on the day of the election, the day after too matters for the country.
In 2015, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe were elected not because they were trusted by the people. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime was so unpopular and their corruption-led rule had reached a level that could not be trusted anymore. Both Maithripala and Ranil let the whole country down. They served the purpose of being a substitute instead of an alternative.
Now the battle lines have been drawn. The pseudo worriers are facing each other on a field that has already been desecrated by their predecessors. That desecration has taken a long time, seventy five years. Each year has told a different story but with the same players: the so-called elite of society on one side and the underprivileged commoners on the other. Barring a rare few who managed to dare the odds and achieved their summit with grim hard work and dedication, a great majority of our leaders are best forgotten. We may well have come to another crossroads.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org