By S. Sivathasan –
Come elections and ‘divides’ are conjured up as immutable lines that define separateness. The first in the caption is economic and social. The second is not geographic but an euphemism for ethnic identity. It is made out by some that never the twain shall meet and never the sides can merge. Parroting follows and a dogma is set in place. Behaviour at elections does not fall into these stereotypes. Voting defies academic notions. Unconventional approaches in reading the present and foreseeing the future, take us closer to realistic positions.
When mental decks are cleared and inhibitions get smitten, there is scope for logical reasoning. Sri Lanka is yet to become a settled state like Malaysia or Singapore. In the last four weeks, very many forces seeking to resolve issues and arrive at a desired equilibrium, are having a struggle. There is a clash of ideas and a battle for supremacy. When there is a struggle, there cannot be peace. In this last week of electioneering, we see it at its height of intensity. Yet there is a remarkable unity among all in the forefront of Maithripala’s campaign. Accepting all what happens as signs of life, we have to await the outcome.
If there be a mighty big force in motion, in what form and to what purpose does it move? The shape is no different from an iceberg and the target is no less than restoration of democracy. What created the iceberg? Decades of negligence and positive mis-governance. Details need no recounting as citizens know them well. For 26 years from 1983, the war was invoked in mitigation of default. The war victory of 2009, knocked the bottom off all expiatory defence since then.
The incumbent President arrogated all power to himself. That power was shared by the family and the cabal around. The people had yearned for the peace dividend. The President and his coterie; kleptomaniacs all, took it wholesale. Illicit siphoning from end of war grew in geometrical progression. Pace and magnitude were arithmetical earlier from 2006. People’s perception was universal. International cognition was likewise. Arab Spring was fresh in the memory of the ruling clique. The fate of the culprit Heads of State was far too disquieting.
What next? Using the façade of democracy, hold the election, corrupt it, fake the results, usurp power, rivet a tyranny and bequeath ‘kingship’ to the Dynasty, waiting in the wings. In a similar wait was the populace in a mood of insurrection. The leadership to spearhead it was quietly crystallising. It embraced every shade of disaffection and all hues of political persuasion. When everything was turning in the opposition’s favour, with all ethnicities and religionists throwing in their collective weight, the most untoward, detrimental to the incumbent President happened. It was devastating.
Emerging common candidate was Maithripala Sirisena, a senior Minister in the ruling government and General Secretary of the party in power who broke ranks with the President. He has personality and is personable. He has moved in circles of power while yet retaining his common touch. His humility has farming origins. He has won acceptability of the Opposition galaxy. Chandrika, Ranil, Sajith Premadasa, Sarath Fonseka, Mangala Samaraweera, Karu Jayasuriya, Sampanthan, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganeshan and Radhakrishnan. Their lieutenants are as well-known and no less weighty. In contrast is the monopolist of power, a loner in the fray. Certainty of victory is heavily weighted on one side.
Iceberg in Motion
With several forces marching in step, the iceberg of gigantic proportions is in motion. It was where it was but only the tip was seen. It was variously described and differently analysed. What remained immersed in subterranean waters is now moving on its own dynamic. The movement is certainly unsettling and irksome to all retardants. Yet from 1st January this year, it has become unstoppable. Even as it moves, large chunks are adding to its size. Real weight will be estimated on the 7th and known on the 9th. The date and the outcome are anxiously watched.
Erosion of Divides
Were the changes referred to in earlier paras not observed by the people? Unlikely. To some or even many the urban rural divide is a fixation having eternal life. The country has seen several changes particularly since the ‘peaceful revolution’ of 1956. They encompass social, economic, educational and cultural developments beside many other transformations. The cumulative effect of them all has been to change the landscape and to substantially remove stratifications. In such an environment it is not appropriate to say Maithripala gets more of the urban vote and Mahinda more of the rural. It can be asserted that the pattern of voting transcends such categorisation.
By the same reasoning, ethnic animosities are declining and talking of a divide is not fully relevant. This is not to suggest that passions cannot be roused. But now a strong government can more easily contain adverse situations. It may be said that political sentiments have begun to cross communal divides and voting patterns have assumed a different perspective.
If it is clear that divides have lost their rigidity, people will follow fresh contours. It is therefore up to us to base electoral forecasts from pragmatic platforms. This has not happened and many an estimate has gone awry. In the next few days when forecasts and realities are realigned, the ever widening gap between Maithripala and Mahinda will become clearer still.