By Kusal Perera –
Nominations for the Western and Southern Provincial Council elections will close on 03 March next and the run up to nominations have already stirred much amusement in the local media with new female names and faces announcing their entry into politics. The ruling UPFA in particular has succeeded in listing some names that caught immediate public attention and Face Book comments. So did the statement by Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) on these prospective candidates. If not all, most media using the CaFFE statement, enjoyed playing with captions that talked of “sex symbols”.
In the CaFFE official website “http://www.caffesrilanka.org/more-4a-9121-2.html” the statement says, [quote] The main political parties have commenced interviews to select candidates for each district. Reports have revealed that a large number of regional politicians with years of experience behind them have been neglected in favor of ‘sex symbols.’………. CaFFE urges all political parties and independent groups to disengage from petty politics by promoting ‘sex symbols’ for short term gain…… [emphasis added and unquote] They concede that ‘sex symbols.’ they refer to, are [quote]movie stars and beauty queens without political experience and knowledge [emphasis added and unquote]
This shows a fundamental intellectual flaw in CaFFE and its brains. It assumes sex and intellectual ability don’t ever go together. Well, they often go together. Its not sex that has to be argued for or against them, but their understanding of politics. That may not be what the Sri Lankan voter checks when voting. The entry into politics of many “black characters” CaFFE didn’t bother to issue statements on, would not have happened if voters decided on knowledge and political experience. CaFFE thus proves, it is as ordinary as any feudal lord and thus don’t have the ability to lead democratic interventions in a modern society.
The very “sexist language” employed by a supposed election monitoring agency that talk of justice and fair play in a modern democratic society, raise far more serious issues about themselves and their conduct as “independent monitors”. Before that, let me dwell a little on “celebrities and moviestars” taking to politics. The man who generated “Reagonomics” as the 40th President of the USA was a moviestar by the name of Ronald Reagon. But that’s an American film idol, CaFFE may say, for in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa did it the other way round. He took to film and tele drama acting, long after taking to politics.
Moviestars taking to politics is nothing new here nor even in next door India. An Indian entertainment world website, “TopYaps” rates top 10 moviestars who became politicians. They start with Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, said to have been born in then Ceylon, but a legend in Indian Tamil film industry as “MGR” who dominated TN politics as its Chief Minister for a long period. His later co-star and present CM Jeyalalithaa, Thelugu-Kannada-Malayali and Bengali film idol Jaya Pradha, Thelugu star Chitranjeevi, Hindi film idol Vinodh Kanna who later became the Cultural and Tourism minister of the Central government in 1999, Hindi film star Shatrugan Singha, five time Indian National Film Award winner and a highly acclaimed actress plus a social activist Shabhana Azmi appointed to the Rajya Sabha, one of the most versatile actresses in Indian cinema Jaya Bachchan, Hindi actor Dharmendra who stormed the Indian film world much before Bollywod and a maverick but a super star of the Tamil Nadu screen, Govindha are others in the “TopYap” top ten.
In Sri Lanka too we have a long list, beginning with Dr.N.M Perera a pioneering Marxist in Ceylon, a much respected Left political intellectual and leader who was first cast in a stage drama “Nagarayen Kethata”(From City to Paddy field) produced by Dr. Malalasekera during his time in the Colombo University College and then as the male lead in the first Sinhala film that was produced locally, but could never be screened due to rivalry and arson. Thereafter Shane Gunaratne the first actor with a “goatee” who had an untimely death is forgotten now, though he came on the United Left Front stage in 1963. Few others who followed thereafter getting into open party politics are Gamini Fonseka, Anoja Weerasinghe (came only on campaign stage), Vijeya Kumaratunge, Cyril Dharmawardne, Cyril Wickramage, Ajith Jinadasa, Jeevan Kumaratunge, Ravindra Randeniya, Clietus Mendis, Ranjan Ramanayake, Malini Fonseka, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Anarkali Akarsha and Jayantha Ketagoda, if I had missed any other. There were also top celebrity musicians like Khemadasa Master and Rohana Weerasinghe who tried their luck in entering parliament from the “national list” and popular singer Karunaratne Divulgane taking oaths as the Governor of the North Central Province, a complete political appointee.
Getting back to sexism of CaFFE, most fortunately, CaFFE was not there to label any of them as “sex symbols” and saying they took to politics “without political experience and knowledge”. Surely, “sex symbols” as CaFFE boss seems to understand, can not only be young females. I was once told by a film critic, a Ranjan Ramanayake film hit box office records because young women flocked to see him in his bare chested masculinity and he stormed Ratnapura district with such film image, though a complete outsider. Dayasiri Jayasekera perhaps swept Kurunegala district with his recently hyped TV image that friezed youth, marking a cross for him. Aren’t these men, “sex symbols” too, who exploited the vote on a special physical appeal ?
Why then label these newcomer females as “sex symbols” ? What is a sexist symbol, I fail to understand. How does CaFFE and Rajith Keerthi define a “sexist symbol” ? A slim, curvy, fair skinned female with red painted pouting lips, winking at you ? A two piece bikini clad young lass with Botticelli limbs keeping feet dangling up on a glistening rail ? No election candidate for that matter would pose in such attire with exposed fair skin, asking for votes. What CaFFE and Rajith Keerthi had done is, provoked insane and malnourished minds like theirs to use social media networks to go viral with photos of young female candidates in their performing costumes as actresses and models. It is unpardonable for any one one to use such photographs to defame personality images. Those are all part of their professional life and not election campaigning as political party candidates. If CaFFE or Rajith Keerthi gets titilated with such visuals, its their sexy business and not that of election candidates.
There is therefore absolutely no right for any one to call any of the women who decides to contest elections as “sex symbols” purely because they are popular with a fan base from their performances as actresses, singers and models. These are all professions in our awfully lean entertainment industry, though Rajith Keerthi and I could not take to, at any time in our lives. This rabidly sexist statement also proves CaFFE is far behind time, living with Victorian puritanical morals. Therefore CaFFE does not see the necessity to demand from political parties and groups to desist from nominating criminals, drug pedlars, rapists, child abusers and such anti social elements. For CaFFE, the only issue is “sex” in elections, interpreted in their own narrow and populist understanding. That they think could be positioned as “anti Rajapaksa” to gain votes. Even if that could be so positioned in this racist Sinhala society, that is not intellectual and democratic politics. And that CaFFE mindset and value system on “sex” obviously representing the Sinhala majority, perhaps explains increased rape and sexual harassment in our present day society.
CaFFE also proves, though they are supposed to monitor elections and have monitored PC elections before, they don’t know what PCs are for. Their statement makes a flat assumption that, [quote] Provincial council elections are a gateway for talented regional politicians to enter mainstream politics.[unquote] Was PCs created with much blood letting and devastations as a “gateway” for regional politicians to enter mainstream politics? PCs were brought in as a second tier governing body for socio economic development in provinces, the parliament was previously given responsibility for. If there are provincial councillors who later promote themselves for national politics, then that is an exceptional side issue. For CaFFE this exceptional side issue has turned out as the main issue, just the way they take their narrow interpretation of “sexism” as a core political issue.
The next issue that gets entangled with this incredibly lewd CaFFE mindset is their shameless decision to tell political parties and voters, whom to choose. IF CaFFE is an “independent” election monitoring agency, they have to be just that. They have no right to tell people whom to vote. They also have no right to tell political parties whom they should nominate. CaFFE boss Rajith Keerthi had always proved he is bias. His selective face book postings have always negatively targeted Ranil Wickremasinghe and positively promoted Sajith Premadasa. He has thus proved he is politically aligned and bias and therefore has no right to claim any independence in election monitoring, though donors continue to fund CaFFE as an independent or what ever monitor.
This undeclared alliance with Sajith Premadasa underlines the fact CaFFE with Rajith Keerthi is racist and therefore makes no surprise in being sexist too, in a primitively Victorian manner. This also proves the intellectual social decline has crept to all organs and agencies in our society. Reason also the media relishes such sexist and sensational stuff for front page coverage. CaFFE trying to portray an undefined “decent” face with this sexist statement is only a primitive approach of backwardness, the women’s organisations too have just let go. Well, every one has an agenda, often not spelled out. And today it is cheap and petty populism and not rational, intellectual politics. So the youth goes puritanically sexist and viral too, face books and social media giving them uncompromising space.