By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
One of the most inane and ludicrous proclamations made at the end of a general election anywhere in the world is the oft repeated simplistic exclamation “The people have spoken”! The platitude is uttered with a certain pragmatic resignation as if it is the last word. As if the people having spoken, the rest of them who thought differently must surely be wrong. The election campaign may have been marked by bitter conflict and controversy. There may have been unrelenting disagreement between parties over policies plans and promises. The most serious accusations might have been hurled across party lines pertaining to the moral character and dubious reputation of various candidates, including allegations of monstrous crimes misdemeanors deceptions and cover ups. However now it is all over and the cry goes out “The people have spoken” as if some infallible divine oracle and final arbiter of right from wrong who has a monopoly of the truth has pronounced judgment. The Whig tract of 1709 carried such reaction to the point of absurdity in the slogan “Vox populi vox dei – ie. the “voice of the people is the voice of god”!
The reality is very different. More often “the voice of the people” has sounded the purposes of the devil ! Universal franchise may be the glory of democracy. But the truth is that human populations the world over are selfish, corrupt, stupid and easily deceived – attributes that are apparent in the electoral choices they make. In a fallen world all human beings in their natural unregenerate state are sinners. That with ‘one man one vote’ they have in their hands the power to collectively determine the destiny of nations whether for good or ill makes no difference. Human nature is basically bad, not good. That the majority has spoken does not mean the majority is right. More likely it represents the depressing reality that in human affairs might is right, where as someone said two millennia ago “the whole godless world lies in the power of the evil one”!
In particular those with a Christian perspective can contemplate the bizarre voting patterns of the unenlightened masses in plebiscites all over the world, with the quiet equanimity of those who possess a true understanding of human nature. Two thousand years ago Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God come into the world to save sinners, was on trial for his life on trumped up charges before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. He was the perfect ‘God-Man’ who had done nothing but good all his life. History records that realising Jesus’ innocence the Roman governor sought to placate a hostile crowd that was crying out for his blood by offering them a deal, where in conformity with a judicial custom at that time of the year the governor would release for the crowd one prisoner whom they wanted. The choice was between Jesus and a notorious bandit named Barabbas who had been arrested for homicidal political terrorism.
So Pilate said to the crowd “Which of the two do you want me to release for you: Barabbas or Jesus . . . ?” And in the most poignant and fateful popular choice in history the mass of people “voted” to release Barabbas and send Jesus to his death. All that is now recorded history. But it has epitomised the way of a fallen world over the succeeding 2000 years up until this very day, where millions of people on countless occasions either through democratic franchise or popular revolution have (given the choice), in their own way invariably voted for Barabbas ! Human nature has not changed in 2000 years. This is a world in which the dull unenlightened unregenerate masses opt for Barabbas every time. To expect anything better is to live in a fool’s paradise of a starry eyed optimism. Once one appreciates this harsh reality, one can pragmatically come to terms with any election result wherever in the world human populations have voted, however outrageous the result and however monstrous their choice of governments to rule over them. Consequently there is great comfort in the biblical diagnosis of human sin as a universal deformity and total depravity of human nature found at every point in every person. The great apostle Paul put flesh on the bones of this succinct definition in a devastating piece of polemical writing in AD 57 about the essential character of human populations
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That is human nature in the raw ! If anyone thinks it is a fanciful exaggeration by a born pessimist, he has only to look at the sordid record of human history down the ages. Monstrous despots like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Mugabe who brutally slaughtered tortured and abused tens of millions of innocent victims in their own day and age attained to and retained power by dubious means no doubt, but not without the enthusiastic support of countless millions of fawning acolytes, frequently the majority of the population. So much for the much vaunted “voice of the people” ! Then there are the so called non democratic democracies or “elected dictatorships” in many parts of the world voted in by millions of gullible citizens aided by various degrees of electoral fraud.
Melik Kaylan in an interesting article in Forbes Magazine in 2014 identified Russia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Egypt, Turkey, the former Ukraine and Georgia as examples of such countries. No doubt readers of my article here may recognise others closer home especially when scanning through the list of common attributes of such governments so perceptively quoted by Kaylan namely: “media owned by the leader’s cronies; economy dominated by same; opposition politicians constantly harassed, prosecuted, or in danger of prosecution; state and religion hand in glove; judiciary pressured to comply with government’s diktat; independence of educational institutions relentlessly subverted; corruption ubiquitous in state institutions; free markets victimized by political expediency; foreign NGO’s scapegoated. And oh yes – almost invariably the country’s woes get blamed on sinister outside conspirators, usually the US”. Clearly the foolish debased masses worldwide in all ages have much to account for in selecting bad people to rule over them and then suffering the horrendous consequences thereof.
As for Sri Lanka people of an older generation can recall even with tears how at the dawn of independence in 1948 it was a model Commonwealth country with a strong economy and the potential to become one of the most prosperous and stable nations in Asia. By 1956 it had a superb system of free education with an excellent university on par with some of the best in the world. The country was administered by a brilliant cadre of civil servants whose intellectual stature most of today’s university academics would find hard to match ! We had a truly independent judiciary of eminent judges, as well as other high quality institutions of governance. Significantly nearly all the politicians who comprised the legislature at the time were whatever their shortcomings, decent educated men of honesty and integrity. There were no political thugs, drug dealers, killers, robbers, and other half educated loud mouthed moral lepers in parliament. True, there were various social and economic inequalities in society that needed to be rectified. However it was only a matter of time before this would be achieved by a process of gradual evolution with sensible pragmatic governance that valued social justice national unity and ethnic peace.
Alas, the great Lee Kuan Yew in his autobiography says he “watched a promising country go to waste”. The rot set in as a majority of foolish voters in 1956 gave a landslide victory to a racist political party formed by an unscrupulous individual to satisfy his arrogant craving for power. Supported by a motley collection of fanatical monks, primitive school teachers and puerile native physicians, the party swept to power on a cheap populist platform promising a place in the sun for rabble and riff-raff. It led to the undermining of discipline and contempt for any concept of elitism and true excellence, thus ushering in a culture of mono linguistic mediocrity and politicisation that would pollute all the institutions of governance for generations to come.
Worse the narrow linguistic nationalism of the party which swept to power on a popular mandate at one stroke shattered the trust that existed between ethnic groups, laying the foundation for periodic mob violence against minorities and a brutal ethnic war that would claim hundreds of thousands of lives and convulse society for the next half a century and still counting ! It was to quote Lee Kuan Yew “the unraveling of Sri Lanka”. And it all began with the “people who had spoken” loud and clear in 1956.No wonder a few years ago somebody published a critique of democracy titled “The people have spoken (and they are wrong)”. That may be going too far. Churchill was more correct in concluding that “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others”!
So a pragmatic understanding of the ingrained perversity of human populations that vote at elections is comforting in that it explains why good candidates and better political parties are frequently rejected by the masses and suffer humiliating defeat. Surely that is to be expected. Indeed It would be surprising if it was not the case. It is a false assumption that what is needed for a political party and its candidates to convince the voters is to conclusively establish that intelligence, ability, integrity, goodness, sincerity and astute policies lie on their side. It is the height of naivety to assume that voters will be attracted by demonstrating that truth is on your side.
On the contrary people vote for parties and candidates after their own debased nature. It does not matter whether the voters are sophisticated academics, highly trained professionals, the affluent business classes or the simplistic proletarian masses. Corrupt populations always vote in corrupt politicians. From their perspective surely it would be counterproductive if they didn’t ! A racist electorate reeking in superstition and vain idolatry wallowing in the sanctimonious humbug of false religion will invariably vote for narrow minded manipulative racist politicians. Voters in their millions who are driven by selfish motives and have no sense of abstract morality will naturally opt for governments that resonate with their own values and moral standards. Such is the perversity of the gullible unenlightened human race in its natural state wherever in the world elections are held. The point is obvious no doubt. But it is nevertheless important to remind ourselves of it.
And so a fallen world progresses on its inexorable course to the end of history with elections following elections and governments displacing governments, and there seems to be no end to human misery as nations writhe over the seeming triumph of evil over good, and the poets cry out in agony as one did over 23 centuries ago “O Lord how long shall the wicked exult, those who frame injustice by statute. They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They kill the widow and the sojourner and murder the fatherless. They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.”.
How all this will end, and what needs to be done in the meantime are crucial questions. The answers are beyond the scope of this article.