By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“There is no evidence that crowds at meetings translate accurately into votes. If it were, the JVP would have trounced others several times and Mahinda would have won in 2015.”
A friend of mine, a businessman and long-known Sajith Premadasa backer for reasons best known to him, sends me the following message through WhatsApp:
“The friend of mine who sent me this drone photo said, ‘In my whole life U have never seen such a mammoth crowd…. Still they are pouring in. I stood at the Galle Face roundabout just 15 minutes ago. I could see the Galle Road up to about Temple trees completely, sea of people….”
From the Galle Road to Temple Trees is about 3 KM. My friend has an extraordinary eyesight!
A undiscerning Sajith supporter naturally would have been up in ecstatic joy at a ‘report’ like this. In my case, I was watching the whole meeting from the comfort of my Melbourne home. Who said I can have no idea of what’s happening in Sri Lanka as I am domesticated in Melbourne? Not so in this digital world and with fast communication technology. I got all the technology and wouldn’t risk going to the island where someone who does not like my political writings would get the bright idea of shooting me down. Despite the progress of Yahapalanaya this can still happen, although Gotabaya Rajapaksa hasn’t climbed to power yet.
I am admittedly a supporter of the Yahapalanaya system-changing plan and I like to see Ranil Wickremesinghe’s promise to execute that plan under a Sajith Presidency. I can pin hopes on that promise despite Sajith’s well-known equivocation about the abolition of the Executive Presidential system that is the root cause of bringing up arrogant and foolish people to the ruling helm. With such men at the top, terraced flanks of lesser politicians develop as hangers on and beneficiaries of the corrupt largesse of the dictator. The latter are all keeping a watch on the crime that does on.
And the crime is franchised. We have had enough of this system of politics.
Crowds are a Common Phenomenon
Hence, I like the UNP’s new candidate getting supportive crowds around wherever he goes. If Gotabaya wins, then the match is over for Yahapalanaya and we are back with family rule, with the white vans and the ‘missing’ journalists. Courts would, once again, be the creation of the almighty ruler. Judges will give the wanted verdicts and still carry through with their regalia. Some men would be more equal than others. And so on.
But I tell Sajith and UNP fans not to get too excited like my friend’s friend with the drone camera. Haven’t we seen ‘massive crowds,’ at Galle Face before? Filling and overfilling the ground? There may be small differences in size that are marginal and of no consequence. Very recently, I watched the JVP crowd at Galle Face. I cannot see the difference. There was a visible difference and that was the discipline of the party with all leaders and attendees in red caps as though the revolution is round the corner, once again since Doric De Souza. Previous to that, I saw Mahinda Rajapaksa’s crowd. There was evidence that many of the attendees got food on the way. Some consumed rotten milk packets. I don’t know about cash been given to the hand. Rakapaksas are moneyed people and, unlike Sajith and the UNP, they could afford to unload some of the money into a crowd of beggars.
True Significance of Crowds
The point I am trying to make is that crowds brought in for a meeting are not necessarily voluntary. There is no evidence that crowds at meetings translate accurately into votes. If it were, the JVP would have trounced others several times and Mahinda would have won in 2015.
Crowds have a demonstrative effect of a show of power especially to the undiscerning. Many of the political rats, who were toying with jumping sides, get back as a wise move. The newspapers said that Sarath Fonseka had crossed over a day of two ago to Gota who was the man who put the General into prison jumpers. Yet, we see the Field Marshall back on stage with Sajith who promised outright that he would grant him the subject of law and order long denied by Sirisena. Champika was also there.
Many other smaller fry, likewise, got back to fold sensing growing support for Sajith.
Today, is Elpitiya local elections-day and if Pohottuwa wins that would mean something more serious to look at as it has a demonstrative effect that is more effective since what is counted at Elpitiya are real votes of people.
PM’s Speech Strangely Interrupted
I was taken by surprise to observe how the Prime Minister’s speech at the rally had been rudely interrupted by one of the two narrators. For what? Because Sajith was riding what appeared to be a pony toward the stage from about 300 metres away. PM remained with composure and dignity for about twenty minutes and, then, resumed the speech. The build up of his delivery had been disrupted. In addition, I spotted two idiots behind the PM making laughing gestures apparently aimed at a section of the audience. Knowing the rift between the Sajith faction and Ranil Wickremesinghe these errors stood out as deliberate.
UNP Secretary, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, and Revd Dambara Amila spoke out carrying over the attack straight into the enemy camp. It is very important to do that and try and demolish the enemy’s image. That is real politics. Akila borrowing a title from Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s popular stage play referred to “Yaksha gamanaya.” [journey of the devil]. Revd Dambara Amila, an academic at Sri Jayawardenapura University, tore Gota and Sirisena to pieces. These two speakers and a few others had the right pitch to hit the enemy at his weakest point. That was a lesson for Sajith Premadasa who has all along being struggling with a marketing pitch. What impact does, “Ekwa Yamu Idiriyata,” have on audiences? The central slogan of an election campaign must be able to tune into the key needs of the electorate. Only then could the slogan give any sign of a wake-up call. On the other hand, Sajith’s chosen slogan is anaemic and stale.
I am not trying to be a trouble maker but I could, finally, spot a concealed rift between the official UNP line set out by its leader and the populist thrust of Sajith’s camp. Wickremesinghe stressed the point that the party nominated Sajith in order to carry out the yahapalanaya program that lies incomplete. This meant the abolition of the Executive President as a first and urgent measure. On the other hand, Sajith’s rhetoric was that of someone who is to be the Executive President and not a 19A shadow. He spoke as though he is going to make drastic changes all round the wicket although under 19A that is the province of the Prime Minister. Does his faction have a project to oust the leader after winning?