By R S Perinbanayagam –
The presidential election of 2000 in the United States, as in Sri Lanka today, there were many candidates on the ballot but George W. Bush and Albert Gore were real contenders. And there was also the third candidate who made a lot of noise in the media too: Ralph Nader. In the final tally of votes for Bush and Gore, Bush edged out Gore by a small margin while Ralph Nader came third with a small number votes.
In this contest Bush was the conservative while Gore was the liberal one–broadly speaking– and Ralph Nader could be described as an ultra-liberal. Ralph Nader and Albert Gore had more in common than Bush and Nader and if push comes to shove those who voted for Nader would have preferred a Gore win rather than a Bush win. What did those who voted for Nader achieve in the end? By voting for Nader and wasting their vote they succeeded in electing Bush and should bear some responsibility for all the horrors that followed. They were so committed to the ultra-liberal ideology that Ralph Nader represented that they succeeded in electing a hawkish ultraconservative to office. The judgment of the Nader voters was deeply flawed They were no doubt moved by their deep disillusionment with the policies of the two major parties. Nevertheless, they did not fully appreciate the logic of the presidential electoral system and certainly lacked the powers of discernment to understand that small differences make a big differences in politics. In such a system not only does one vote for a candidate but also against another. In the real world of politics a voter has to choose, not between good and evil or between God and the Devil or between the Buddha and Mara, or for that matter, between Rama and Ravana, but between two flawed candidates, between the lesser of the two evils. The electoral system for presidential elections is predicated on a binary logic. Those who voted for Ralph Nader also voted for Bush–perhaps unwittingly – and in a couple of states it made a difference and in Florida it made a decisive one. In effect then by choosing an ultraliberal they contributed to the defeat of the candidate with whom they shared at least some values and principles.
In the Sri Lankan electoral system for choosing presidents the same binary logic operates. It appears that the ballot for the election contains many names but the real contenders are Rajapaksa and Srisena. At the time of voting the voters can choose to vote:
a) For one or the other.
b) For one of the minor party candidates
c) Spoil their vote
d) Abstain from voting.
Let us call those who may choose options the b c d the idealistic ones– or perhaps the naive ones. If the idealistic ones indeed choose one of the the three options they will in fact be voting for one of the major contenders. If Rajapaksa squeaks a win with a small margin of votes the idealist would in fact have participated in electing him– even if that was the last thing they wanted. If on the other hand Srisena sqeeks a win, the idealists would have helped him win by withholding their votes for Rajapaksa even if, again, that was the last thing they wanted.
The electoral process as it stands now ultimately demands that the voters choose between the lesser of two evils. It does make a difference, even if it is only a marginal difference, for everyone in the resplendent isle, including various minorities, which evil wins in the end. In politics, until the revolution comes, it is the marginal difference that makes all the difference. Perhaps it is best for the minor parties and their candidates, in the last minute, to keep quiet and not endorse anyone and allow the wisdom of the voters to choose the candidate on their own. They can do it.