12 November, 2019


The Timidity That Shrinks From Public Debate

By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka

Prof. Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka

The stubborn refusal of the SLPP candidate Gotabaya to accept Premadasa’s challenge  to a face to face debate on national television may appear to be no more than a passing issue  in a turbulent election campaign. However taken by itself it is something that has serious implications for the way the SLPP candidate might be perceived by people and the candidate for whom they vote. That is assuming an intelligent discriminating electorate that is concerned to know the true character and credibility of those who aspire to the highest office, rather than a gullible docile electorate where idiot voters have surrendered their critical faculties to unscrupulous pretenders who manipulate their feelings like puppets on a string ! Otherwise in many countries of the world the mere  fact that a seemingly cowardly candidate chickens out of  the challenge to stand on level ground with his opponents and defend his case in the public square, will probably weigh heavily against him or her. Indeed that alone might constitute that candidate’s ‘Waterloo’ ! 

According to Wilkipedia there are as many as 20 countries that hold ‘leaders debates’. They are said to include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Iran, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, UK, USA, and Uruguay.  However it is  in the United States that such debates between presidential candidates have become a dominant obligatory part of election campaigns as contenders debate face to face in the full glare of national TV under the critical eye of the American public  and watched by millions more across the world. 

The most recent example of this process was the debates between the candidates  competing for the nomination of the Democratic party telecast over CNN which many Sri Lankans might have witnessed. In the USA democracy has advanced to a point where even the choice of the party nominee for the presidency is made after a protracted process in which an open debate between different applicants is an integral component. Meanwhile in the lead up to the forthcoming British General Election  it has now been announced that Prime Minister Johnson will debate Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn live on Independent Television (ITV) from Greater Manchester, hosted by Julie Etchingham on 19th November. 

Sri Lankan voters are not so lucky. One of the two main antagonists is seemingly scared to confront his opponent in free and fair face to face public debate despite being repeatedly challenged to do so to the point of ridicule. Even more ironic is the fact  that the candidate who is seen to be timidly backing off from the confrontation with a charismatic youthful civilian, happens to be a one time soldier whose campaign is marked by extravagant trumpeting about his accomplishments as a wartime bureaucrat ! 

Perhaps such reluctance to come out into the open and fight is not surprising considering the risk involved. The history of presidential elections in the USA for example shows that face to face national debates can  make or break candidates as their true nature is revealed  breaking through the false front manifested  in interminable election meetings press conferences and the confusing deluge of propaganda flooding the media. It has been said that “One stumble, a flash of anger, an inappropriate joke, a memory lapse or just a failure to project your best image on live television , and the whole shooting match can be over. The fate of nations sometimes hang in the balance”.

Reportadly, in the famous 1960 debate between Kennedy and Nixon the latter looked pale, withdrawn and unshaven alongside the charismatic Kennedy and further let himself down by glancing shiftily  up at the clock. Similarly in the 1992 debate against Clinton and Rus Perot, George Bush Snr kept looking at the clock giving the impression that he could not wait for it to finish. Presidential contender Al Gore’s painful sighs while his opponent George Bush responded damaged his image. He lost the election. The best example of a faux pas leading to instant political death was the 1992 TV debate for the Republican nomination where  Rick Perry the Texas governor having confidently promised he would scrap three government departments if he was elected President could only remember two of them on TV ! And that was the end of his presidential bid. He was forced to withdraw from the race. One wonders whether the SLPP nominee a former American citizen having lived in the US for many years might be all too aware of such catastrophes, making him tremble at the prospect of a live TV debate with Sajith Premadasa !

Whatever that may be it is indeed a tragedy that confronted by a plethora of garrulous speeches at party rallies, the persistent confusing barrage of accusations and counter accusations, the lure of extravagant overlapping promises, the pat answers at interminable press conferences, and faced with mountains of paper propaganda through full page newspaper advertising extravagant manifestos and various leaflets in circulation  – the Sri Lankan voter is being denied the opportunity to once and for all make up his mind by watching the two candidates  justifying their candidature and defending their position in open face to face confrontation on national TV.

After all unlike a General election in the first and last analysis a presidential election is fundamentally a confrontation between two personalities It is a clash between two individuals. It is a choice between  two human beings. More than policies promises and manifestos, what matters is their true character, their inward nature and temperament, their credibility, their humanity, their integrity honesty and trustworthiness, their motives, and above all their past record of violence or non violence, respect for the law or contempt for the law, arrogance or humility, simplicity or pomposity, sincerity or humbug tyranny or tenderness, tendency to lie or unswerving commitment to the truth. 

Any incompetent fool despot or political charlatan can get on a platform and  harangue thousands of screaming supporters in carefully choreographed contrived settings. But it is a no-holds-barred face to face debate with a neutral moderator that will expose the real man or woman behind the façade of  the smiling faces raucous demagoguery and sweet words of a candidate and his or her fawning acolytes on stage.

Consequently it is hoped that Gotabaya Rajapaksa would even at this late stage have the humility to unconditionally accept his opponent’s challenge and the courage to confront him face to face in open debate before the people of Sri Lanka on national television. Indeed that might even be in his own interest. With days to go before the election that would also be a fitting climax to a bruising campaign the outcome of which may be a matter of life and death for many and the last chance for Sri Lanka. However if he for no apparent reason continues to slither away from the challenge with mulish obstinacy people are entitled to form their own conclusions. 

Only Almighty God the creator of heaven and earth and the judge of all men knows the thoughts, motives and inhibitions that lurk in the depths of the human heart. Consequently one can only speculate on the reasons why the SLPP candidate continues to back off from  public debate with his principal protagonist in accordance with what is now a fairly common political tradition in many parts of the world. On any rational assessment  anywhere in the world, in any field of human competition, whatever happens to be  at stake, whether in politics or sport, whether among mere schoolboys or mighty contenders for presidential office – there would appear to be three possible reasons why one protagonist stubbornly backs off from the opportunity to publicly prove his superiority through an open confrontation with his opposite number. They are arrogance, incompetence or plain cowardice.

It is the arrogance of those pampered by absolute power who being used to barking out orders with impunity have grown to resent being questioned criticized and held to account. Such individuals have existed from ancient times for the prophet Isaiah to proclaim God’s judgment on Babylon around 700 BC with the words “ I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless”. It is the incompetence of those who lacking the right temperament, the necessary communication skills, and confidence in their own credentials, feel vulnerable, diffident, nervous  and uncomfortable faced with a debate on national TV watched by millions of citizens. Finally  it is the perception of cowardice, that inevitably attaches to those who shrink from accepting a challenge thrown down by an opponent – a reality of human conflict down the ages. 

The people’s verdict on 16th November will indicate how much importance they attach to this particular issue. That verdict will also be a test of the moral character of a nation. It has often been said that in a democracy people get the government they deserve. It would be equally true to say that the Presidents they choose will epitomize their own values attitudes and morality whether enlightened or debased.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 1

    Haven’t you heard the saying One got to be a Bull Shit Artist to beat another…… ?.

    More and more Dalits are swarming like Butterflies to Dr Ranil and Managala Samares side, thanks to Keselwatta Kid’s unending Freebees List. from Menstrual Pads to AI courses in Akuressa.

    I don’t think they need any Debates from Keslwatta Kid to convince them to tick the Box.

    Anyway why don’t you guys do some costing of your Idol Young Preme’s Promises List to the Dalits in the UNP.?
    And ask who is paying?.

    Because Mangala Samare is not interested to present it to the UNP Think Tanks and their Intelligentsia in Colombo.

    That is what the Journos ask the Poltikkas in the West, before they face each other in Debates?.


    • 3

      Not interested..thank you !

      Our minds are made up, and we are just counting the days to the 16th

      Sajith can use all his fancy posh English and speak for all we care..He stands within a group of people who drove this country to the ground in the last 5 years..all that is important to know is that Sajith too is part of this miserable government

      • 6

        Yes; you make sense for yourself! With some voters like you who make up mind to vote ignoring the fact that GoRa made fake ID s in order to work as the Def Sec; then became the candidate without clearing the citizenship status; and finally play all the tricks including reading out pre-prepared lectures with a help of teleprompter to cover up the lack of in-depth knowledge, nothing, not even the criminal record for ordering to to kidnap to harass & to kill would matter at all. As a matter of fact, you are ready to accept this criminal record as an indication of strength; not a reason to be ashamed of! It is not fair to blame you b’cos you belong to portion of voters “who can be fooled all the time”!

      • 6

        A most significant comment from “Words”. It clearly reveals the mentality of those who will be voting for Gota.
        Gota is the guy who said that he will admit all those who have passed A. Levels to universities, the way he recruited to the Army. Guys who join his sort of Army have to learn only one thing – how to kill people, admittedly in a variety of ways. Please read this statement of his:
        As for lecturers, “he will recruit them.”
        One can just imagine what sort of country we will have if Gota is allowed to run it.
        I myself am not an uncritical admirer of Sajith or of his “posh English”. I saw this interaction among some candidates:
        It is not now available. I understand that it was “a live broadcast”. Before I was told that, I gave my response here:
        I notice that Prof. Arjuna Parakrama has just made a longish comment there.
        Anyway, there was some sort of “Big Brother” intervention on behalf of Gota – spoken by somebody else. Gota just can’t speak himself! The person who impressed me most was AKD, who was the only person who spoke in Sinhala.
        Gota is just a thug, who was awarded an “Honourary PhD” when his brother was the President.

  • 10

    Agreed with most of what the writer has written.

    Politics in SL is unique and cannot be compared to that of other democracies. Additionally, this time we have a candidate in NGR who has no Political background and experience and has been presented by a family (MR) that wishes to establish family dictatorial rule in SL because their options are limited given the provisions of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Their sole desire is to capture power at ANY cost so they are able to wield power to the benefit of their family, kith, kin and ‘slaves’ (who will get the crumbs from the table).

    NGR has many flaws and is not a suitable and credible candidate for the Presidency. He knows that. Thus he does not wish to expose himself to Public scrutiny lest his true nature, character, personality & temperament will become obvious. He wishes to be the smallest possible target. Furthermore, he is not a good orator or public speaker. He is only able to recite and parrot what is been written for him. Hence he is unlikely to accept the challenge of a Public Debate!

    Their one time ally and lackey SajithVG has now decided to come forward and reveal the true nature of MR& Co. Folks can decide for themselves how credible these revelations may be (they appear on You Tube). It appears, most of those political slaves are being blackmailed by MR & Co (‘I have files with me’) into submission and they have no escape. Only the ones that are honest and have no ‘blood on their hands’ can come clean. Birds of a feather flock together. All those around this clan can be judged and gauged by their Association.

    Voters, please use your valued franchise judiciously, wisely, aptly and appropriately.

  • 8

    dear prof.
    Gota can not answer to media with any logical sense..how can he debate?
    suppose if he wins what would be the fate of debate; discussion and political arguments in parliament or any place in Sri Lanka.. He will use his power to suppress any one who question him?
    do you you think any one will debate with him if we win?..
    this different attitude between two candidates tell us a lot .
    why sinhala1e people want him as president?
    what skills he has got ?
    do you think army leader can rule the country??
    No way?.

  • 5

    Rajapaksas do not debate , they just get rid of people who want to debate. When they dont have the opportunity they call Mahanayakas to debate for them. They find giving press statements much easier than debating, because it allows them to say anything and every thing with no obligation to corroborate. Also debates dose not allow Rajapaksa to freely dish out their hatred, division, racial slurs, conspiracy theories to the retarded public, some of whom are salivating at the thought of it. So Rajapaksa spend their looted 750 millions on telling conspiracy theories that too different ones on a daily basis. They do not even stay on the subject because they well know they cannot defend with evidence. So they keep diffent stories on a daily basis so to confuse further the voting public. Then they have their mouth pieces like Wimal and Gimmanpilla who keeps repeating it giving various shades and shape to create hysteria.

  • 3

    Only an Army Ruler can rule with impunity. His power is from the barrel of a gun and not from the people who voted him to power. A good example is HITLER.

  • 3

    This is a very beautifully written article, very astute, incisive and articulate! Everything the author says is profound and 100% true. I wish I could write like that!

  • 4

    Does Gotabaya Rajapaksa read the Colombo Telegraph? I think he should.

  • 0

    Asoka N.I. Ekanayake

    Shut up your cheeky chatterbox fool.

    Sri Lanka is different than the other countries like the US, the UK etc.

    For example, the credentials of contenders in other countries are well known so having a debate face to face in public is so tempting for candidates & they’re always looking for it.

    Contrary to that in our country candidates present fake qualifications to the public so how can a highly qualified candidate accept a challenge from less qualified & who always depend on dad’s qualification to be the leader.

    So how can Gota go for a debate with Sajith?

    It’s strongly believed that Sajith, the UNP candidate is uneducated & hasn’t shown so far any intellectual quality in his behavior other than asking people to put him into power because he is R.premadasa’s son & giving every silly promises possible to uneducated segment of the society?

    What Sajith has done (like his late father) is collecting money through lotteries (making people gamblers) & making matchbox size houses for supporters.

    (Credit must go for innocents who buy lotteries)

    What a shame for the UNP to present such a puerile candidate?

    Gota is perfectly right not to debate with Sajith.

  • 3

    I am not a fan of Premadasa jnr & despite his British education, LSE Degree & ‘apprenticeship’ in the US, his election promises do not seem sustainable, which obviously, was to satisfy the village voter, therefore, I remain unconvinced & sceptic. However, pitched against an alleged war criminal, murderer & fraudster (any man of integrity would clear his name first & GR did not even have the guts to face international allegations directly), Premadasa jnr appears to be the better option of what I would consider a Hobson’s choice.

    I have seen several interviews of GR with the foreign media & his handling of the interviews would be considered a disaster by any professional campaign / PR manager. Certainly I found it appalling, if not pathetic. He was obviously not prepared & his a style of intimidating the interviewer when faced with difficult questioning only proved his arrogance & lack of substance. In the current run up to British elections on 12th Dec, the election manifestos of all political parties are given the same publicity & scrutiny by the British media. Independent TV channels ‘fact check’ all election pledges & publicly challenge politicians with facts & figures, which is sadly lacking in SL. Unfortunately, apart from a biased & even unprofessional press & electronic media, we have a section of the society, who, for some reason, are blind to historical facts & are in denial, believing in conspiracy theories instead of accepting reality. As a result, we have the same corrupt politicians, their cronies, thugs & yobs, running the country.

    • 3

      Dear Raj,
      You have struck a perfect balance in your comment. We do have reservations about the authenticity of Sajith’s qualifications, but when he talks quietly to small audiences in both English and Sinhala, he comes through as cultured and educated.
      However, Sajith ought never to have distorted his British and American qualifications. It’s not bits of paper that make a person educated, as I have observed here:
      It is presenting oneself with false pretenses that causes problems. As for unsustainable promised, that has been a vice ever since Independence. That is why I advocate FIRST Preference for AKD, and another Preference for Sajith. But none for Gota. Those who adopt that strategy, please remember, no “kathires” should be written into your ballot paper.
      Unfortunately, on election platforms, addressing crowds, Sajith screams in Sinhalese. I have not heard him addressing a crowd in English. I’ve never seen him in person, so this comment is based on what the digital media brings us.
      By way of contrast, Gota is nothing better than a street thug.

      • 0

        Sinhala man

        You’re a mixture of right & wrong.

        But it’s visible that this street thug is more admired by the masses than that apparently uneducated Sajith.

        It might be a problem for many that it’s inevitable his coming to power & probably he’ll deliver goods too.

        I agree with you that Sajith won’t win & the best thing for UNPers to do is casting their precious thing to Anura Kumara instead of Sajith & make him the runner up & let 2nd preference to take him to presidency.

        Nobody can stop Gota unless this trick is applied.

        • 3

          Yes, dear RR, that’s what I’m thinking of doing.
          However, the problem for me is that I’m more fearful of a Gota Presidency, than of one by Sajith. Had the likes of you, RR, undertaken the task of educating the electorate on the use of Preference Voting, I’d now be more comfortable.
          There is a definite risk in my doing this, with lots of others also behaving likewise. The anti-Gota vote would be well and ruly divided, and AKD may well be so far behind Gota that he can’t catch up with Preferences.

          • 0

            Sinhala Man

            “The anti-Gota vote would be well & ruly divided”

            If Gota scored over 50% nobody would stop him but in case he has below 50% & AKD in the 2nd place, most probably 2nd count may carry him forward surpassing Gota.(provided there’re enough 2nd preference.)

            That’s why UNPers who still vote for Sajith are asked to mark 2nd preference e for AKD.

            It’s learnt that the minority are also obligated to give 2nd preference AKD instead of sajith.

            It’s not dividing of vote.

            It’s a trick to put Sajith’s & AKD’s votes together.

            JVPers will never vote for Sjith nor will they mark 2nd preference but wise UNPers can be taken to vote for AKD.

  • 1

    R.R. – So you think Gotabaya is a highly qualified intellectual, don’t you? About 50% of Sri Lankans with a mean IQ of 79 (as Amarasiri is always reminding us) think so too, so you are not alone!

    • 0


      To my knowledge Both candidates haven’t mentioned their academic & professional qualification to the electorate & if there’s a controversy over their educational/professional achievements it’s ethical for them to let people know them.

      It’s accepted that leadership isn’t education only as there’re educated people without leadership qualities. ( & there may be people with leadership qualities without proper education too)

      But according to previous responsibilities held & handled & present behavior pattern
      it is felt that Gota is ahead of Sajith though there’re serious allegations against him.

      Sajith doesn’t have such allegations as he has been politically inactive since his very beginning in politics.

      I disagree with Amarasiri’s offensive/insulting commenting of low IQ level of Sri Lankans.

      He quotes some references but sad to mention that they lack genuineness.

      To my knowledge IQ of an average person varies from 80 to 120.

      Over 120 are gifted people & below 80 are mentally retarded.

      According to Amarasiri 50% Sri Lankans are mentally retarded.

      What’s his mission?

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

    For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.

leave a comment