By Panini Edirisinhe –
Two Categories of Presidential Candidates: Some with coherent policies; some others who make promises
We have to elect the next president of Sri Lanka on Saturday the 16th of November. More than half a million have already exercised their franchise by post because they are involved in the election process. The rest of us will visit various polling stations and cast our votes on Saturday. Whilst it may be true that most have already made up their minds, there is no logical reason why each of us could not do some re-thinking and change our minds. Theoretically, therefore, I could make the claim that any result is possible.
It strikes me that there are two categories of “serious” candidates. The First have put forward their plans for a better future for this country. The Second have built their campaigns on promises and hand outs.
In addition, the SLPP candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been making an appeal to the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority to ensure that the minorities are prevented from determining the way forward for Sri Lanka, which is regarded as the country selected by Gautama Buddha to safeguard his teachings. As such it is the sacred duty of all Sri Lankans to vote for Gotabaya who claims to have won the thirty-year Secessionist War conducted by “the Tamils” (mainly the LTTE led by Veluppillai Prabhakaran).
Both Gotabaya and Sajith Premadasa have promised to hand over free fertilser to all farmers. Incumbent President, Mathripala Sirisena, seems suddenly to have come to his senses and denounced the move as one which will cause Kidney Diseases to spike again. What is significant is that neither candidate will use his personal wealth to provide fertiliser or to construct houses, roads and railways. They talk as though that is what they will do, but in fact, what they are doing is promising to priorotise subsidising the most gullible sections of the population at the expense of our entire economy. Those sections of our people will always remain relatively poor and grateful to the politicians who provide these hand outs. There is, by now, a general realisation that those who benefit most are those very politicians who get kick-backs in various ways, which are seen as inevitable.
Both major parties have been doing this, and to most subaltern Sri Lankan citizens this appears to be what is expected at all times. Sajith Premadasa’s daring in suggesting that free sanitary towels be given to all women fell into this category. That it has led to healthy discussion of the special problems faced by all children born female (more than half of us) and the acknowledgement that such discussion was considered taboo hitherto is true enough, but the solution put forward was not a sustainable one which would lead to real independence. On the contrary, it would force women to be ever grateful to the man whose “generosity” made this possible. Well, it’s not his money that was to be used, was it?
It is precisely such patronising schemes that have, since Independence, brought our country to this impasse. I’m a retired teacher. Therefore let me give examples from Education, one now, others in later articles, and let readers work out for themselves how unsatisfactory these approaches are.
Our trade unions make demands such as “Commit 4% to 6% of GDP for education to improve and expand quality.”
Sounds fine, but how does it work? Two weeks ago, I biked to the home of my cobbler for the first time – about four miles away. I had first met the man in a bus about fifteen years previously. His name is Evans, he didn’t know why. His only child, and 64 others from Bandarawela Central College who had got 9 A Grades (the maximum), at the O. Level Exam held in December 2018, had been given a computer each about 3 weeks ago. I noted the model details and looked at this underwhelming review on returning home.
Still, it’s a treasure for the girl, whom I haven’t yet met. I have had two phone chats with her – in Sinhalese, although she has an A for English. That’s the grade that she had got for every one of her subjects. She acknowledged that she couldn’t use the language. The English practice that I could have offered would have been welcome. Saturday is the only day her father stays at home, but the kid has “tuition classes” from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
The father hates phones, and had finally allowed himself to accept a hand-me-down basic phone about five weeks ago, and has only two numbers saved on it – mine and that of the donor of the phone. So, this girl (let me call her Manel) and I had two chats. The operating system was Ubuntu. She and I initially agreed that Windows should be installed. She had turned the computer on. Didn’t know how to connect to the Internet, had heard of pen drives, but had never seen one.
I checked, then told her to get used to the Ubuntu system since she was starting from scratch. Follow the herd in most things, but spend on nothing except on a device to connect to the Internet. There’s no need to spend on MS Office 365; one can get free Open Office, or Libre Office. These people just don’t know those things – nor do many of us!
So, I went along on November 2nd, about noon, carrying a 4G router and a pen drive. Connected the computer to the electricity for the first time. It had only 9% charge. I did not succeeded in getting into the computer because there was a password. By the time I left, the charge had got up to 100%, but I didn’t know how to turn it off. I said let it be plugged in, but if unused for a long period to bring the charge down to 80%. How? they asked. I told them. I think that I visited them in the nick of time. A few days later, and an exhausted battery may have caused serious damage.
I hope you get the picture. This girl is doing Bio Science – usual ambition, to be a doctor. Nothing wrong with any of that, but no choices consciously made after evaluation of all options. That they acknowledge.
I met on the 2nd of November, the father, mother and the paternal grandmother, who were all seriously interested in finding out what they could although I had said that I was a teacher of English, not of computing. Perhaps I’ll finally meet her on Election Day, November 16th 2019.