By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Can any rational bystander make any sense about these cries of “Hurrah! We are winning!” while pointing out to relative crowd strengths at political meetings? We have seen this phenomenon occurring with regularity in Sri Lanka for a long time. We never learn lessons. Supporters of rival sides go into euphoria. That is the purpose in political parties gathering crowds. It is to create a false perception about winning. On the other hand, we have known many a time in the past that crowds at meetings do not necessarily translate into votes. Crowds gather for different reasons and your guess is as fair as mine. This is not to speak of the fact that crowds are by nature fickle.
During the last Presidential election huge crowds were drawn to Mahinda’s meetings and the television media relayed that ad nauseam. The result said something else. Writing to the Ugandan ‘New Vision,’ in November 2015, David Mukkholi said this: In the just concluded elections in Tanzania, the opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa pulled crowds at some rallies that were larger than those of the ruling party’s John Pombe Magufuli. But in the end Magufuli won.”
Just imagine well-known writer, Sarath de Alwis, writing to the Colombo Telegraph pointing to the conclusion that, “Mahinda is returning,” after looking at the Galle Face attendance last May Day. His fellow-mate Dr Dayan Jayatilleka rushes to Sarath’s side by lauding him for a “lucid analysis.” For heavens’ sake don’t lean on my assessment; but you yourself judge and let me know if there is anything but the opposite of being lucid in such reasoning. It is a totally illogical.
Actually, to be fair I do not have an accurate assessment of the relative attendances. But for the sake of argument, let us say that Mahinda’s rally was more impressive than the other three rallies. Sarath de Alwis’s reasoning isn’t lucid even then.That is not merely due to the obvious truth that one cannot jump from the premise of crowd attendance in one spot on one day to the inference that Mahinda has already won even the momentary concurrence of over 12 million voters spread out all over the length and breadth of Sri Lanka. It is also because the voting time is still over two years away.
Furthermore, Sarath Alwis has not even bothered to recognise the simple maths that the totality of the crowds of the other three meetings would have exceeded Mahinda’s rally. The UNP rally, from all accounts had been huge. JVP’s was impressive,too and the SLFP rally at Getambe was not far away despite the heavy rain. All those are all presumably anti-Mahinda voices. Then, what about the votes of our Tamil and Muslim brethren? The net result is obviously negative for Mahinda. Logically Mahinda has no chance on this line of reasoning.
It is clear. This is all fanciful wishful thinking by the two prominent writers. DJ has been in the fancy La La Land for a while now and there isn’t any sign of his waking. He experienced delusion years ago at the famous Nugegoda meeting when the ‘Mahinda Sulanga started.’ He, or another like him, coined the term “Nugegoda Man.” DJ was thrilled he got a place on the podium and he could not outlive that excitement. He wrote that the meeting signified Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rising. But, like any politician, DJ wouldn’t care repeating fiascos. The basic assumption of politicians in Sri Lanka is that masses can be fooled; that they have no memory. DJ is by now a scholar muted into a politician. He is on record (I have the video), during a Mahinda Sulanga meeting, rhetorically asking the audience: “Do you like a son of yours becoming like a Mahinda Rajapaksa or a Ranil Wickremesinghe?” Would you call a person like that a scholar or political analyst?
I can see one good thing in having public meetings like the May Day. It is an occasion when politicians distribute their black money among poverty-stricken people. It is a great moment of income distribution. Masses jump to the side that give them most cash in return.
Another good thing happened this time on May Day. It was that the CTB made 69 million rupees just on one day -hiring its buses for rallies. This is a sign of yahapalanaya because previously Mahinda and his men ordered the buses but never paid for them; the state had to bear the cost. This time all parties including those of the government paid for the hire. Even enemies of the YP government should congratulate President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for this record.
Responsible writers and the intelligentsia in our country should get away from this kind of squad cheering and think larger about the country. What we now see is that writers like DJ and Sarath de Alwis and so many others of their ilk regard themselves as spectators in a big game of cricket. Each of them pitch on to sides of their choice and keep cheering. Considering the plight that Sri Lanka faces this is not a responsible move on the part of the of intelligentsia.
Our country is in poor economic shape. It is in the grasp of a severe debt trap. We have to extricate ourselves from this pathetic situation. Since the year 1977, we have not had a single year of trade surplus. It has been a case of recurring deficit trade balances. We have been living far above our means. We managed our Balance of Payments largely because of foreign remittances and that simply means that our economy has been sustained by the slavery of our housemaids. We have boastfully shown “growth,” but that growth is built on debt. We fool the people and the media by concealing that fact. The urgent need, thus, is to restructure our economy from an import dependent one to an export-led one. This means we must create an environment for foreign and domestic investment.
If we do not do this and instead create instability in the country for political gain all Sri Lankans are doomed to a tragic plight. Some of the intelligentsia who act as spectators and cheer squads will find a way out for their families and themselves. They will join the shouting Diaspora.The powerless will stay behind and reap the havoc of populist policies. Sri Lanka has had enough of populism. May Day antics are a public manifestation of populism. It is interesting to note how Sarath de Alwis is impressed by Mahinda being a ‘master of emotional politics,’ and how he deprecates Ranil Wickremesinghe for his appeal to rationalism. I like to tell Sarath that what Sri Lanka needs is precisely an appeal to reason.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org