What is unfolding on the political front makes one's gorge rise. The voter is treated to three things––mud, more mud and still more mud. In the run-up to a crucial election, hardly any intelligent debate takes place on vital issues the country is faced with. Instead, we see cockfights and bullfights ad nauseam on TV. Campaigns of all parties are characterised by empty rhetoric, venomous outpouring, slander and plain obloquy.
The government is asking for a two-thirds majority to change the Constitution. The present Constitution is riddled with flaws which need rectification, all right. The executive presidency is vested with draconian powers which have, inter alia, dwarfed Parliament. But, as one of our readers argued in a letter on the opposite page the other day, the government keeps its much advertised constitutional reforms under wraps. The people have a right to know what the proposed reforms are like before giving the government a mandate to carry them out. But, they are being asked to grant the powers that be a blank cheque or carte blanche.
The UNP is again belting out its old favourites which have failed to impress the constituency at successive elections. Instead of going on the offensive, the way the main Opposition party should, it is cowering and appealing to the people not to give the government a two-thirds majority, the implication being that it has already given up the fight. The JVP is all at sea, to say the least. Having made its call for Gen. Sarath Fonseka's release the main campaign theme, it seems to expect the people to rally round and topple the government to enable the former army chief to walk to freedom!
The government is very adept at obfuscation. It is busy muddying the water and confusing its opponents. President Rajapaksa is playing his cards adroitly again. At the presidential election, he craftily promoted his image without dragging his party in as such and pretended to be aloof from the affairs of the UPFA government, whose popularity was on the wane! Before him, the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa had used that method very effectively at the 1988 presidential election at a time the then UNP government was extremely unpopular, to win the presidency as well as a parliamentary election shortly afterwards. Having scored an impressive victory. in January, President Rajapaksa is now requesting the people to give him a manape by casting a vote for the UPFA!
The UNP is doing something different. At the last presidential election, it projected Gen. Fonseka as a political messiah who alone could deliver the masses from their suffering and asked the people to vote for him. But, within a few weeks of his defeat, it has changed its tune. Today, it has ditched not only the 'Swan Party' but also Gen. Fonseka in custody. It is promoting its own leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who made a virtue of necessity by choosing to play second fiddle to Gen. Fonseka at the presidential election, as a liberator!
Policies of the government and the Opposition are confined to drab manifestos and they do not get discussed and debated for the benefit of the voting public. Only the JVP makes some effort to do so but it makes the mistake of reducing vexed questions to mere populist slogans for the sole purpose of scoring petty political points. For example, instead of discussing the multifaceted crisis in the education sector, elucidating the attendant issues and offering alternative solutions so as to win over the public, the JVP is flaying the Education Minister for errors in Term Test papers, irregularities in school admissions etc.
In the final analysis, one does not see much of a difference between the upcoming parliamentary election and the provincial polls that preceded it as the government and the Opposition are not addressing national issues which the next Parliament will have to grapple with. Perhaps, the candidates in the fray are rehearsing what they are going to do in Parliament––mudslinging.