Promises on the road to power


"Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing. – Edmund Burke

Politics has reached new heights in its traditional path of seeking the votes of the people.

It is the Path of the Promise. It takes my mind back to "Broken Promise" – first Sinhala film screened, for the politics of promises have always been that of broken promises.

The manifestos of the two main contenders for a majority of seats in Parliament are more full of promises, than of promise.

It is not surprising that senior politician DEW Gunasekera has challenged both the caretaker government of the UNP, and its polls rival the SLFP-led UPFA, to reveal how they were planning to increase State revenue needed to implement the promises made by them in this run up to the polls.

It’s quite a good question to ask, but Mr. Gunasekere with all his years in politics must surely know that it is not the stuff of electoral politics to give such details to the people when seeking their votes. What is worse is to know whether he was consulted, or whether he contributed, to drawing up the UPFA manifesto, which has certainly reached the record for the most number huge and costly promises made to the people in any election since this country gained universal franchise in 1931.

The UNP heading the Caretaker Government certainly has many explanations to make about its huge promises. Their absence from power for nearly two decades is no excuse for what seems the lack of stuff in many of its promises.

But the bigger responsibility is certainly with the SLFP-led UPFA that has been in power until January 8 this year, for nearly a decade under its current Campaign Organizer, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. What is evident from all the big amounts promised for everything from pre-school education to Mahapola Scholarships, agriculture and industry, special payments for marriages and loans for the special needs of women, is the lack of thinking or Chinthanaya in these huge promises of largesse, offering pie in the sky for those who are pleased with rice and curry on the ground.

Politicians are not unknown to build castles in the air, offering pipe dreams full of wishful thinking in their search for votes. The need for such chicanery is very big for the UPFA this time round, as they seek to change the mood of the people from what they had on January 8, which saw the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and by association, all who were aligned to him in Parliament. The sheer size of promises thrown out in the UPFA manifesto show the battle they are up against.

Our people were given the original "Mahinda Chinthana" (Thinking of Mahinda) as the manifesto in his first run for the Executive Presidency in 2005. After the defeat of the LTTE and his second run for the same office in 2010 there was the "Mahinda Chinthana – Forward Vision" given to the people. These were two documents that sought to analyse political needs at the time and make proposals on political programmes and development strategies, with little said on the costs involved. They may not have been the best solutions, but there was political thinking involved. But what is offered in this election as the "Guarantee for the Future" has nothing of political thinking or strategy. Instead, it is a whole layout of costly promises, with no evidence of any serious thinking. All it offers are the golden dreams of politicians who need guarantees for their own future and no guarantees for the people.

While Mahinda Rajapaksa leads this campaign of costly promises, this very costly "Guarantee for the Future", has to be accepted as the rejection of Mahinda Chinthana, by him, his political party and the people whose votes he seeks, in his attempt at political resurrection, as the reborn father of the SLFP.

This is the Chinthana of massive bribery at the polls-promise level. It belies any suggestion that this manifesto has been thought out to address the needs of the people today. It does little or nothing to further the cause of democracy, which need not be as costly as the many real and virtual giveaways promised.

The green shirt supporters at the elephant camp should also take note of the consequences to the people and country of this contest of promises. They should also pay more attention to the substance of and reality of public needs, and not try to be champions in this promise laden campaign for the control of Parliament.

As the campaign for the August 17 poll continues, we are sure to see more of such promises of the unreal kind come before the people. It is best to be aware that the bigger the promise, the lesser the chances of it ever being implemented, and hopefully not ever implemented.

It is best to remember "Broken Promise" as the first Sinhala film screened in his country. It certainly did not offer a strategy for politics in the country.

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