Sri Lankan Voter in a quandary


In a good democracy the voter should be made the king maker and must be given the total freedom for clear thinking, with regard to the policies of the political parties in the fray and the suitability of the individual candidates to represent the interests of the people in the legislature. The voter must have an assurance that the party and the person he/she votes for would abide by the policies which the political party had announced in its manifesto. It should be more or less a sacred agreement of trust, albeit unwritten, between the voter and the political party; and it should not be breached by the party or the individual once they are elected to parliament. Of course our politicians are famous for not keeping the election promises they make, but what is happening at present is something much more serious. After the election, policies of the party and the individual and even the core philosophy of a political party is totally eroded, and eventually dissolved and made unidentifiable for political expedience; making a mockery of the agreement between the voter and the political party.The relationship developed between the politician and voter is thus rendered meaningless. This relationship had been made weaker by the current district based electoral process, in which who represents whom is indistinct. But what has happened recently is worse. Part of the SLFP is in the government and the other part is in the opposition and often they are at each other’s throat. This, from the point of view of the voter and his/her hopes and aspirations, is disastrous to say the least. The fear that haunts the voter is that this kind of breach of trust could happen in the future. The Sri Lankan voter is cast away and find himself/herself alone and in a quandary.

At an election in Sri Lanka, people may very often vote for a particular party irrespective of the personalities contesting, and rarely would they vote for a certain personality irrespective of his/her political party. Time was when the qualities of the candidate were considered more important than that of the party, and as a result, we had people of good calibre in our parliament. Individuals of high esteem who contested as independent candidates without the support of a political party had been elected by our people. The present electoral system does not promote such a desirable election outcome and we have a qualitatively inferior parliament. Perhaps our people at present are also qualitatively inferior compared to those in the past, and they get rulers they deserve.The so called educated also seem to have abdicated their responsibility, abandoned the hapless people, and aligned themselves with low quality politicians for personal gain.

People in Sri Lanka have the choice of voting for one of the main political parties, either the UNP or the SLFP. The majority of people who have no die-hard party affiliation decide on the party they would like to vote, going mainly on the past performance and usually it is a protest vote against the party in power on account of its poor performance, because invariably the performance up to now has been poor, except a few instances. The main factor in this regard is the performance in the economic field, particularly the management of the cost of living. Many an election is decided in the kitchen. The UNP and the SLFP have been getting a chance to rule (read misrule) the country alternately thanks to the kitchen factor. This was the main reason for the loss of the apparently popular previous government in 2015. Thus, the people are guided by the track record of the party.They vote against the party in power if their day to day existence had been made more of a burden during the tenure of that party.

Apart from the economic factor, the other important determinant of election results in Sri Lanka is nationalism. Sri Lanka cannot do without a strong feeling of nationalism in the minds of a majority of its people. The small island had been at the mercy of marauding foreign invaders from early times up to the present. There is no end to the relentless interference by foreign powers, regional as well as extra-regional, even at the present moment in time. Sri Lanka has fought many a successful battle against these forces in its rich past, as well as in recent times. In these battles it is the strong feeling of nationalism that resides in the consciousness of the people that had bound them together and motivated them to fight for their country. In this regard the SLFP was considered as more nationalist in its major policies than the UNP. A nationalist party very often is called upon to resist foreign interference, imperialism and hegemony, and SLFP has proved to be more capable in this regard than the UNP.

Thus the people had a choice in electing a government. If the party in power had not solved the cost of living problem, they could vote the other party into power. Similarly, if the UNP while in power had been servile to the imperialists, and consequently the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity has been placed in danger, the people could bring back the SLFP to power. Madam Sirimavo’s government was anti-imperialist but it had failed in the economic front and was defeated in 1977. Ranil W’s government in 2002 on the other hand was pro-west in the extreme and conceded to their every demand related to the LTTE, and Mr.RW was defeated in 2005. Thus the people always had a choice and could hopefully wait for the next election to get rid of the unpopular party in power.

But, not anymore. One may vote for a person because he/she is in the party of the voter’s choice, but there is no guarantee that he will remain in that party after entering the parliament. That person could cross over to the other side which may be in power and help that party to implement policies that the person who voted may consider as inimical to the country. This would be a gross betrayal of the voter’s rights.This kind of betrayal makes a mockery of the concept of peoples’ representation in the legislature. What the voter in this instance wanted was for the person whom he voted for to remain loyal to his party and its stated policies, which fetched him the votes. If his party comes to power he could support those policies and if he finds himself in the opposition, he could oppose the policies he considers unfavourable. In this way only could he represent the people who voted him into the parliament. Therefore, today the voter is in a quandary when called upon to vote according to his conscience.

The worst has happened in the recent past. Not just individuals, but whole or big chunks of parties have crossed over on the pretext of forming a national government. People wonder what happened to the parties they voted for. They cannot identify the party or its manifesto and more importantly its core philosophy. The whole party seems to have melted with other parties into an evil conglomerate with no clear vision, mission or policy. Even candidates who were rejected by the people are in this conglomerate holding key positions. This is not what the people wanted. What legerdemain has been accomplished in making this government! And what malice was on display! The presidential candidate abandons his party and contests under a symbol alien to his party, but all the time claiming he is still a member of his old party. After the election, he assumes the leadership of the party, but sacks the prime minister who was a member of his own party and appoints the leader of the other party as the prime minister. Subsequently, during the general election campaign, he works against the interests of his party to make sure that it does not get a majority, so that his personal enemy would not be made the prime minister. In order to have some support in an alien government, he highjacks a large chunk of his party and make ministers of them. As the numbers are still not enough, he appoints candidates rejected by the people on the national list, conveniently disregarding the fact that their names were not in the original national list and makes them cabinet ministers. He rejects the most popular figure, a member of his own party, who commands a majority in the opposition and appoint someone else who helped him to come to power as the Leader of the Opposition.

Moreover, look at the present scenario which further confuses the mind of the voter. The person who won the presidential election with UNP votes has taken over the leadership of the SLFP and controls that party. People who rode the wagon driven by the war hero and won the election have abandoned him and joined his enemy. Though the two parties have formed the government together to usher in a "yahapalanaya", they are all the time trying to kick each other out of the government. When what could happen after an election is this, could the people vote expecting an outcome they desire? Lot of the people will prefer to stay at home and drink beer instead. S. Amaratunga

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