03 September 2011

Vandal No. 17 won’t get my vote

I saw a police officer this morning (September 1, 2011) trying to peel off some posters from a wall.  This was in Pamankade, between the Pamankade Bridge and the Eros Cinema Hall.  I was on my way to see my father, who lives down a lane nearby.  I don’t know if removing posters from a private wall is part of policing. Even if it was not, I felt there was some civic consciousness at work right there. 

It was clearly part of someone’s election campaign.  The line was a tease: ‘Kawda me anka 17?’ (Who is this No. 17?).  It would probably be followed by another poster with the name and face of candidate accompanying the number ‘17’.  It’s an old trick, used famously and perhaps even effectively by the late Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1988.  His teaser campaign read, ‘Me kawda, monavada karanne?’  (Who is this and what is [he] doing?’  It was followed by the inevitable braggadocio that is such a disgusting part of politics; the ‘I did this, that and the other’ kind of forward-chested strutting.  It prompted Richard De Soyza to write a play with the same line as title.  He was abducted and killed by one of the many state-sponsored vigilante groups that roamed the country around that time. 
Back in the late eighties, through the nineties and into the first years of the new millennium, ‘postering’ was largely tolerated.  This was before ‘other media’ such as the internet entered the political equation.  There was only state-run television and state-run radio stations.  Squalor was a veritable signature of the capital.  A few thousands posters on the many walls in the city was hardly worthy of comment. 
This is 2011, though.  Today, even without the controlling power of an Independent Elections Commission, it is safe to say that things have got better.  Not perfect, but better.  This is 2011 and there is less tolerance of poster boys and girls.  This is 2011 and Colombo is more beautiful that I can ever remember it being.  This is 2011 and I didn’t expect to see a candidate for the Colombo Municipal Council showing he’s dumb enough to think that indulging in visual pollution would help convince voters that he has what it takes to sort out, say, the garbage disposal problem or that he is likely to maintain cleanliness and order in the city. 
The particular poster came with a betel leaf, the party symbol of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), and after the leader of that coalition, President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself had told all candidates to desist from ‘postering’.  No one will deny that the President’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is doing an exceptional job in conjunction with the Urban Development Authority of beautifying and keeping the city clean.  No one will disagree that if people who dump garbage in other people’s backyards or driveways are taken to task that it is logical that action be taken against polluting politicians, regardless of party affiliation.  If the relevant authorities don’t do it, then the voter can and must.
I can’t imagine that our No. 17 is an idiot.   I imagine that Vandal No. 17 imagines that the voter is an idiot.  I imagine that No. 17 is gambling that extra visibility would be a marginal benefit that outweighs the marginal cost of invoking the ire of those who object to this kind of vandalism.  The time will come for the people of Colombo to show No 17 that this kind of gambling is outdated.   
I took the time to find out who this No. 17 is but name and party affiliation have ceased to matter.  What should matter is that No. 17 is a my-face-in-you-face kind of vandal who is playing the voter for a sucker.  No. 17 will not get my vote.   Neither will Nos 1, 8, 10, 21 etc if these individuals demonstrate over the next few weeks that they are no better than No. 17.  And that holds for any political party or independent group contesting the election for the CMC.
We can no longer afford to remain an indulgent voting population.  There’s a demand-supply principle that’s in operation here.  If we didn’t tolerate vandals, they wouldn’t be vandalizing our neighbourhoods.  There’s complicity on the part of the voter.  This we need to recognize. 
I know it’s not just about demonstrating a particular attitude towards vandalism, but before we show preference to this candidate or that, we must assess the individual on all counts.  This is basic, though.  If you can’t leave walls alone, there’s no reason to believe you won’t jump over them if you are so inclined.  That’s why No. 17 will not get my vote.  Each and every candidate must pass the basic test of whether or not he/she is given to vandalism.  No. 17 is out, as far as I am concerned. If No. 9 starts vandalizing my neighbour’s walls, then No. 9 will not get my vote either.  If, on the other hand, No. 9 steers clear of these walls, he/she will have passed the first test and will remain in contention for a preference vote.    
The policemen showed the way.  Well, he showed one way.  The voters must take the vandals off the walls, just as the good police officer did.  They must take the vandals out of the equation too.