10 September 2012

Watch that politician!

‘Api okkoma rajavaru!’(we are all kinds) the lovely claim in Victor Ratnayake’s popular song doesn’t really materialize fully on the ground.  There are times when people fill bigger than they are but life has a way of deflating ego, downsizing imagination and cutting down to real size.  We are kings (and queens), all of us citizens, come election time.  We are treated like royalty and are even referred to in such terms, but all that ends the moment the polls close.

Thereafter those who've barely stopped themselves from using the ‘Your Majesty’ on all and sundry focus on whether or not they got enough preferential votes from us kings and queens.  Then the party leaders enter the ring.  Horse trading is the name of the game.  A president, chief minister or chairman of a local government authority is crowned and we go back to our ordinary lives of royalty-serving and suffering royal dictates.  

The entreating is done and we are not part of the caravan.  That’s the bottom line. 

So where do we the people go from here?  Many can and will go on bended knee to the elected.   

That’s part of the story.  What of the next election though?  Do we want it to be yet another circus of wide-grinned crowning and saluting all the way to the polling booth and a hot-potato drop thereafter?  Do we have a choice? 

There is democracy and democracy. There are the frills and the substance, or rather the lack of substance.  Elections are exercises where we go to the polling stations periodically, spend some seconds before a ballot box and mark a cross against the name of preferred candidate.  Who is the ‘preferred candidate’?  More often than not, a crook or a thug or both.  We pick individuals who have invested bucks to obtain political office and who for this reason will have to recover investment and hopefully obtain a surplus before the next election comes around. 

We do elect decent people, now and then, but they are a rarity.  We leave aside these considerations and take refuge in things such as caste, party loyalty, ethnic identity or religion.  People, after all, need to feel good even when they do meaningless things. 

Should we not vote, then?  No, we should.  The problem is perhaps that we believe electoral politics begin when parliaments or councils are dissolved and end with the announcement of results.  The true work of the responsible and politically inclined citizen ought to happen in the long period on either side of these two political moments. 

First, vigilance.  We can’t elect and then forget about the elected until the next election.  We have to keep notes. We have to make the notes public.  We have to keep them on their toes.  We are citizens and voters and by virtue of these we are also consumers of services the elected facilitate.  If they don’t deliver, we have to call them out.  If they dish out rubbish, we must complain. Loudly. 

We must blackball, individually and collectively, those who step out of line.  If we look the other way because the incompetent or rule-twister is a party man or relative, or because he/she has ‘compensated’ by personal favor or repaired a road, then we are complicit in the larger politics of politician besting citizen.  We lose the right to complain. 

It all boils down to our sense of dignity and what kind of self-respect we have.  If there comes a day when each and every elected official has to spend 24/7 watched by the citizens, we would get better governance, I submit.  Sure, we have better things to do or at least more important things to do.  That’s why it has to be a collective effort.  Like neighborhood crime watch exercises. 
The question is, do we really want our politicians to be clean, or are we happy with soiled representatives?