23 September 2013

Of aspirations, referenda and realities


[This was written on election day, Saturday, September 21, 2003]

Politicians and political parties don’t go before the people with a single promise, they offer bags of goodies.  Voters don’t think collectively. Some vote for one promise, others for another.  Typically, also, they vote for one thing and get something that was not promised nor envisaged.  And then there’s the ‘by default’ factor that dominates voter thinking; people vote against parties and candidates and they often go for lesser evils.  Consequently, we get winners and losers, with the former manufacturing ‘mandate’ according to whim and fancy.  So it has been and so it will be, be it local government elections, provincial elections or major national elections. 

The focus, naturally, will be on the Northern Provincial Council Elections, being held for the first time.  Given that this is the second time that the Tamil National Alliance goes before the people of the province, the results could be read in terms of gains and losses.  More importantly, this election will be colored also by TNA rhetoric which includes the resurrection of the chauvinistic Vadukoddai Resolution that painted the unattainable as possible spurring Tamil youth to armed insurrection.  It also all but buried any faith the Sinhalese may have had in Tamil parties like the TULF as decent, reasonable and honest partners in discussions on grievances and aspirations. 

For these reasons, a landslide win for the TNA will be read as a vote for Eelam by that party and other intent on carving a separate state as well as spoilers who desire political instability in Sri Lanka.  A lesser result would be read by those opposed to the TNA as evidence of a divided Tamil polity. 

A TNA win, even by a small margin, can and will be read as a verdict on the Government’s post-conflict strategy. The Government could respond (to a defeat even by a large margin) as indicative of how deep seated Tamil chauvinism really is or call it ‘international conspiracy’; few would purchase the latter though.  There will be a blame-game too in such an eventuality with Douglas Devananda emerging as the Fall Guy, not without reason.  He was, after all, an ‘investment’ that did not deliver.  His head could roll.   

How the TNA defines ‘mandate’ post-election is left to be season.  How the TNA reads result will have to wait.  Who got in and by what margin will tell a story of relative strengths of the constituent parties of the TNA.  It may also indicate the importance or otherwise of other factors such as caste.  There could be post-election crossovers; we have seen after all how ‘that’ exacted an outcome that was not expected the moment the results were released in the case of the Eastern Provincial Council.  There will also be comment on the performance of the UNP, JVP and the DNA.  Voter turnout will be factored in and interpreted. 

One thing is assured. Everyone will claim victory of one kind or another.  One thing is clear.  The Government has scored one victory: after liberating the Tamil people (many of whom would vote against the UPFA) from the tyranny of the LTTE, after releasing some 12000 or more terrorists subsequent to rehabilitation, after re-settling close to 300,000 IDPs, it has held an election for these very same people to elect the representatives of their choice.  There’s nothing even close by way of equivalent anywhere in the world.  Granted that the UPFA’s election campaign amounts to gloss-removal and conceding that the decision to hold elections may have been prompted by other pressures and not love for democracy, the fact of holding an election needs to be acknowledged and applauded.   

What of the people, though?  As in any other election, post-election is about kings (electors) being enslaved to the interpretations of the crowned (elected) as well as the grandmasters of political commentary whose principal edge is the ability to turn molehill into mountain and vice versa.  The Northern Province, whatever the breakdown, will become or rather continue to be the political football that the rest of the country has been, for rulers, would-be rulers and king-makers both local and international.  There will be flag waving and hurrahs, debating points and finger-pointing, pandering to the lowest common denominator too.  In the end, all that will count is what tangible benefits accrue to the voters. 

Let the winners have their moment, as they very well deserve all things considered.  Let them re-define mandate as per ideological predilection and political convenience as they probably will.  But let them all, winners and losers, ask themselves once in a while ‘What have I done and what has my party done to make life better for the people?’   

There are no child-abductions in the Northern Province. No cyanide capsules. No landmines.  No restriction on livelihoods (except by Indian poachers). Troop withdrawal and removal of Army Camps has been slow but nevertheless steady.  There is electricity. There will be trains that go beyond Killinochchi. 

Let us hope things get better and opportunities for betterment not squandered on the altars of pride, ego, deception, myth-mongering and one-upmanship. 

 
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