09 April 2014

‘Abstain Now’ speaks out

[In a parallel universe of course...]

We’ve had enough of people claiming to speak on our behalf.  We’ve been named and in that naming we’ve been shamed.  Words never uttered have been attributed to us.  Preferences have been discussed and determined where none have been made.  It’s largely our fault.  Those who abstain tend to stay home, tend to keep their mouths shut. 

Now don’t get us wrong. We do not make a monolithic entity.  We come from all walks of life, all ages, ethnicities, religious faiths, colors and sizes.  And we don’t give Life Membership.  People can be with us one day and cross-over, so to say, the next.  We don’t mind.  We are liberal in that way.  Take the UNHRC, for example.  India didn’t have membership last year, but was one of us this time around.  We didn’t complain.

Now, some of us feel it’s necessary to explain, some do not. Some have reasons they don’t want to reveal. Of these, some will hold their tongues while others will conjure up elaborate explanation, sometimes falling flat on their faces.  Like India, for example.  Articulating observations on the US-led Resolution on Sri Lanka, India made some valid points.  Having thus objected, when it came to the vote, India chose not to show objection. India took our membership.  ‘Whatever works for whoever’ is our watchword; we didn’t and do not complain. 

We came into the scene the very next day, right here in Sri Lanka.  Election time is our time.  It’s when we get counted.  Guess what, we came second in both the Western and Southern Provinces, ‘polling’ 1,355,308 and 621, 508 respectively!  And this without a single poster, without even a media conference.   We didn’t hold meetings, we didn’t distribute leaflets, we didn’t conduct house-to-house campaigns, and the entire media, state and private, ‘blanked’ us out! 

The problem is that various parties are engaged in a pernicious campaign to make mean use of the silence that marks our tribe.  They are all trying to speak on our behalf. Without our permission. 
Some are saying ‘They didn’t vote for the ruling party and therefore they are against the ruling party!’  How on earth can they come to that conclusion, though?  We didn’t vote, true. We didn’t vote for the UPFA, that’s also true.  But we didn’t vote for the UNP, DF, JVP, SLMC or any of the parties whose party symbols (we are told) were printed on the ballot paper.  So if someone says, for example, that 1,174,396 voters in the Southern Province rejected and therefore are against the UPFA, it would have to be concluded likewise that 1,563,373 and 1,764,742 rejected and therefore are against the UNP and JVP respectively.  The JVP has only a modest 5.8% approval rate according to this logic, while the UNP has just 16.5%. 

Now we are not in the business of reading people’s minds, especially not those of our members.  For some of us this was not an election important enough to take the trouble to go to a polling booth and mark an ‘X’ in front of one joker or another.  Others probably had other and more important things to do on a Saturday.  Like staying at home, watching television, pottering around in the garden or just being, breathing, relaxing.  Some may have been put off by the absence of a party or indeed a candidate to endorse with vote.  Some might have asked themselves, ‘what do provincial councils do anyway?’ We don’t know for sure. 

We are not in the business of peddling illusions either. We won’t interpret results in ways that make us look better.  We know that if there’s a general or presidential election, we would probably lose a lot of our members.   Our members are fickle and the only difference between them and those who swear by party and ideology is that we freely admit the fact.  We spare ourselves the pains of justifying the shifting of political allegiance.  In that respect we can claim superiority over all parties that contest and all candidates seeking election.  We don’t crow about this either. We come and go. We rise, we fall. 

But we who never ask any explanation from anyone and we who never assume we can speak for others should not be taken for granted. We should not be insulted by having every other political lunatic masquerading as party leader, party spokesperson or political analyst claiming the right to speak on our behalf. 

This is it.  We’ve said our piece.  We will hold our peace hereafter.  May the pundits also shut up.