24 November 2014

Mahinda-Maithree and the hour of the voter

After weeks of speculation the Opposition has come up with a name.  A solid one too.  Maithripala Sirisena.  It’s a name calculated to split the major partner of the ruling coalition, i.e. the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).  Some MPs have already crossed over. Other defections are on the cards.  It is a time of speculation, of risks and of calculations. 

It boils down to ‘winnability’.  In an ‘iffy’ situation the risk is naturally greater.  The ruling coalition will not twiddle thumbs.  The initial surprise and of course dismay will soon shift to closing of ranks, damage control and eventually counter-punch; the last literally as well, if the antics of a UPFA strong-man in Kalutara on Friday (immediately after Maithripala announced his candidacy) are anything to go by. 

Already sweet sounding terms such as good governance, democracy, rule of law, constitutional change, abolishing of the executive presidency etc., are sounding hollow as people unable to contain individual ambition talk of ‘high posts’ in a post-Mahinda scenario.  Maithripala’s first press conference as candidate lost a lot of gloss when it became as much a candidacy announcement as it was a blueprint regarding Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political future (read 'Maithripala: King in Waiting or Ranil's Pawn').  It was also, as Dayan Jayatilleka argues well in an article titled ‘The Sirisena surge and why Mahinda is still way ahead,’ about Rajitha Senaratne unrolling his political autobiography and Chandrika Kumaratunga’s ‘prolonged and self-justificatory lamentation’. 

Early setbacks notwithstanding the coming weeks will see intense politicking by both parties and their respective backers because everyone involved has much to win and a lot of lose.  It’s investment time, clearly.  The problem is that if you just count Parliament, there can only be 224 ministers.  People can speculate of course, but people must understand that there will be hundreds of others who will also be calculating. 

It is in this context that it makes sense for politicians at lower levels (provincial councils for example) to think money instead of position. The going rate for a provincial councilor is said to have moved up from Rs 10 million to Rs 25-35 million.  Rest assured, those ‘on offer’ will be going the way of the highest bidder.  It goes without saying that those who are ready to bribe will not be averse to take bribes in return.  This being the case, we can take the democracy rhetoric out of the equation. It is not about lofty ideas.  It’s about personal glory. Perks. Frills.  Tidbits.  As has always been the case, one might add.  

Those in power will not let go.  Those out of power want it badly.  The voter has to choose between such persons.  Track records will come into play.  Personalities too.  Friends of each candidate will be looked at closely.  What is promised will be considered.  Gratitude will come into play.  Punishment for wrongs done will also be factored in.  The crimes and virtues of coalition partners will not be forgotten.  There will be talk of devils, known and unknown.  Some will weigh the virtues of political stability against the need to correct flawed structures.  ‘Doability’ will be assessed.  All this in the coming weeks. 

And there will be those who will try to convince, cajole, trick, intimidate and cheat the voter.  And there will be those who will be suckered into voting for those who promise the undeliverable, those who auction non-existing resources and those who promise heaven over hell or heaven over a would-be hell as the case may be. 

It is an exciting time, no doubt.  All the more reason to be alert.  Politicians, after all, are made of promises.  This is the month of the voter.  Let the voter strive to be a hard purchase.