01 January 2015

Citizen of the Year 2014

Bombarded.  That’s the word.  The voter is being drowned with propaganda material.  If only it was just that!  It’s much more than a few TV, radio and newspaper commercials.  There’s invective that’s being tossed around wherever one goes, whichever direction one turns to.  You just can’t escape the vitriol. 

In this country where one gets an election every other month more for reasons of political expedience than anything else, this particular election, the Presidential, is different.  It’s an election that really counts.  Indeed, one might even say that it is the only election in Sri Lanka that really matters, given the powers vested in the office that is being sought.  In other words it is a high-stakes election.  For this very reason, presidential elections are high octane affairs where candidates and their backers go at each other with no-holds-barred frames of mind.   

It’s a shooting-match with bullets ricocheting off every surface, a mud-fight where bystanders get drenched with stuff that’s worse than a bit of wet soil.  It’s an eye sore and an earache, this business of campaigning for the presidency. 

It is an exercise where the voter is at once treated with king-making respect as well as absolute morons who cannot hear anything unless it is repeated a hundred times and can see nothing unless it is shoved under the nose once every 15 minutes. 

We have seen over the past few weeks politicians shifting loyalties at such speeds (both ways) that the dividing line between the two major camps has got blurred.  Time was when blue was blue, green was green, red was red and so on.  The reds have their own divisions, but at least there is consistency and clarity in message, whether or not one finds the logic compelling enough.  But what’s blue and what’s green now, someone could ask.  There’s so much green in the official ‘blue’ camp while the official ‘green’ camp has so much blue as to confuse both the blues and greens on both sides of this blurry ‘divide’. 

Every person who crosses over claims ‘on principle’.  Everyone who crosses over, without exception, has a personal grudge and is consumed in varying degrees by revenge-intent and hatred.  And those who cross as well as those who received the ‘crossers’ seem to assume that voters have nothing better to do than to listen to and cheer the sober articulation of ‘principles’ and the wild flinging of insult. 

The voter has to consider track records too, not just of the candidates, their stated positions, abilities and achievements, impotency and consequences, but those of their many backers, both individuals and groups.   It’s not a pretty picture.  It’s a hard-to-choose image of the political that has clearly emerged over the past few weeks.  It has forced the voter to think ‘relative merits’.  When candidates and their respective key spokespersons happen to have been bosom buddies for years, when sworn enemies are seen chit-chatting on the same stage, the only coherent message that comes out is that all of them, without exception, consider voters to be ace suckers.  Gluttons for hoodwinking and other forms of electoral punishment.

Then there are the manifestos.  Goody-bags, one could call them.  Inflated claims abound in these documents and are bested only by undeliverable promises.  These are not ‘vision-statements’ by any stretch of logic.  They are not extrapolations of any coherent and wholesome understanding of social, economic and cultural realities.  When manifestos can be described as ‘there’s something for everyone,’ history shows that you can rest assured that there’s very little for anyone except of course the would-be king and his small coterie of loyalists.  One can safely bet that if candidates are quizzed on their respective manifestos, they will fail to get half the correct answers.  It’s that random! And that is the magnitude of the insults the respective camps fling at those who are to elect them. 

There’s no two words about it.  It’s not just the hour of the voter but it is an hour where the voter has been made to sweat, not to his/her benefit but to elect one out of 19 (or out of 2 if you want to count just the front-runners) individuals who either directly or through their minions has insulted each and every voter in this country. 

If there’s democracy in this country and if democracy is to survive well into the future, ladies and gentlemen, rest assured that it will not be due to enlightened politicians or a flawless constitution but the tenacious belief in the idea held by the voter.