18 February 2016

Shall we make a list and shake it twice?

Recipients of whim and fancy could also turn tables and not just at the polls
"I’m makin’ a list ‘n’ shakin’ it twice" is the title of an article I wrote for the Daily News six years ago (February 17, 2010).  It was written in the context of elections that were to be held less than two months later.  It was about the need for a citizens' initiative to assess politicians.  It was about black-balling.  It's an exercise that need not have an 'auspicious time' to begin.  It need not end either. 

No, I am not Santa Clause.  I am not bringing toys or any other goodies, so if you are a believer, put those stockings away and don’t wait for me. There are no reindeer, no Rudolf, no red noses and sleigh bells; no mistletoe, no cake and no feasting.  I repeat, I am not Santa Clause, but wait, I come with clauses.  Lots of them.

Yes, I am making a list.  Yes, I will be shaking it twice.  Not a list of gifts, but most certainly a list of names. Even though this is not Christmas.  It’s like this: we are going to have another election and although I concern myself usually with things political elections are really a mixed bag.  Indeed, they constitute a mixed bag made of dung; all kinds of dung or all kinds of creatures with a few drops of (misplaced) milk thrown in only to get quickly contaminated.

We are still some 8 weeks away and right now we are told that the leaders of the main parties are busy getting their lists ready, in consultation with coalition partners of course.  We are told that people have been asked to submit some kind of asset declaration. No, not an audit requirement to make sure that people are held accountable during the time they hold office, but some hard cash up front to convince the leaders that the would be candidate has what it takes to run a campaign and contribute a little something to the party kitty.  We are told that some people are busy getting potential candidates to sign affidavits pledging that they will not cross party-lines in the event of being elected, reminiscent of course of how J.R.Jayewardena obtained undated letters of resignation from all sitting MPs, thereby holding each of them to ransom. 

Let party leaders do as party leaders think fit.  I am not a candidate, not a party leader, but just a voter.  I figured, however, that if party leaders can make lists, so can I.  And like all lists, mine will also be about inclusion and exclusion.    Here’s how it will happen.

I am going to keep my eyes and ears open, especially after nominations close.  Once nominations close I will have with me the names of all the candidates trying to get into parliament.  I will have their names and their numbers. From the day that nominations close until a few days before the election I will be watching what they do, listening to what they say. I am going to give points and I am going take points off.  And at the end of it all, I am going to put out my list.  No, I am not going to say vote for this party or that, but will give out a best-of-the-bad-lot (yes, call me a cynic!) list from the major parties.  I will do this for Colombo, Kalutara and Gampaha from the Western Province and the districts of Kandy and Galle.  I don’t have the resources to plant eyes and ears in every district. I am not an NGO-type but I am sure there is a lot of money in this black-balling business.  That I will leave to intellectual brigands and paupers such as those inhabiting outfits such as the CPA and NPC.  

Ok. Criteria.  First of all, the more posters I see, the more black marks a particular candidate gets. Visibility, then, is not going to help. The more money a campaign seems to have the less I am likely to believe they are in it for me.  More than this, I abhor vandalism.  To me, putting up a poster is a violation of election laws and an act of vandalism.  People don’t put up walls for politicians to plaster them with pictures of their faces. 

Cut-outs will result in a lot of marks being cut off because they are violation of all principles pertaining to the notion of common property.  That which is owned by all cannot be employed to further private objectives.  I don’t want those elements of city space to be littered with Mr/Ms. Big Mouth’s Big Face underlined with Big Brag and Big Pledge. 

Polythene use will be costly.  It shows irresponsibility and indicates stupidity.  I don’t want to be represented by the irresponsible and the stupid. 

How a candidate conducts himself during the campaign will be assessed with particular care.  What is said and what is done will be taken into account.  Any kind of kalaveddism will earn a stiff penalty.  Indeed ‘kalaveddhism’ of any kind, in word or deed, will be penalized (no offence intended to polecats of course).  Candidates will have to mind their language in another sense too.  If they get facts and figures wrong, if they get place names wrong, stumble over idiom etc, points will be taken off; we don’t want confused, ignorant and careless people making determinations on our lives and our futures. 

Physical assault of opponents and/or their supporters and verbal abuse will be costly.  The ability not to react to bite with bite will be rewarded.  So keep things cool.  

So Tilvinisms (‘the bell is the common symbol’) and Ranilisms (e.g. confusion over how the name ‘Pasdunrata’ came about, ‘braceletting’ and unpardonable errors about the date of elections) will cost the particular candidate.   Am I being too demanding? No.  The stakes are high. These guys are in this for big bucks.  Let them at least show some quality even if it is all play-acting. 

The curriculum vitae of each candidate will be perused and claim cross checked.  What they have done will be taken into account with the negatives cancelling the positives.  Those who have held office will get scored on performance and it could be positive or negative.  Those who have not been elected before will get scores in terms of what they’ve done for nation, region and electorate.  If they have some kind of dubious record, points will be taken off.  Rapists, swindlers, gamblers, drunkards, pickpockets etc will get poor scores.  Weights will be employed to compensate for inherent disadvantages.  Thus a never-been-elected doctor who took commissions for recommending certain drugs from certain drug companies might get the same amount of points taken off as that taken from a minister who took the ‘customary’ 10% from contracts.  This has to do with thieving intent and lack of opportunity shall not be (relatively) rewarded. 

Politicians are made of promises, this we know.  On the other hand, there are promises and there are promises.  There are the rice-from-the-moon types and the eight-kinds-of-grain types.  There are sky-promises, moon-promises, sun-promises and all-three-together-promises.  Then there is a thing called a modest promise.  I think I would place a higher value on humility.  

I will check whose endorsements are sought by the candidates.  I will check out what the henchayyas are up to.  I will check who the friends are for choice of pal is an indicator of character, intent, ability etc.  Those who need Choppe Aiyas, Malu Nihals and Kudu Ajiths don’t need my vote.  It’s as simple as that.

Star-value, in this instance, is equal to zero: entertainers and sports personalities will not have an edge.  Sorry.

These criteria or my ‘clauses’ will be revisited frequently and adjusted if necessary.  I will give a mid-campaign assessment without naming names, I promise.   The list will be finalized, duly shaken twice, and made public by mid-March. 

Good luck all.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com