26 April 2016

So, shall we 'outlive the bastards'?

Guard your honour. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards. - Lois McMaster Bujold, author

Elections are tense events, more so for those seeking political office than for those who elect them. First of all there are the anxieties suffered by individual political parties, especially those that are not frontrunners and indeed face the real threat of being wiped out. Then we have the individuals, both among the favourites and the probable losers. They spend scandalous amounts of money and wonder if they will get elected.

The tension must have risen during the counting of preferential votes. Counting takes time and since candidates who end up lower down in the list and out of the list typically ask for recounts it takes almost 48 hours after the polls close for us to find out who will represent us in Parliament, i.e. long after we know how many seats each party has, who is going to form the Government etc.

Indeed, there are lots of horror stories circulating regarding how the count was done with some (the losers, naturally) claiming that there were individuals who had lost in the initial count but had somehow got the numbers necessary to enter Parliament in subsequent counts. I am not in a position to claim that there has been wrongdoing, but I believe that there is sufficient doubt in the minds of the general public to warrant a thorough investigation.

It is not an inter-party issue of course. Whether Candidate X from Party A is in or out won’t change the political complexion of the Parliament; Party A will continue to have a P number of MPs and Party B will still have a Q number. The problem is whether or not Candidate X was robbed by Candidate Y (both being from Party A).

It seems to me that taken as a whole politicians and the voters (yes, we vote them in, the good, the bad, the ugly, the crooked, the thugs, the racketeers, the traitors) missed the moral but somewhere down the line. Sure, one can take solace in the performance of the non-spenders or the less-spenders.

One can calculate cost-per-voter and re-assess the popularity level of individual candidates and feel happy that Candidate C and Candidate R who ran clean(er) campaign did far better than Candidate D and Candidate W who did not want to differentiate between campaigning and vandalizing. Still, by and large, these are pitiful consolation prizes, aren’t they? Well, guess what, it’s we who give ourselves prizes and if we were dumb enough to be swayed by strong arms and show of wealth, then we cannot complain.

I still maintain that we’ve lost our way. In Colombo, for example, there were a few people who didn’t have a ghost of a chance. They campaigned to the extent they felt was necessary. They didn’t whine and weep. It was always going to get ugly at the margin, i.e. between those who were barely ‘in’ at any of the counts and those who out just ‘out’. They fought. And they tore each others clothes and this not being enough rippled off whatever remained in their own attire.

Overall, as I have argued many times over the past few months, we have got just consolation prizes and I wonder at times if we as a people even deserve these little crumbs that the political process toss towards us.

We are a nation and a society that can do much better. After all, did we not defeat the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit, recover from two bloody insurrections and a devastating tsunami and have we not refused to go under even after 32 years of the J R Jayewardene constitution? We are a resilient nation, yes, but in the matter of being circumspect in our political decisions we’ve not exactly done ourselves proud, have we?

I think we can do better and this is why I believe it won’t any of us to think a little about the Bujold quote above. Let me repeat: ‘Guard your honour. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards.’

Depending on where one stands politically and what one’s ‘ideal scenario’ is, one would call different people ‘bastard’ of course, but the drift is clear. We have to dig in, take the bouncers, watch for swing, late and otherwise, and wait until the sun is out and the pitch dries out. This is not a 20-20 match or even a one-dayer. It is a Test.

Twenty eight years ago, writing a piece about scouting at Royal for a souvenir commemorating the 40th anniversary of 42nd Colombo, my father made this recommendation which I have gone back to a countless number of times since:

‘And so, if it is not prudent to stand ramrod straight in the fact of storms beyond your strength, you have to let them pass over you. Stand firm if you can, retreat if you must. Above all, never panic.’

Some people are impatient. They panic. They drown. Even as they are crowned in the capital and hailed as benefactors of humankind regardless of all the blood that has flowed and flowed (ref: Dostoyevsky, ‘Crime and Punishment’).

We got to outlive the ‘bastards’ (I don’t like the term, by the way, for all children are ‘legitimate’). And this includes, the bastards within ourselves.

This article was first published in the Daily News and was titled 'Honour, reputation and outliving...' on April 26, 2010.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who contributes a weekly column titled 'Subterranean Transcripts' for the Daily Mirror.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene