08 February 2018

Local Government Elections: There are no lesser evils

Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera
The major political parties are poor.  Their poverty is clearly indicated by the fact that all of them, without exception, are using the language of default option.  We hear sentences beginning with ‘at least,’ as in ‘at least now there are no white van abductions,’ or ‘at least then we had development’.  We hear tired pleas such as ‘vote for the known devil,’ ‘support the party,’ ‘we may not be the best, but we are better than those other people,’ and of course the ever-popular default, ‘the lesser evil.’

The logic is simple and simplistic: since there are no saints, we might as well opt for the best of the bad lot.  That’s one way of seeing it.  Here’s another: there are no competent parties or candidates so let’s pick the less incompetent one.  And this: all these fellows are rogues, so let’s choose the pickpocket instead of the big time swindlers.  

The parties are poor, then.  Is the voter poverty-stricken too, though?  What is the value that the voter places on his or her vote?  Does it come with a lesser-evil tag or one that says ‘known devil’ where ‘known’ is taken to be proxy for loyalty?  Is that what responsible citizenship has come down to?  What then of self-respect, dignity and honor?  

Let’s survey the field.  Let’s begin with the United National Party.  Let’s leave aside the jokes about google balloons, free wifi and Volkswagen factories.  Let’s forget the good-governance lie.  All lesser-evil notions were effectively dismissed by the Central Bank Bond issue scam.  That’s what counts.  The crooks were aided and abetted.  They were defended, protected and rewarded by the UNP leadership.  We don’t have to even talk about ‘lesser crimes’ such as nepotism, abuse of state resources and patronage-politics, the choice is simple: do you want to endorse, taint your vote and compromise your self-respect?

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party went along with all this.  Even with reduced powers courtesy the 19th Amendment, President Maithripala Sirisena could have acted.  He twiddled his thumbs so to speak.  Nepotism, abuse of state resources, insulting the voter by taking into Parliament through the National List those rejected by the voters, ridiculous statements, rank incompetence on multiple counts outweigh last minute ‘action,’ clearly politically motivated, to bring to book wrongdoers.  Again, a simple question: do you want to endorse, taint your vote and compromise your self-respect? 

Together, these two parties have not only betrayed the trust placed on them by the majority of the voters to put things right.  Indeed they have by crimes of commission and omission turned ‘good governance’ into a cuss word. They are unabashedly corrupt, utterly incompetent and absolutely clueless about governance, forget the ‘good’ version of it.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna has used these developments to its advantage.  They have been afforded the out of dismissing charges against them. ‘Those who robbed the Central Bank don’t have the right to talk about our wrongs!’  True, but the voter has the right to talk about wrongs done by all parties, now as well as then.  That the yahapalanists took chapters out of the previous regime’s book is not a cause for celebration by the SLPP nor a justification of all the wrongs they are guilty of.  There was theft, padding the bank accounts of the near and dear, gross abuse of power, tinkering with the constitution for personal gain and other crimes which deny the leadership the right to cry foul over the misdeeds of the UNP and SLFP.  There has been no remorse whatsoever about any of these things.  A simple question, then: do you want to endorse, taint your vote and compromise your self-respect?

There’s the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.  This party has shamelessly buttressed all the above political formations at one time or another.  They too have blood on their hands.  They still use strong-arm tactics on political foes in universities and other places where they enjoy power.  They have endorsed and backed the corrupt and incompetent.  That’s it.  Do you want to endorse, taint your vote and compromise your self-respect?

What then? Who, then? There’s a neat answer that all these parties use: vote for the individual, forget the party.  The individual, ladies and gentlemen, is in the pocket of the party.  The local government body is in the pocket of the particular party leader.  And we know how obnoxious party leaders and parties are.  

An independent?  Well, you could try that, but my hunch is that independents who win will be purchased and fast immediately after the election.

Where does that leave us?  Quite alone I’m afraid come to think of it.  Bottom line: we can’t trust any of these parties. We don’t have the luxury of playing relative merits. ‘Lesser evil’ is not an option, let’s not fool ourselves.  If we vote for ‘the known devil’ then we are essentially saying ‘I am fine with devilry!’  Is that who we are or who we want to be?

Ideally, the ballot paper should have a default option: ‘None of the above!’  Unfortunately it does not.  

I can’t speak for others.  I value my self-respect. I will stay home. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com


ramli said...

Succinctly and concisely set out, thatha