03 August 2020

General Election 2020: Let’s consider ‘lesser known’ candidates

Towards the end of the year 2018 in the heady days of the parliamentary crisis there was a slogan bandied about in social media and elsewhere by ‘well-meaning’ liberals (read, ‘yahapalanists’) ostensibly sick of the prevailing political culture. They screamed ‘225+1 OUT’

The ‘sickly’ recovered less than a few months later to support the candidate of the United National Party (UNP), Sajith Premadasa. No apologies were offered. Today the ‘225+1 OUT’ slogan is out. That’s not a bad thing. There are probably a few (less than a handful perhaps) who deserve to be re-elected. However, most of our parliamentarians have been marked by corruption, incompetence, greed, self-interest, treachery and outright imbecility, typically endowed with more than one of these characteristics. Saying ‘ta-ta’ to them would not necessarily coincide with saying ‘hi’ to their polar opposites of course for the system is skewed against the election of the good and incorruptible. Nevertheless the knowledge that it is possible to ‘goodbye’ such people itself is empowering.

Now there were over 70 persons in the last parliament who could be called ‘Dynastic Politicians.’ Their political success is at least in part attributable to the fact of being sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and other close relatives of known-name politicians. We could do without that kind of feudalism, I believe.

As mentioned, there could be some decent folk seeking re-election. However, it might be worth giving the lesser known a chance, especially since they don’t exactly have the inside track in the races they’ve chosen to run.

So yes, there are the easily recognized names on the ballot. In every district. There are ……parties and independent groups in the fray. There are …… candidates vying for 225 seats. The law of averages say that there’s more than a handful among the lesser knowns who would probably perform better than most who have already been in parliament. Well, some would argue that they couldn’t do worse — a bit like the ‘Anyone but Ranil’ argument within the UNP that made Sajith ‘the ideal candidate’ in some people’s view.

This is then an invitation to consider ‘others’. The lesser known or even known to just a few. They may not be on the same page ideologically especially since they contest from different parties or independent groups, but perhaps those who pick the party would do well to consider names such as these when they mark preferences.

Wimal Ketipearachchi is a journalist by profession. He worked in various newspapers and television stations. He was appointed as a Working Director of ITN by the Yahapalana regime but resigned during the parliamentary crisis in 2018. Unlike others who resigned and gladly accepted the same positions after the old order was restored, ‘Ketape’ chose to remain ‘resigned.’ He authored three novels, ‘Doovili Sela (Fabrics made of dust),’ Navaye Kathava (The story of the number nine)’ and ‘Nelavena Gee Meda Ovilla (The swing amid lullabies). ‘Hamuvenna thavama heki comrade (We can still meet, comrade)’ was his debut poetry collection.  Ketape is much loved by the Sinhala literary community, especially those of his generation and including those who would not agree with him ideologically or oppose his political choices. He has always considered himself a leftist and a champion of the poor, dispossessed, insulted and humiliated. A decent man. He’s contesting on the Jathika Jana Balavegaya ticket from the Colombo District.

Priyantha Pathirana hails from Kamburupitiya but has spent many years in the Trincomalee District. His passion is agriculture and he has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate village tanks and develop agricultural cooperatives for women. He was in the Eastern Provincial Council but was denied nomination for the General Election by the UPFA in 2010 and 2015. He was literally assaulted within an inch of his life by rival politicians in the party. He is absolutely generous with his time and energy when it comes to friends and political associates but more important in the case of anyone in any kind of distress, regardless of political affiliation. He has always considered himself a nationalist and a champion of sustainable development. He contests on the ‘Pohottuwa’ ticked from Trincomalee.

One day in the early 1990s, members of the ‘Independent Students Union,’ Colombo University stormed into the library. They were in a foul mood. They found a student in the library, sitting with his girlfriend. They assaulted him mercilessly. Had not some of his friends broken a window and come to his aid, Anupa Pasqual would have died that day. Being at the receiving end brutality is not reason enough to get a free ride to parliament. Sure. Paska was a lone, strident and effective voice against those who were at the time apologists of the then regime. He was and still is an unrepentant environmentalist and nationalist. He is on the ‘Pohottuwa’ ticket in the Kalutara District.

There are no doubt such individuals in the UNP and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), but I do not know any. I would urge those who vote for the elephant or the telephone to give a though to such people when they have to mark their preferential votes.

Let’s not forget the independent groups. They have very little chance in the current electoral system. While some of them are essentially ‘nominated’ by established political parties as insurance (in the event nomination lists get rejected) and/or to boost presence at polling and counting stations, some do stand for something, regional or national.

Ruchira Gunathilaka is contesting from Kalutara on the Independent Group 1 ticket. This is a group led by philanthropist Mahinda Udawatte who has for 20 years gifted books to literally hundreds of thousands of school children. In December 2019 alone Rs 25 million worth of books were given to school children. No branding. Ruchira is an agriculture graduate who has always championed sustainable livelihoods. He once single-handedly grew 73 varieties of traditional rice to symbolize the theseththee (73) gnaana (wisdoms) of the Buddha. If memory serves me well, he harvested 70 of these varieties and invited 73 families/groups to prepare kiri-aahara for a special pooja at the ancient chaityaya in Mahiyangana. Indefatigable. A nationalist in word and deed.

I am sure there are dozens of Ketapes, Priyanthas, Ruchiras and Paskas contesting this election. I doubt that we will get rid of the 225, but if we want to have a better chance of not regretting our votes, then it won’t hurt to consider such people.