Thursday, January 21, 2010

The CHANGE euphoria in Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election

By Shenali Waduge
What has America learned from the Obama “Change” experiment?
By end 2009, almost 700,000 Americans had lost their jobs, 1.4million Americans were unemployed, a further 30,000 US troops had been sent to Afghanistan & Iraq was being replaced with Iran. Summing up the disappointment felt by most Americans on the Obama “Change” was a single poster that read “He has a Dream, We got a Nightmare”. It is now Sri Lanka’s turn to carry the CHANGE slogan & the common candidate is outlining a long list of CHANGE promises that repeatedly demands voters to think twice.

If viewers are exasperated by the manner in which the present election campaigning is taking place we need not be surprised for it is obviously a trend & the perfect way to steer voters away from the real questions that candidates desire not to answer. Yet, we question whether voters have the maturity to actually question candidates based on what their policies are & whether these questions are based on demands that will be beneficial to the country & not necessarily to cater to the needs of a few individuals.

That candidates come into power on the strength of the rural vote complicates this effort for by & large the needs & desires of urban & rural voter differs greatly. A simple example is the issue of escalating gas prices in urban Sri Lanka which is however an insignificant topic for rural voters. Therefore politicians are shrewd enough to tailor fit their promises to suit the voters they address resulting in deviating from country-specific topics. Thus, the voters too have become hypnotized into believing that their needs are likely to be met through the power of their vote which in reality is hardly likely to happen – our vote is powerful only upto the time we cast our vote – thereafter we have no option but to await a further 6 years to continue or change the status quo.

When promises become a hallmark of election propaganda we can deduce that candidates have easily summed up how to fool the voter. Promises have been an excellent tool to fool voters who surprisingly fall for single lines that promises immediate relief – reducing the price of bread, reducing price of rice, reductions in price of petrol, diesel, kerosene & promises of salary hikes are all easy gimmicks of politicians vying for support. In the euphoria that these promises will be met, does the voter actually wonder for how long this reduction is possible…how the candidate is likely to balance the status quo & discrepancies that may arise therein? No…

The promise of a Rs.10,000 salary hike was never questioned with – is this to be given monthly…from when…& for how long…or is this to be a single handout? Other than saying that Rs.10,000 would be given…there was no mention of the modalities of how it was to be given. The next question is the fairness of giving 1.2m public sector workers Rs.10,000 & the injustice to 14m private sector employees who will end up footing the bill by carrying the burden of additional taxes? The ultimate outcome of these salary increases will only result in higher Inflation, having to print more currency & the natural urge by the JVP to commence strikes. These are clear signs of a failed state & reminds us of Zimbabwe where inflation is 231m%. What it will end up doing is making Sri Lanka a prisoner of the IMF & the World Bank for eternity & future generations having to pay for the warnings that were not heeded - why are the UNP economists mum & not advising Fonseka properly?

Therefore until the voter departs from the mentality of believing that a minimal reduction in essential items is what steers their choice of candidate….we are likely to have politicians continue to fool us with false promises that was never meant to be kept. In other words when candidates realize that voter mentality depends on an easy promise to reduce essential items, it is natural for candidates to offer promises instead of drawing attention to his plans to govern the country.

Thus, the election of the next President should not be belittled to selfishly seeking the realization of promises that are unlikely to last right through a 6 year term. Yet, until the people can think & put country first this is the type of political campaigning that is likely to take place in future as well.

It is unfortunate that within 8 months of eliminating a 30 year conflict the two main architects of the war are now contesting each other. While it is everyone’s right to vie for the post of President we can but wonder what has steered the man who declined to ever enter politics to contest the Presidency by aligning himself with a disparate set of political parties & politicians that ridiculed & scoffed his ability to lead the army. It is not too difficult to deduce that apart from the JVP, all other Opposition alliance parties chose to provide fuel to external forces by criticizing the military efforts & even finding fault with the humanitarian effort.

If a COMMON ALLIANCE was ever called for it was morally upto the UNP to have backed the Government when relentless pressures from the UN/INGOs & foreign governments descended upon Sri Lanka to stop its military onslaught & re-enter negotiations with the LTTE. While the JVP was all the while supporting the military efforts, elements within the JVP who had discreet ties to members of the now common opposition alliance is presently steering the party & their stand that Norway is a “friend” depicts the manner that JVP too has made a 390 degree transition. Supporters of the common alliance promoting a common candidate have very interesting reasons to support its candidate but so wide and varied are these reasons that prompt us to once again remind these voters to think twice before they cast their vote.

The Common Alliance & the Common Candidate them all started with the assumption that the Executive Presidency was the reason for all of Sri Lanka’s ills & the common candidate was to proudly announce that all of its alliance members were in agreement that he would abolish the Executive Presidency & in its place create an Executive Prime Minister making room for Ranil Wickremasinghe to function within that post. If we wondered at the logic in bringing in a man foreign to politics & made to contest elections against a very popular President & hand over power to the present Opposition Leader who is destined to loose elections, our doubts were proved right when the common candidate has deviated from any talk of abolition of the presidency & instead has announced that he did not intend to send the present President home & for him to go home as well. Reiterating his position he insists that he must hold the portfolios of Education, Defense, Health, Finance as well as the right to send any minister not functioning properly home. In the context of abolishing the executive presidency & creating an executive prime ministerial post under Ranil …very few have demanded to know why the common candidate has suddenly changed his stance (not even Ranil or the UNP) & this once again should remind UNPers in particular of the debacle they suffered at the Colombo Municipality Elections wherein they thought a proxy candidate would hand over power to the UNP – which ultimately did not happen!

Not many supporters in the common alliance are even wondering what is likely to be in store for the political parties that are currently supporting the common candidate – it is surprising how very few UNPers have even cared to wonder whether all these dubious & contradicting statements by “their” common candidate will ultimately result in the demise of the United National Party? Has General Fonseka ever acknowledged the backing given by Ranil, Somawansa, Mangala, Hakeem, Mano Ganesha, Sampanthan publicly …has Fonseka ever acknowledged the support given by the supporters of these political parties – HE HAS NOT…therefore we can deduce that Fonseka is subtly evading acknowledging these parties or its members by covering up with a slogan that all these parties & politicians have formed an alliance based on their “trust” in him & in one another & functioning under a single “goal” to oust the present President. What a humbug!

How fortunate Sri Lanka would have been if this same mission & COMMON ALLIANCE prevailed to oust Prabakaran instead of having to sacrifice the lives of thousands of armed forces, civilians & a country that suffered countless assassinations, bomb attacks, suicide missions etc!

Therefore, from a country’s point of view this is a very dangerous alliance for the entire retinue is aligned purely on one mission & that mission is to get rid of the incumbent President & their campaign or policies has nothing to do with the needs of the country. This danger is further heightened by the fact that the alliance members are once more obtaining the backing of external forces who desire to maintain an unstable Sri Lanka. The key to this destability remains the 10,000 or so LTTE cadres that are likely to be used to resurrect the LTTE & for which the Tamil Diaspora & foreign governments anxiously wait – India too must be enviously looking upon the vast developments that Sri Lanka’s post-LTTE annihilation has resulted in even to now be declared the world’s preferred Tourist Destination.

So how does a voter put one’s country first? This is an extremely important question & makes any to immediately question how far our politicians have put their country first. This naturally brings home the one argument for which the Opposition alliance has been able to harness support on the grounds that the present Government & its ministers as well as key public figures are corrupt. This is the CHANGE that is being promised within 72 hours of coming into power. How democratically this can be achieved & the sanity of such a statement is somehow never questioned. It is desirable to live in a country with zero corruption but how far Third World countries or even First World countries function in a zero corrupt governance is also noteworthy. Yet, when the common candidate himself has upteen allegations of corruption, nepotism, questionable demeanor not to mention the foul language used when cornered being targeted at him, it only prompts to remind us that members of this common alliance are no strangers to charges of corruption as well. It should certainly demand voters to be hundred percent certain that these common opposition members require to function under zero corruption & how far that is likely to happen again steers voters to be cautious before casting their vote! Then what is this CHANGE that is likely to take place?

A country’s governance is handed over to members chosen by the people who are tasked to steer country-specific programs using the public sector while making them productive, efficient & effective. Handing over governance does not equate to feeling that these members are above the law & need not be accountable to the public for though the voter is denied the means to remove these inefficient members out of office, their conscience should provide the basis to deduce whether their actions are in the interest of the country or not. As leaders on whose shoulders the country’s development rests, it behoves them to ensure that the interest of the nation comes first at all times.

We cannot deny that the incumbent President has done what other leaders have failed to do or lacked the guts to do. It was this stewardship that was focused towards the elimination of the LTTE that demands us as citizens to be appreciative of his one promise that was delivered to the people. There is no better example of how a leader has put country first in the manner he & his team were able to steady a country that was the center of world attention with unbelievable stories created to ridicule & attempt to cease the military onslaughts. The nation must never forget the manner in which the victory came about for these reminiscences will provide the much needed pride that resulted when the announcement came that Prabakaran & his LTTE was no more.

Therefore, at this critical juncture the importance of this election is as important as the previous election for had the 2005 runner up took office instead of the incumbent President the LTTE would still be prevailing & the former army commander & present common candidate would have been sent on retirement & enjoying 5 years of it by 2010. Therefore, the public may like to wonder the outcomes of a 2005 Ranil Presidency & how much of territory that would have being conceded officially to the LTTE through the treacherous CFA agreement on the grounds that this was an “unwinnable” war & the need for a federal devolution was the “only” solution. Was Ranil not in power for the same period it took for the military to eliminate the LTTE fire power as well as its leaders? Was Ranil’s period in power not plagued with vat scams to the tune of 300billion & did not the LTTE double their supplies of arsenals & stock weapons & armory facilitated by Govt officials & did not Ranil’s Defense Secretary function as official envoy visiting injured LTTE officials in hospitals? This only part of the damage that the 2002-2004 period of Ranil’s rule offered Sri Lanka. With all of Ranil’s connections to foreign governments why could he not have secured a settlement with the LTTE outside of giving part of Sri Lanka to call Eelaam – dividing the nation is NON-NEGOTIABLE.

As a nation we are all thankful that we can walk safely & our daily discussions do not now refer to LTTE – our children will no longer live in fear & the next generation will only read who Prabakaran & the LTTE was.

Alongside the military efforts development was also taking place. A lot more needs to be done but that there are 5 airports, super highways, overhead bridges, energy generating power plants, developments in port infrastructure are all positive signs that things are happening. The only negation we can agree upon is that the public sector must stop being a base for politicians to absorb people from their electorates. The Government must be firm that free education does not mean that the Government is bound to provide employment to graduates & certainly not to dole out jobs as teachers. Any teacher entering the profession must first of all have the passion to teach…it should not be a JOB. The single positive outcome that we can expect of a Sarath Fonseka presidency is the possible stop to all STRIKES in future which will probably bring a major dent to JVP strategies – thus doctors, nurses, trade unions etc may well have to forget to adapt work to rule strategies & strikes!!!

It would be interesting to see how far the incumbent President plans to steer Sri Lanka with the same commitment he carried out the elimination of the LTTE. We are all in agreement that corruption prevails not only in the public sector but in the private sector too. For the incumbent President to go down as one of Sri Lanka’s most revered Statesmen..he needs to make drastic changes…do we or do we not accept the 13th amendment – we need to finally decide, what are the views on the 17th amendment? It is time to finally use this last term for Yes or No replies & firm commitments…Crossovers must be completely banned in parliament. If we are to continue the provincial council system more power must be distributed to the provinces & left with the Chief Minister…if not Sri Lanka does not require ornamental roles that only burdens the public & a system that departs from practically bribing a party for one’s allegiance must stop. All public officials must perform & systems must be brought in to remove those who do not perform…including those of Ministers. Ideally the UNP should resurrect itself as a single political party & both parties need to nurture young & nationalistic minded leaders. This way it will automatically alienate political parties that are based on “ethnicity” – for Sri Lanka does not need such parties moving forward. Sri Lanka can rise to be a First World nation but the irony is that members of parliament who are looked upon as rogues are the only people who presently have the power to change legislation for the benefit of the country…who else can actually change this…if the incumbent President in his 2nd term with the unlikelihood of another term can actually bring about significant changes ….this is the CHANGE that Sri Lanka can look forward to.

Change euphoria in the present context aligned to the campaign of the common candidate remains only targeted at ousting the incumbent President & the promises that are tied to the opposition candidates manifesto clearly indicates a Sri Lanka that should not end up tied to external factors that are likely to strangulate Sri Lanka into appeasing to the whims & fancies of foreign dictates. The alliance & its leader whose entire campaign is based on mutual hate, vengeance & revenge realistically speaking looses all objectivity of what is needed to take Sri Lanka forward.

The CHANGE campaigners having possibly realized the common objective will eventually embark on major in-house bickering & conflicts for all these political parties & individuals will begin fighting for a piece of the cake & the foregone conclusion is likely to be disappointments all round & the emergence of an elected dictator & a nation suddenly waking up to the allegations that they chose to ignore… by that time it would be too late leaving a Sri Lanka left in peril.

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