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Politicos fly too low, so people learn fast!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 5 August 2015 00:00




It’s been a rude awakening, it has this week. The electorate went to sleep dreaming of good governance and a free and fair election at last, hopefully, but awoke sweating with fright at the sound of gunfire. A tear in the fabric of a campaign. A death. An event shrouded in violence and no little mystery. xfh

Was it a botched political assassination attempt? A clash between rival underworld factions? An international conspiracy to discredit the country in the eyes of the perversely watching world? Whatever it was, or will be made out to be, one thing is very clear: this is a fight to the finish, a bloody battle of brains as much as brawn; and the violence may not be all metaphorical – even if in our better moments we pray for peace and plead against the backlash of political thuggery. 

There’s also an equally brutal propaganda war beating a steady tattoo on voters’ nerves. No quarter given, none asked or expected. And with finger-pointing in the believers’ camp, all that is unholy is slowly but surely being revealed. Supporters and strategists alike are pulling out all the stops to paint their opponents and estranged friends with mud, as much as the gangland pistols and automatic weapons are aiming to spray postered walls with blood. Polls, like wars, are a risky business. Because, until recently, and possibly once again, the winner takes it all. Literally.

So it’s no surprise that voters and polls-watchers might feel that old familiar feeling. One part fear, one part frustration; all in all a funny itchy feeling that not even the scratching of an X on your ballot paper can cure fully. This is what Hobson’s choice feels like: an opportunity to take a chance, to stake your peace of mind and progress on the horse nearest the starting gate. But not before you’ve considered your options and alternatives. 


Putrescent ordinarinessdfh

One of the significant choices confronting the electorate is that of picking between two paths, two perspectives. This dichotomy has been characterised by diverse commentators as a choice between darkness and light, virtue and vice, life and death. As with many other naively dualistic views, it might be a false dichotomy. There is rarely if ever such a clean divide separating one camp or coalition from another. These parties or groups of parties are bifurcated not so much by their easily identifiable ethics as by a singular lack of them or a striking non-essence.

We mean, of course, that in the limit there is nothing much to choose between a majority of aspirants in one party/grouping and most of the contenders in the other coalition/front. Both have strengths, each has weaknesses; either one is on the lookout for an opportunity to manipulate the masses’ perceptions of them; all are potentially a threat to an electorate that is in itself lame at holding elected representatives accountable. 

The pre-nomination pressure of civil society notwithstanding, both UPFA and UNFFGG have the clever, the crooked, the cynical, and the corrupt in their ranks. The pleas of civic-minded thought-leaders were entertained but eschewed, and the race seems not to the swift nor riches to the strong – but to the most senior, the most loyal, the most popular, the most capable of pulling preferences – even though time and chance will test them all on 17 August.

It will take much more than the pre-poll declamations of clergy and business leaders, or the displeasure of the humbler polity, or the purposeful mechanisms of intra-party measures and standards for potential legislators, to cleanse the Augean stables of horses that must be traded to secure election victories. I could suggest that the horse trading has meant that the horses have changed stables or riders midstream and that the more things change, the more they stay the same... but I won’t. Even the finer points made in an argument that the last election was a choice made between virtue/strength (MS) and viability/stability (MR) might no longer hold entirely true, if it ever did. 


Purposeful ordinance 

That said, the discerning can sense a slight edge in one cluster of candidates over the others. They appear to say what they mean, and mean what they say. They sound like they have a plan: a practical plan: a set of principled long-term policies. They are not simply full of sound and fury, as some other gerrymanders and rabble-rousers who favour fear and loathing and facile separation of voters along unsavoury ethnic and linguistic lines are, or appear to be, and don’t mind being seen to be as such. That edge, that meaningful significance, that practical principled plan, that responsibly counter-cultural ethic, might – no, must – persuade discerning, decent, and daring-to-be-different voters to tilt the parliamentary balance in their favour.

A possible problem they face with the punters is that these knights in slightly tarnished armour (“shh, don’t mention the bond scam”) are virtually invisible to the demographics that swing votes and change the courses of elections and national destinies. A few of the more sensitive, savvier ones are seen – and seen to be shown – on social and other more mainstream media. 

Fighting to board crowded trains of a dark and rainy morning so that they can share the crucifying agony of woefully inadequate public transport. Weeping with hungry widows who water their rice porridge or lentil soup so that their pathetically malnourished brood can eat a single square meal at night. Walking the streets at high noon so that they too can be impaled by the merciless heat and dust and smog of the hopeless homeless.


Promoting oneself 

Maybe I exaggerate a little. One Member of Parliament momentarily swallowing his pride and privileged background and training himself to empathise with the daily-commuting hoi polloi does not make a perennial summer for the masses. However, it is a good start: a nice indication that not every candidate for the House by the lake takes his seat for granted. Plus, it sets a grand example. If only the others would follow it, and mean it. If only the moving gesture will take root and grow up into a genuine motivation to do something about what is rickety, rubbishy, and rotten in the state of the nation as it is and has been for decades.

Mr or Madam Minister (and anyone else interested in my view and in my vote): We have had our fill of electioneering gimmicks and feel-good sound-bites for media and public consumption. We want – we need – a plan... a worldview of policies – with realistic timeframes – and believable budgets – and a demonstrated political will – and a credible route map that will get you where you want to be so that you can give the nation what it requires and desires. The promises (and sundry propaganda) in the full-page advertisements these days are fishy to say the least, and don’t deserve to be used to wrap yesterday’s gills and fillets to gull voters again. High time the electorate grew up, stopped swallowing tripe together with handouts and sweeteners, and got as strategic and subversive in their choices as these cynical fly-by-wire politicos themselves (“shh, don’t mention the war”).


Principled Oppositionghl

Be the naïveté of many if not most punters as they may, some gallant and dashing politicos and their parties have not changed their stripes. By gad, sir, not by half! On the one hand, there are the communal-minded opportunists of yore – an ambivalent minority – who won’t hesitate to leverage the sense of guilt and debt that the polity in parts of the country owe them for grudges expressed and grievous harm effected. On the other, there are the community-minded manipulators of a dispensation dealt with – an aggressive demographic that was down and out, but not dead – who don’t miss a beat in reviving an ancient demand with a modern agenda. Possible future governments, and potential partners in the inevitably forthcoming national unity (but not uniformity) government of a fashion – no matter who wins – are thus seen to be either other each desiring, though powerless to reach a consensus satisfactory to all. 

This is the tragic legacy of a multi-partisan polity desperately in need of electoral reform (one coalition’s trump card) as much as a new political culture (a clichéd propaganda trick), to say nothing of a nascent new society (a culture’s and a civilisation’s deepest yearning). Who needs oppositions – when coalescing parties forming precarious coalitions are so bereft of unity in principle, so rife with unprincipled disunity, so riven in character and ethos? Such that government becomes a nightmare after an election victory – and good governance becomes a nuisance to both lawmakers and the people of the land...

Be the cynicism of this penman as it may, one party is quite unexpectedly emerging as a hot frontrunner in the ‘main opposition’ stakes. If I had a thousand rupees for every recent instance a homespun political pundit admired the ‘new’ JVP or an armchair electoral prognosticator predicted its entry into the ranks of established parliamentary respectability and power, I’d be lining up to kick Kerry Packer out of his casino and our country. Wait, that’s been done, hasn’t it? Hang on, the formerly and now slightly blue-green around the gills ‘red brethren’ have been there and done that before, haven’t they? Shall we hold our breath again? Dare we stake our hopes for a sturdy and sensible legislature on progressive disestablishmentarians bent on subverting the neoliberal neoconservative edifice we’re all so comfortable with? Even if they have turned over a new leaf and turned a corner? Can we trust them not to rock the boat once in power – by default? Or are they more useful to stir up the nation’s conscience when in opposition – by design?

Be the outcome of the polls as it may, there is no gainsaying that many moderate republican and middle of the road democrats are mightily impressed by the principled stance taken by several of the ‘new’ JVP’s more articulate interlocutors. No longer are they full of sound and fury alone (although they still retain their more entertaining rhetorical flourishes and robust feints while tilting at establishment windmills). No longer does their finger-pointing and nay-saying signify the wrath and latent carnage of the envious, marginalised, and underprivileged classes. 

Be your natural abhorrence or traditional reserve as they may, the JVP deserve a heartfelt hearing and a solid seating in the House. Maybe they won’t ever garner numbers to form a government in the conceivable future. Perhaps they might tactically opt to stay in opposition and bring a much-needed “balance in the force”, these latter-day Jedi knights of the Diyawanna! Either way, too many erstwhile ‘blue’ and ‘green’ voters have been swayed by the power and the glory of their principled attack on government and opposition alike for ‘blue’ and ‘green’ both not to take stock, make amends, change gear, move to gain lost ground. A principled and purposeful JVP in the main opposition, rather than its customary roles as the minor-irritant gadfly-few of governments as in the immediate past, would stand our republic’s legislature in good stead.


Practical opportunity

Maybe the choice before the marketplace of voters is starker than we first essayed. And it may not be between a dualistic ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so much, as a choice among ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’. If the UPFA wins ‘big’ – by a landslide such that the older and more reprehensible categories of patriots and traitors, of us and them, of family first and cronies next and only we now and forever were to be revived – no doubt that would be ‘ugly’. If the UPFA and the UNP win ‘small’ – failing to garner a convincing or significant enough majority and the minority-wooing horse trading resulted in ridiculous offers made and offices maintained to the detriment of ‘small’ (is good) government – that would be ‘bad’ enough. Worse, if the JVP don’t feature at all in any form of opposition. If the JVP wins ‘big’ – and whether it makes a government or not, but stays strong and principled in parliament – that would be ‘good’... better still if it opts out of government, if only for the sake of good or better than average governance.

Do you still feel there is a choice, punters? Or no choice, so that all republican roads lead to a red-letter day for the polity tempered with more than a patina of green? The vestige of mixed blue which is left will serve to more than guarantee that democracy is served. That is not a prediction, but a preference. There is still a week in which manipulators might come undone (did someone mention war crimes) and moderates fail to seize the day with piddling indecision (to sack or not to sack, even now, not too late to send a strong message) and mediocre communication campaigns as in the past. 

In the limit, politicos of virtually every ilk are still flying too low. Many are flying by the seat of their pants. And their avowed and ambitious objectives go not much farther beyond party welfare and personal well-being. Would this be a cardinal opportunity for truly patriotic citizens and genuinely national-minded voters to inveigle their budding candidates into thinking big, thinking bigger picture? We don’t want you to simply win an election for your party, good governance or better. We want the victory you win to start us down the long-forgotten road to being a blessed isle again.

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