The numbers are finally in. The public have the option of choosing their next president from a group of 35 candidates. It is said that politics is the art of the possible, and it would appear that limited possibilities are presented in the group presented to the voter. It is now time to read through the manifestos of the candidates, understand their policies and make the best choice possible.
Much has been said and written on the profusion of candidates for the presidential election. Some have pointed out that this mushrooming of candidates is a sign of the deep dissatisfaction the people have openly expressed against politicians, especially stemming from the main parties, and therefore a wider array of options is now presented to the public as a result. Others have pointed out that given the huge expense the high number of candidates engender, maybe it is sensible for authorities to consider increasing the deposit amount to be paid to run for president. This, they argue, is done in many countries and would work to identify the realistic candidates.
Having more options on the surface sounds positive. But real change is often incremental and genuine leaders take time to emerge. Therefore when the political system of Sri Lanka is taken into account, the plethora of credible candidates narrows significantly. The president ultimately has to be someone who can command a majority in Parliament and work with and within the State apparatus.
A pluralistic system requires that there be a diversity of discourse and options available to the public. But at the heart of the matter is the political system, which stipulates that one candidate needs to get 50% and one vote to be the winner. In this situation, the field of candidates widening vastly is not practical as essentially, regardless of the number of candidates, there will be two frontrunners and one of them will be declared the winner. The rest are merely ‘also-rans’.
In the current instance of a wider number of candidates, while the vibrancy of interest and discourse is valuable and essential in a democratic space, there is also the need to understand the numbered reality behind more candidates. Outside of the fact that having two dozen or more candidates creates a logistical nightmare for the Elections Commission, where even vote-counting and monitoring of the election will become challenging due to the need to accommodate candidate representatives, there is a somewhat complicated process that the voter will also have to understand before they head out to mark their carpet-like ballot paper.
As this is a Presidential Election, the voters have the right to decide that all three of their preferential votes go to one candidate, or they are divided among the options. Many experts are of the view that this time, perhaps for the first time since Independence, no candidate will get the standard 50% and one vote. This means the Election Commission will resort to a complicated mathematical formula where the preferential votes for the two frontrunner candidates will be taken into account and whoever edges ahead in that will be declared the winner.
It is now time to get to grips with the policies of candidates and decide whom to vote for on 16 November.