The pre-poll acid tests (pt. I): How to pass the ‘Oh!’-Levels

Friday, 31 July 2020 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Once more, into the breach! – For better, or worse?

In a few days’ time, we as a nation may make choices that will last at least a generation; and likely, your lifetime and mine. On balance or the surface of things, it appears good to be prepared. And best to be prepared for better or worse. Now to gird one’s loins and don the old armour of ‘democratic-republicanism’, and all that jazz… or worse!

Not to be facetious – or worse, fatalistic. But the public sphere of political shenanigans is alive and well, to the detriment of the health of the body politic. And it would be good for the true power behind the throne – people who elect their representatives – to go far from the madding crowd first. And best to consider the bigger picture after doing so. Well away from the hubbub and hurly-burly of sheer opportunism (or worse) that’s becoming more clamorous by the day. Hint… it’s a long weekend.

There is some use for philosophy in adversity. The same for poetry, it could be said. That the worst are full of passionate intensity while the best seem to lack all conviction judiciously sums up the potent combination of these lost arts. 

Just take the test already – before I lose your interest completely?

1. Health-check.

Cold? Cough? Can’t quite breathe? Yes, you’re experiencing pre-election respiratory syndrome. Take a moment. Chill. Swallow your pride, not simply the propaganda. Feel a bit better? Pick up that pen or pencil, put aside those little green pills, and put down your thoughts… 

2. Pl do tick below.

 Which of the following statements are true?

a. All political parties are equal.

b. But some are more equal than others.

c. Can tell the difference just before they’re voted in and/or just before they’re kicked out.

d. Democracy is dead… but then again, it was never very much alive and well, was it?!

e. Every vote counts. (At least that’s what the idealists tell us.)

f. Feels like campaigning politicians invented the word ‘covidiot’ (OED). QED.

g. Good, bad and ugly that politics has replaced cricket as the national ‘sport’.

h. Hideous that so many cricketing heroes have become ‘zeros’ by supporting LBWs, run-outs, and other unsporting contenders unfit for those fair pavilions.

i. In some far-flung future, a cricketer will lead the country (like Vaclav Havel once led Czechoslovakia to freedom – say the poets; as philosophers do about Solon).

j. Just go with your heart is good advice for those with a dicky ticker. First check if your favourite candidate is a molester, rapist/racist, tax fraud, or any other form of cheat, coward, criminal. Finally eschew him/her and/or their party. For it’s not whom you vote for that counts, but which party nominates winning-losers.


3. MCQ. Pick one. 

A. A good way to separate the wheat from the chaff is:

i. How much time your representative has spent in parliament in the past five years.

ii. The quality of bills proposed and calibre of speeches made on its behalf.

iii. Time spent in the electorate making a difference on the ground rather than gallivanting around their central district living the high or low life…

iv. Have they made a full confession of past misdemeanours and/or a public declaration of assets?

B. Which of the following is ‘the lesser of the two evils’?

i. A militarised bureaucracy with all the attendant discipline, virtue, lawfulness, etc. – but the very real possibility of the ‘return of the king’… viz. nepotistic cronyism, nasty chauvinism, etc.?

ii. A liberal democracy with all the accompanying liberty, laxity, awfulness – and the likelihood that there will be another disaster (e.g. 4/21, or worse) in its wake…

iii. (Or is there a middle path? A short-term compromise? For once, in the country’s best interests, as well as that of its people? For e.g. a ‘hung parliament’ with not even a simple majority for either major bloc? So for that to happen, is there a cool clear contender who’s clean and competent?)

C. Culture in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s much-vaunted little-valued civilisation of centuries is best identified, defined, and protected by:

i.  A presidential taskforce.

iii. A prime ministerial probe into allegations of vandalism of heritage sites.

iii . The relevant subject minister being guided appropriately by able bureaucrats and competent civil servants.

iv. Some harebrained hodgepodge of inept academics and apathetic professionals (or worse).

v. An independent commission set up along the lines of all those others.

4.  Fill in the blank.  

(From the options given in parentheses. Note to non-members of the SJB – ‘parentheses’ means ‘brackets’.)

A. All it takes for a peaceful republic to safeguard its own best national interest is ___ (A strongman / Two strongmen – together or separately / A good small cabinet of ministers guided by a technocratic leader / The usual suspects in the emperor’s new clothes / A band of brothers dressed as wolves in sheep’s clothing or vice versa; who can tell? / A cabal from parties of both parts).

B. We’re on the verge of a sea-change from a ___ into a ___ (Democracy à dictatorship / Democracy à mixed system / Duh – what change? the more things change on the surface, the more they remain the same / Dude… don’t deceive yourself – we’re on the cusp of a major paradigm shift / Death to all change-mongers!).

C. Could we do any worse than ___ (A bond scam (or worse) again / A Helping Humbugstota: how-do-you-do? very well indeed! / A ^^i& deal: $hh, mum’s the word: play dumb and stay stumm or swim with the fishes / Ye gods of crime, corruption, and chauvinism in virtually every camp)?

D. The defining issue of this election will be ___ (Statism vs liberal democracy / National security / The economy/ Handling of the COVID-19 epidemic in SL / LGBT rights and wrongs / Issue? What issues for these ‘ladies & gentlemen’?)

E. Ranil is ___ (A winner who never quits / A quitter who never wins / Either or both / Who cares, anyway? / Other).

F.  Sajith is ___ (His father’s son / His mother’s son / Too pish-posh for words / Too wordy for the hoi-polloi / Other).

G. Mahinda is ___ (A champion / A charlatan / A churl who never knows when to quit / A son of the soil who knows how to win hearts and minds / Other).

H. All other candidates are ___ (Superfluous / Super-foolish to fancy their chances at becoming an MP much less the PM /upercalifragilisticexpialidocious, especially if you’re SP or an SJB supporter).

5. A. Essay I. The Age of Democracy is over. That old hat died with the advent of the novel coronavirus. There is a new spirit of Benevolent Authoritarianism that’s about, which is in the best interests of people and planet. It is a Brave New World of test, trace, isolate – and police, try, prosecute all defenders of the old faith and newly convinced dissidents raging against the dying of the light. So be it – the world has changed, and we must change with it, or be left behind (or worse).

B. Essay II. Think again. Argue against yourself. Be bold. Be brave. Be a bit of a bother but by heaven and hell and all that’s in-between be better than you’ve ever been before at packing the benches with brigands, bullies and bulls in a China shop… pun possibly intended. 


6. Short answers.

A. Ask yourself if – wait… – I’ve forgotten everything! Argue. For bonus points, start up a twitter handle @LestWeForgetItAll with #MathakaNé as its hash-tag.

B. Be that as it may, there is a populist project to dismantle our democracy’s pluralism. Be aware/alert. Failing which: be apathetic and ignorant? #IDK #IDontCare 

C. Can a sea-change into something rich and strange ever take place under this or any other regime as long as we have the likes of WW to hold SL to ransom? Be careful.

D. What do you think a 2/3rd majority will do to the face of sovereignty, pseudo-religion, authoritarian rule… Do you think at all, dear? And what about! Be brief. Be true. Be honest.

E. Every citizen has a right to do what he or she likes as long as it is right. Even you or I. Enjoy (while it lasts)! Express that ethos by celebrating our Sri Lankan identity as it is, was, and never will be now that that project has been shelved for God – or WW – knows how long… 

7. Nation by design (not optimal for true nationalists). Draft, state, craft a maxim, motto, watchword for the country you love so much. 

8. Explore those futures (bonus question for out-of-the-box thinkers). What can YOU do to ensure the safety, security, stability, sustainability, sovereignty of Sri Lanka? Do you think that packing the House with shady electoral representatives alone is going to hack it? Can YOU do better in your personal life?

Well, that passed the time. It would have passed, anyway? Thank you, my dear fellow-voters. ‘Sin for you’ – as we Sri Lankans say – if we don’t know the joke’s on us if we don’t take this one seriously.

And next week…The pre-poll acid tests (II): How to pass the ‘Ah!’-Levels – watch this space.

Take care. Stay safe. Best take the long weekend to have a nice long think. Hope, pray, and act.

(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Writer on old hats | Student of the acid test)


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