Presidential polls: when the head knows not what the heart wants?

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THE USUAL SUSPECTS – or is Sri Lanka on the cusp of a sea-change into something rich and strange, politically-speaking?

SOME THINGS ARE HARD TO GET RID OF. Bad habits – like Bruce Willis in the eponymous movies –  ‘die hard’. Even good stuff lurks, in one’s fridge for instance, well past its expiry date. Ugly bits and pieces float around after a night of fatty, chocolaty or alcoholic self-indulgence. So we’re well and truly stuck with a floater of an executive presidency. And it has seemed well-nigh unflushable despite the blushing protestations of a brace of gentlemen (I use the term in its non-cricketing political sense) and a lady to boot… we get gulled over and over, time and again.

The Sri Lankan voter seems a glutton for punishment when it comes to presidential polls. Part of the reason is the self-serving discourse of political parties and their prominent personalities. These prima donna narcissists have been out to convince the polity – from floundering nervous minorities to neutral floating voters – of the necessity of a strong person in the hot seat. 

Several hairy experiences and successive disappointments with a slew of serial promise-breakers have not persuaded a majority of the electorate that we’re better off without that lofty office. Successive presidencies have only proven that we’re suckers for self-deception in the shape and form of security, safety in numbers, and the strategies of unscrupulous commercial machines that field common candidates for consumption by a gullible public – shortly prior to the ensuing rip-off! 

Of course, if those philosophical sages the JVP were to have their way with the system, we’d soon have a presidency that looks more like KFC than chicken cordon bleu. But even if the putative 20th Amendment to the Constitution were to be subject to parliament’s culinary process, the outcome is by no means guaranteed to deliver a palatable president – any more than the 19th Amendment did.  

 

The Sri Lankan voter seems a glutton for punishment when it comes to presidential polls. Part of the reason is the self-serving discourse of political parties and their prominent personalities. These prima donna narcissists have been out to convince the polity – from floundering nervous minorities to neutral floating voters – of the necessity of a strong person in the hot seat

 

I suspect (and so do you) that a tentative clipping of the president’s wings at this stage of the game is more an electoral ploy than a political conviction on the part of the reds.  They are likely led to bed by the greens and will surely feature proportionately to their present support in a putative UNP cabinet of the future if the endgame works out as given below.

Conventional Wisdom: It will be a three-cornered race between UNP, SLFP and SLPP.

Devil’s Advocate: Politics makes strange bedfellows. Another coalition may be in the offing.

Game of Thrones: A host of independents may skewer the field by stealing progressive votes.

Avengers’ Endgame: UNP in-fighting may see a national candidate emerge from its ranks.

The above bears cursory inspection in this brief reflection. 

First, to say that while no independent has ever made a substantial impression, an erstwhile figurehead from a major party could dent the ambition of two other partisan contenders. 

This scenario may eventuate if the UNP oligarchy stubbornly insists on fielding Ranil; resulting in the backbenchers thumping the tub for Sajith; provoking Karu to break ranks with the party and run as an independent national candidate with the support of the JVP. 

 

Several hairy experiences and successive disappointments with a slew of serial promise-breakers have not persuaded a majority of the electorate that we’re better off without that lofty office. Successive presidencies have only proven that we’re suckers for self-deception in the shape and form of security, safety in numbers, and the strategies of unscrupulous commercial machines that field common candidates for consumption by a gullible public – shortly prior to the ensuing rip-off!

 

 And this, if it’s after 20A passes muster, may well see the non-partisan presidency Sri Lanka badly needs – for whoever wins the plum will have to spit out the seeds of an executive with power over police, armed forces and independent commissions at the very least?  

Second, to essay this… whichever system we go to the polls under, 19A or 20A, the handful of independents who have thrown their hats in the ring may do may harm than hurt to Sri Lanka’s larger interests – if the topic du jour is transformational objectives rather than tactical operations. 

If some or all of these tyros at politics are merely red herrings, they may do no more than draw valuable marginal votes in their hundreds of thousands away from progressive contenders with a better chance at ‘change with stability’.  

Last not least – no major party may have named its candidates’ names to the mast. But the writing is on the wall for the present and prevailing political culture. At least in the Blogosphere and Twitterzone, we – in Colombo, the Western Province, parts of civilised and politically savvy Sri Lanka – know it’s time for all if not most of the incumbents to go home… the only thing left is to get the timing right, the contesting strategies spot on and the correct alignment of political stars in the country’s coalescing firmament in our sights. 

If our island nation-state was ever on the cusp of a sea change, this presidential poll is the divot, pivot and pilot episode in that incipient transformation.

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

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