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Analysis

 
The decline of Lanka’s political assets


 

By Romesh Abeywickrema 

There was a time in this country not so long ago when a politician made a speech people would make a beeline to the closest TV or radio to catch what was being said. They would hang on to every word trying to decipher the ‘deeper message’ and invariably there was one. Today it is the same – people would run to the TV or radio broadcasting the politician’s speech, but no, not to listen to every word but to turn the thing off or to change the channel.

Today politicians are probably the least trusted among the many categories of ‘servants’ that have been foisted on a long-suffering public. If what politicians said was taken with a pinch of salt in the days of yore it is more in the range of a sack these days with shameless politicians saying one thing today only to say the opposite tomorrow expecting people to keep pace with their changing colours. With their credibility in tatters it matters little to the discerning public what politicians decide to shout about hence them switching off the political ‘noise.’ 

That the rot set in fairly recently is generally agreed upon. One reason identified as the main contributor to the plunge in standards is the plethora of elections that the people have been forced to put up with by power hungry politicians who resort to any tactic, the latest in vogue being staggered elections, in order to hang on to power.

With some sort of election taking place almost on a monthly basis and politicians screaming at each other day in and day out from political platforms there is only so much that people can take of ‘we are this and they are that.’ Which is why there is little interest in the gutter politics being practised today except of course for the hired audiences.

Home and home battle

However what has revived interest in this otherwise dead political discourse is the ongoing home and home battle in Galle.

The two main contenders for provincial office from the ruling UPFA at least in Galle are to say the least, poles apart. One a 22-year-old actress, a product of a Colombo international school who has been parachuted to Galle and the other, a self professed thug from the local neighbourhood seeking re-election to the council.

What the young actress from Colombo could offer the residents of Galle and what the former southern provincial councillor has done for his constituents in his last term the voters of the district will decide on October 10, but what defies explanation is the level to which local politics has descended to in the last few weeks judging by the antics of these two who have caught the attention of not only the Chief Executive but the entire country. What is cause for concern is that both count on the political clout flowing from ‘up above’ to carry on as they do.

Rotten never gets better

What one must keep in mind is that today’s provincial councillor is tomorrow’s parliamentarian. What is rotten never gets better, only more rotten. In this context if one were to examine the provincial cupboard, the material for the future comprises an intriguing collection — from former Tiger child soldiers to those with murder charges and those accused of rape make up the top-end. This is the fare that would be on the table as far as the voters go in the not too distant future.

With such prospects one shudders to think the double flips the likes of the Senanayakes, Sir Johns, Bandaranaikes, and Goonetillekes must be doing in the ‘other’ world.

Gone are the days when politicians would fight the good fight on the election trail, shake hands at the end of the day, and have a good laugh over a drink. It was a time when students would be encouraged to listen to what the politicians had to say because there was substance in what they said and much to learn from and draw inspiration from. These educated men and women of character would put much effort into preparing speeches and unlike today did not take the people for fools however illiterate the average man and woman may have been in those days.

One could recall with nostalgia S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the Senanayakes, Sir John Kotelawala, Colvin R. de Silva, N.M. Perera and even J.R. Jayewardene in their element, crossing swords in parliament and elsewhere with their oratory. What classy acts these were and in more recent times the likes of Bandaranaike junior, the late Anura, Lakshman Kadirgamar, etc. come to mind. Whatever the turf, their battles were limited to words and never was there even a hint of violence in what they did or said.

Contrast that crop of politicians with today’s heroes like the Mervyn Silvas and Nishantha Muthuhettiges and we know what we are in for.

Load of excreta

In the last few days Muthuhettige has been in and out of remand prison for shooting his mouth during the Southern Provincial Council election campaign. He also boasted he could shoot the real thing with both hands.

First the sharp shooter landed in prison supposedly because he threatened the young actress, Anarkali, for deciding to challenge him in his home base. Soon he was bailed out, but before he could say ‘free,’ the man was locked up again, this time for having professed his ‘love’ for the young actress. For the Sri Lanka Police it seems there is little distinction between love and hate these days. Anarkali murmuring sweet nothings about the angry man threatening her wasn’t all that helpful either and only added to the load of excreta that hit the oscillator in that usually laid back southern city.

It is a no holds barred, all out campaign among the UPFA candidates to get ahead of the other according to a seasoned campaigner and parliamentarian from the south. According to him both the actress and the thug will make it to the top ten “with ease.” This begs the question, how will they get there? The answer surely lies with their bosses, no not the party hierarchy, but the ordinary man and woman in the Southern Province, the voters, who wield the executive power to either sack or engage their ‘servants.’

How far the political rot should prevail is essentially in the hands of the people. It is time they blinked hard and realised the carnage they have caused themselves by the careless use of their ballot. They must insist, whatever the party, that their intelligence must not be insulted by the choice of candidate put before them.

Today the country’s biggest liabilities are its incompetent politicians big-mouthed as they may be – it is they who create the problems that the country is forced to face, be it locally or internationally or economically – and it is time that these liabilities are turned in to assets. The shareholders of Sri Lanka, its people, must decide who their directors are going to be. After all what are ‘Golden’ lessons for?

 

 

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