An utterly-frustrating situation has arisen with the two main contenders of the November 16 presidential election vying on each others platforms, freely throwing promises at the people which are very clear to be unrealistic. In fact, most of the promises regurgitated by the duo are an insult to the intellect of the common man, as they seem to deem people to believe anything they utter.
If these promises were made by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who is contesting under the National People’s Power ‘compass symbol’ or anyone of the other 32 candidates contesting the presidential election, one might surmise them to implement at least some of them -- if they come to power -- since they have not hoodwinked the people before as rulers of this country. But the two main groups have ruled the country for decades.
While criticising the United National Party (UNP)-led incumbent government of removing the concessional price for fertiliser, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the candidate of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, pledged to provide fertiliser free-of-charge during the first public meeting of his election campaign in Anuradhapura. It might have been an appealing promise to the crowd present at the meeting as Anuradhapura is an agricultural district.
A few days later, the candidate of United National Front (UNF) Sajith Premadasa, who is contesting under the ‘swan symbol’ of New Democratic Front (NDF), was heard echoing the same promise from one of his
The natural question that arises here is why these two candidates failed to provide this concession to farmers during their past respective tenures. Premadasa has been a minister in the current government since 2015. He does not explain why his government failed to provide fertiliser free-of-charge during the past four years or how he is going to find necessary funds to realise this meritorious promise after the election. He will have to keep this promise while keeping a plethora of others which he give so lavishly to the masses these days.
Rajapaksa’s pledge on the same issue raises even more serious questions. The stance taken by him and leaders of his party including its leader Mahinda Rajapaksa is that the UNP-led government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has ruined the country’s economy which they say had been prosperous during their tenure between 2005 and January 2015. It is pertinent for them to explain to the hapless farmers as to how they would provide free fertiliser with a ruined economy at hand, if they had failed to do so when the economy was flourishing during their regime. They too have to justify their failure in this issue during their decade-long administration.
Both main candidates have given another promise to plantation sector workers which amused many people in the country. Estate sector workers have been demanding for the past few years that their daily wage be increased to Rs. 1000. Recently, they had brought their struggle for the first time to Colombo with the support of many civil society organisations. Against this backdrop, when Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to meet their demand under his future presidency, Sajith Premadasa challenged his generosity by claiming he would increase estate workers’ salaries to Rs.1500. During the recent struggle by plantation sector workers for the Rs. 1000 daily wage, private companies running the estates had been of the view that such a wage hike would ultimately result in the closure of estates. The President and government can do only little to persuade private companies to increase the salaries of their employees.
Election promises have stooped to a scandalous low that apart from political parties that have fielded candidates for the top-most post of the country, other parties which have got nothing to do with the decision-making process of contesting parties too are freely offering incredible pledges to the people on behalf of those candidates.
"Election promises have stooped to a scandalous low that apart from political parties that have fielded candidates for the top-most post of the country, other parties which have got nothing to do with the decision-making process of contesting parties too are freely offering incredible pledges to the people on behalf of those candidates"
For instance, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Maithripala Sirisena joined hands with the SLPP long after the latter’s election campaign started. Not satisfied by verbal assurances of SLPP leaders on their future, leaders of the SLFP wanted to ink two memoranda of understanding -- one with the SLPP and the other with its candidate -- on the same. Also, there were no reports about any discussion between the two parties about the election manifesto of the SLPP candidate. It is not discussed among the SLPP ranks either.
Yet, according to a Daily Mirror story, even before the second MoU was inked, SLFP Acting Chairman Professor Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa had said all students qualified for university education would be enrolled to State universities once Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumes presidency. It is a well-known fact that only some 30,000 out of 150,000 qualified students get the opportunity to enter State universities annually. And Professor Piyadasa prefers the masses to expect a five-fold increase in university intake under a Gotabaya presidency, without any plan to expand facilities in those universities.
The SLPP manifesto for the November 16 presidential election says among others that accurate information and knowledge are essential for people to take right decisions; well said! Theoretically, it is an internationally-accepted norm and more so when it comes to elections. Yet, do the manifestoes of major candidates and pledges they freely toss at the people represent accurate information and knowledge? Do the media supporting Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa disseminate factual information and knowledge to the masses? The two candidates’ deafening silence on the scant regard by those media towards journalistic ethics is alarming.
If we ask the leaders, members and ordinary supporters of the SLPP to pick the better ruler among Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, their choice would most probably be the former. However, given the election promises of the two main candidates, one has to decide otherwise, as the candidates are pledging to do many things which had not even been dreamt of by their party leaders. Interestingly, the two leaders of the SLPP and UNP too endorse those pledges.
Sri Lanka has a scandalous history of election promises since independence, ranging from a ludicrous promise on two measures of rice brought from the moon to abolishing the executive presidency. Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake stopped providing two measures of rice provided at concessionary prices to each person in the country in the late sixties and former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike promised to provide it back bringing rice even from the moon (“handen hari genalla denawa”) at the 1970 parliamentary elections. However, during her tenure between 1970 and 1977, there was an unprecedented food scarcity and people had to be satisfied with the half a pound of Atta flour supplied for a week to each person whose name was on the family ration card.
Another broken promise was the one given by the UNP to supply eight pounds of lentils for each person for a week at the 1977 general elections which was later mockingly called “eta ate poronduwa.” The story of the pledge to scrap executive presidency by Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena is oft repeated by political analysts in their columns. Yet, politicians still deem the people, especially their own voters, to be gullible and have a field day during every election campaign, promising to bring the paradise to earth.