Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid may take seats as honourable Members of Parliament. Even an aged Pamela Anderson or Cameron Diaz could walk away with parliamentary pensions.
Mervyn Silva and Duminda Silva entered the precincts of Parliament legitimately as easy riders. Elected - overwhelmingly by the choice of the people. Those electors were not from the backward Wanni or from the backwoods of Monaragala: indeed from the two most literate and sophisticated districts of Gampaha and Colombo. Intriguing.
In a long list of candidates Duminda de Silva secured spot No. 2 in Colombo and Mervyn Silva slotted in to No. 3 in Gampaha. Can they retain the focal points at the next election? Those voting for them are a distance away from the niceties of democracy. That vote individually is insignificant but collectively adds on to a boisterous bawdy majority.
Barbie doll-like Parliamentarian Upeksha Swarnamali and Provincial Councillor Anarkali Arkasha get elected comfortably on good looks and pretty pictorials. Novice Upeka Swarnamali appealed passionately to the UNP voters that they returned her to Spot 2 on the UNP list in Gampaha district ahead of a pack of known heavyweights –Karu Jayasuriya, Jayalath Jayawardane and John Amaratunga. In a list of names provided on a ballot paper, beauty comes before the beast - without a care, tick a box to select a sweet someone; instead of marking a cross as a preference for a legislator. No wonder Mrs. World is a permanent fixture in Parliament! Any Miss Sri Lanka is an eligible candidate-in-waiting or wanting.
Their popularity extends beyond party frontiers. Their acceptability with the electorate crosses party lines where crisscrossing is a Parliamentary prerogative – in this charmed circle some stand elected on shades of green and blue at one time or another. They are visually ravished or depicted despicably in the media; but those who elect them or the political parties that select them don’t’ give a hoot.
Leaders know the electorate they cater to. There is a common ground rule – nomination is given to any candidate that can collect the most number of votes to obtain more places for other candidates to enter Parliament from the party. Tricksters and pranksters, gangsters to mobsters are included. Piling the ballot box with the popular vote is the name of the sport. Political parties realise their nominees’ potential in gathering votes or garnering crowds for political shows. That counts more than the morals preached. Still, for the record, it is the votes at a free and fair election that are counted. People in a democracy get the candidates they desire and deserve elected. Two cheers for such weird democracy for which civil rights adherents desperately agitate and crave for more.
We have enjoyed universal franchise from the time of the Donoughmore Commission in 1931 and proudly claim over 80% registered cast their vote at the last general election. When the electorate was less erudite the peasants of Anuradhapura repeatedly elected their former Government Agent popular Briton H.R. Freeman as their representative in preference to all the Sinhala candidates for the State Council. Is such foreseen now?
The 13th Amendment if placed for a vote - how will it fare? It’s a contentious issue that strikes the middle class urban elite. Rural voters have a passing illusion of an issue repeatedly harped on radio and television but are indifferent since its contents are beyond their comprehension. Simplified and frilled with, it will come alive, if it is tempered with patriotism or nationalism. With whom will they swing? After eliminating terrorism President Rajapakse is associated with the notion that he knows best in securing territorial integrity: it’s the easy way out when a subject is unknown. Follow a trusted leader and rely on his judgment. Sri Lankans stay with the known devil - most Presidents comfortably secure an extended term. To swing them around, issues must personally hurt the majority. Otherwise we are a forgiving and forgetting nation that lives mostly for the moment.
Does it mean it’s a goon vote - not necessarily, as the vote has been strategically exercised. Sri Lankans are stoic - can take a hard beating - place them against the wall for the pounding and they will come back hard and fighting. War against terrorism displayed it to the maximum - the response of a tolerant society that took much lying down, taxed to the hilt, staged a great comeback to trounce terrorism. Hurt them hard economically that is the sour turning point in politics. A middle-income, newly-emerging nation has greater endurance to grin and bear in times of hardship.
Attachment to a political party is often hereditary: in the villages, families are identified with their political colouration that goes down generations. Switches are often associated with the elected representatives to safeguard their perks, so they join the ruling junta. The faithful stick to their faith irrespective of the swing of artistes. Migrant population to the cities has much influence on their village cousins in the new equation. Hand phones carry the message from the town to the village rapidly. Many a temporary dweller in the city has his vote registered in the village and it’s a long trek back home to vote. For many it’s like going home for New Year festivities. Opinion makers in the cities are gradually getting their views transmitted to the rural voter than before - with it the distance between the urban and rural thinking progressively narrowing with fast roads
The impact of triumphing over terrorism is fast fading among the urban elite and esteemed –those who suffered the least. But not so amongst the poor, peace brought a marked difference to their lives, an element of gratitude lingers on more latently. Not only is life more secure for their families: peace brought economic blessing as hundreds of home-sprung businesses flourished; engagement in occupations of an entrepreneurial nature brought small fortunes to the households. Thousands of miniature billboards are sprouting in home gardens advertising skill and talents available for a price - from dressing brides to manicuring feet, video photos to fruit juice bars. There is money flowing in and out of those pockets. This is new the vote bank of the expanding and emerging middle class.
Democracy is retooled by the society it prevails over, and the period it pervades over. Ultimately it is a tool in the grasp of the public to fashion it according to their lives. Democracy sits beneath the people. It’s not a silent vote in Sri Lanka but a vote that talks without listening.