Maithri change: how much longer to wait?

5 February 2015 07:06 pm - 4     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sadly, the old cut-out, poster and polythene culture persists 

There’s no doubt that every person who watched the television interview of President Maithripala Sirisena was thrilled for many reasons. Predominantly, it may not be because the interview was conducted by Upul Shantha Sannasagala who was a fellow campaigner on Maithri’s platform. In fact that factor could raise more questions than answers as how a campaign colleague who voiced the same slogans on the same political platform could raise questions from the other. 

Though Upul attempted to represent the civilian populace when questioning the President, the fact is  that both are still in the same camp and working on the same agenda. However, we have seen many previous Presidents using his or her confidantes to conduct interviews. Even at the Janapathi Janahamuwa introduced by former President Rajapaksa, he had his own pick- and- choose policy for the panel of questioning journalists. In fact these hand-picked journalists would not throw googlies but full tosses for easy batting. I think this particular interview was no different. These interviews are designed not to grill the interviewee but to raise his or her profile. In a normal journalistic interviewing platform, the interviewee (in this case the politician) should be smart enough to raise his or her own profile by tactful answers and sharp responses to tough questions by the interviewing journalist. But in profiling interviews, the questions are not tough at all, but soft enough to raise the profile of the interviewee. One could categorise them as agenda-driven; but again I do not see any harm in such exercises.

The reason I said that the viewers would have been thrilled by this interview was due to the humbleness President Maithri displayed throughout the interview. He in fact started with a modest comment stating that he would do away with the extra-respectful titles such as Athigaru (similar to Right Honourable) or Shreemath. It depicted the unassuming nature of this person who rose to the highest position  in the country from a paddy field in the North Central Province in Sri Lanka. 

Nevertheless, Maithri is not the first President to reach such a high seat from grass root level. In that context, it was President Premadasa who was the first ‘People’s President’ in Sri Lanka. If one could remember, President Premadasa, too, was an extra-ordinarily humble person at his beginning. I can still remember our news desk receiving written instructions from Sucharitha not to use such illustrative words when introducing the President. Being a state media outlet, Lake House - especially the Dinamina - would not think twice when using such honorary words before the name of the serving President. But I can remember the instructions were conveyed to us by our editor G. S. Perera at a daily newsroom meeting one morning, not to use Athigaru before the name of the President. But we all know how it ended; not only Athigaru but both Athigaru and Shreemath became musts. This is not to undermine the great services of the late President Premadasa I have great respect for, but to highlight the fact  how things could be changed in the passage of power. I remembered this when  Minister Sajith Premadasa during last week’s parliament debate on the Chief Justice’s issue used both Athigaru and Shreemath to introduce President Maithri. I am not attempting to say that President Maithri may also fall into the same category, but to be mindful of history. Another comment President Maithri made during Upul’s interview was about cut-outs. He said he has already given firm instructions to the police to remove cut-outs and placards that  exhibit his pictures. 

In fact at the last presidential election, it was proved that cut-outs and billboards could be counter-productive in electioneering campaigns. Veteran political commentator, M. S. M. Ayub said in one his columns just after the polls, that Maithri proved the bitter truth that one could win elections without cut-outs and polythene. But, is it being adhered to the letter in the rest of the country? It is  disgusting to note that Rajapaksa pictures on CTB buses have been replaced by those of Maithri. Some buses  carry the picture of the transport minister as well, a mere continuation of the practice of the previous regime. The expected change included even these minor issues – but, to my mind those are not minor issues at all. Have we changed just the faces of the same regime?. 

Just travel down south – say from Matara to Tissamaharama- one could see the excessive use of green- coloured polythene and also many cut outs of Maithri and other politicians displayed – even with pictures of local body politicians. Of course, a general election is near, but the landmark trend [of a campaign without cut-outs, posters etc.] that had been set by Maithri, should be continued without confining it to one Presidential election. 

Personally it is my firm belief that there should be a paradigm shift in profiling politicians when it comes to election campaigns. We are fed up of the cut-out and polythene culture, especially at the last election, that fell under the cynical views of the public. This message should be strongly conveyed to every politician at every level in every political party.

  Comments - 4

  • maddy Friday, 06 February 2015 02:58 PM

    A balance write up since what we have to read in both Engilsh and Sinhala press these days are praising My3-bashing MR kind of articles. Keep up your good work Dr.

    smart Friday, 06 February 2015 09:06 AM

    Thanks Dr. Ranga for your comments. I agree with you that cut-outs/posters of the President and other politicians should not be pasted in buses and other govt vehicles. Its cheap politics as we Sri lanans ( with the country with over 90% literacy), should refrain from such practices. Pasting cut-outs etc in public places (next day those are torn down to half and foul languages written on them by the opposition party supporters), we are educating our children to resort this type of behaviour in schools and universities. It should be made a punishable offence should anyone tries in the future. I would suggest to keep the country clean, placards in party rallies and meetings should be allowed as this causes no harm and also when the media telecast these public gatherings with their comments, this should be sufficient for the politicians to earn votes.

    Aba Jayasekera Saturday, 07 February 2015 12:36 AM

    I think Kalansooriya having supported MR before the election is now talking nonsense. He is bent on finding fault with President Sirisena. He says “Maithri is not the first President to reach such a high seat from grass root level. In that context, it was President Premadasa who was the first ‘People’s President’ in Sri Lanka. If one could remember, President Premadasa, too, was an extra-ordinarily humble person at his beginning.” In this he is quite wrong. He was publicly anointed to as the heir to the presidency by JR at a Gam Udawa and the UNP is not and was never a People’s Party. Further in his speech to the nation after his appointment he made his speech at the Dalada Maligawa in Kandyan Royalty style from the Paththirippuwa with his wife and family , something which even the Kandyan kings did not do. To say that Premadasa was the first “People’s President” is rubbish. I was waiting to see Mr. Sirisena speaking from the Paththirippuwa. Instead, he spoke from a lower stage erected below. I as a young graduate during the 1956 election. I “lived” that time and saw at close hand how the entire populace rallied round the SLFP. The masses thought that they were the rulers. Then, as well as now, I continue to support the UNP and its liberal policies. However, the UNP can never be a truly People’s Party like the SLFP. This party alone can produce a “People’s President”. What makes a person a “People’s President “ is not merely his humble beginnings but whether with such beginnings the majority of humble people consider him their choice.Mr. Sirisena is the first “People’s President “ in Sri Lanka. Kalansooriya says that at the last presidential election, it was proved that cut-outs and billboards could be counter-productive in electioneering campaigns citing veteran political commentator, M. S. M. Ayub. No such thing has been or can be proved. Cut-outs and billboards may win over only some voters but displaying as they do that a candidate is sure to be elected, they would make people believe that it was futile to vote for the opponent and results in many voters keeping away. Maithri could have got a bigger majority if MR had not used cut-outs and polythene. I am surprised that the writer does not understand what any child would understand, namely, the difference between cut-outs before the election which is a dishonest attempt to distort facts and win votes and cut-outs after the election which is purely celebratory and cause no harm to anyone – other than environmentalists.

    Katie Friday, 06 February 2015 09:36 AM

    Dear Dr RangaSuggest you have an interview with the President, because you will know what right questions to ask.


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