This mode of electioneering suited neither my taste nor my principles. I thought it equally unsuitable to my personal character and to the station in which I am placed.
- John Quincy Adams
Now that the local government elections are on the cards, at long last the entire society is about to be exposed to the perilous elements of electioneering ,the way it is done in Sri Lanka. Despite the delight and relief that the right of the citizen to express his voice through ballet has been secured, one feels the need to brace oneself for the offensive, repugnant and foul election culture that ensues once an election is declared until a few days or even weeks after it has ended.
With the Elections Commission invigorated by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in regulating affairs related to elections and certainly talking tough, one may be justified in expecting some positives at this local government election. Yet the fact remains that the political culture, of which electioneering is just a manifestation in a concentrated and nude form, is more corrupt, violent and degraded than ever. In fact it militates against anything that is decent, moral or ethical about our society. Nothing short of a frontal attack on the norms of moral and just society. That is what election times and electioneering culture amounts to in reality.
A Mockery of Sovereignty
Upon reflection on the mode of governance that we have, i.e. a representative democracy where people decide who governs them, it is clear that the three arms of governance, namely the legislative, the executive and judicial wings, which are part of sovereignty vested in the people by the constitution. By voting, people exercise their sovereign power of governance, appointing their delegates who would exercise their sovereignty for them. The sacrosanctness of the vote and subsequently of elections emanates from this constitutionally entrenched right of the people for their sovereignty.
Going on that classical definition one would expect the entire exercise of casting that precious vote to be done in the most dignified, respectful and pristine manner; the candidates who aspire for it to be worthy of being delegated with that sovereignty. That may be the case in western democracies, friends. But it cuts an entirely different picture in our context.
A downward spiral
The election culture from 1977 onwards in particular has been deteriorating drastically and still is in a downward spiral; from tearing down opponents’ campaign posters to serious violations as those of grabbing ballot boxes and stuffing them with votes. Murder, assault, threats, arson, bribery occur regularly and sometimes on a mass scale. Images of thugs roaming around polling centres at the notorious Wayamba election during the Chandrika regime still haunts the public mind.
When the former Commissioner of Elections lamented in a strenuous tone that the tension (aathathiya) he felt was unbearable, he was not alluding to the administrative strain of conducting a nationwide poll; it was more of a deliberate pressure put on the premier officer dealing with elections by the incumbent rulers. Terms such as ‘computer jilmarts’ definitely do not inspire confidence in the whole process of elections and leave serious doubts in the mind of the public as to whether the end result is a sure reflection of the will of the people in appointing their delegates.
Leaving the malpractices and violations aside, the very culture and environment of electioneering is highly questionable and disturbing to the law abiding mind. Not only does it militate against the notion of the people electing their delegates to exercise their inalienable sovereignty, it raises its ugly head like a subterranean monster-reptile to bite the civilized and civic society; threatening, bribing, cheating and intimidating the citizenry. The faces that adorn the lamp posts and walls every inch of the way reek with corruption, black money, underworld connections and immorality, repulsive to the decent mind and offensive to all norms of moral and societal values.
Disillusionment of the Voter
Then again, can you expect an edible fruit from a venomous plant? Certainly not. How do you expect an election atmosphere, which is merely an extension of a political culture that is foul, nauseating and reeking, to be turned into one which is pristine and dignified? It is replete with law-breaking, rights violations, intimidation, character assassination, etc; but what else is to be expected from criminals, thugs, black money businessmen, cattle thieves, womanizers and dealers of murky origins? No amount of regulations, directives, media guidelines, oaths or any cosmetic flourishes of the hand would improve the whole process of electioneering in this country until the politicians who aspire for our vote at these polls are worthy of being reposed with the sovereignty that is ours.
The citizen who went to the polls on January 8, 2015 did so not just to replace an incumbent President with a challenger and see a noticeable change nor were they interested in the victory of a single party. They wanted a paradigm shift in the manner that politics was done in this country; their sovereignty reposed in delegates who were accountable to them on that account; a dignified, solemn and pristine exercise of their power by those who were elected by their vote. Yet three years later they are startled, shocked, dumbstruck by the faces that appear on the walls asking their mandate; the types of faces that they thought would never be seen on election campaigns after January 8 and the August 2015 elections which they thought would usher in a new politicial culture, elections included.
With these individuals roaming the streets, threatening, bribing, insulting the populace, representing all the retrogressive, repulsive and anti democratic strands that lie underneath civilisation, be warned for an assault on your sense of perception. They do not merely aspire for your mandate to represent you at the sub tiers of governance -- at municipal, urban council and pradesheeya sabha level; they demand it from you, try to steal it, grab it by force and bribe you for it. If some of them are not rogues and scoundrels themselves, then they are surrounded, flanked, backed and financed by them tantamount to the same.
No government, in the current scenario, be it termed good or bad, is going to resist the temptation of being aided by filthy money, rowdy manpower and foul tactics in reaching their goal of consolidating their power at the grassroots level of governance and taking the psychological advantage of going for national polls in 2020. Those who are outside the ruling coalition, barring the JVP, is no cause for confidence either; the pantheon of faces tells the story.
I know the pang of pain that chills the civilized, law abiding citizen when he sees what direction the local government election is taking with the campaigning heating up; having to yield our homes, streets and squares to these zombie armies of muck in the coming days as they carry on merrily and shamelessly of cheating the citizen out of his sovereignty by hook or by crook.
It is election time folks. It is an invasion by the unclean hordes of our homes, villages and towns.
It is a frontal attack on all that is civilized, moral and ethical by sub humans.
But remember my friends, you still have the antidote in your pocket; Do not surrender it unwisely.