The political developments in the run-up to the presidential polls on January 8 is getting ever more interesting every moment. Talks of crossovers from the government to the common opposition front and vice versa is speculated at offices, bus halts, tea boutiques, Colombo 07 coffee shops and so on. But is the hype just limited to urban areas? Are the people in the villages, where the majority of voters are, content with the status quo? The common opposition led by Maithripala Sirisena promises sweeping constitutional changes and many other suggestions that are vital for a vibrant democracy. They talk of abolishing the executive presidency, setting up independent commissions, making the judiciary free from executive influence, championing the rule of law, media freedom and a lot more extremely progressive measures. But how much of that would matter to the majority of the voters in the country who are in the villages?
It is quite likely that the common opposition is talking a language that the person in the village who has very basic needs wouldn’t comprehend. For him or her what matters is security, fertiliser at an affordable price, good schools for his children, roads to take his produce to the market, healthcare facilities, etc. To its credit, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has specifically identified these needs and has catered to them. They have ended the civil conflict, built extensive road networks, hospitals, laboratories for schools, and the farmers are getting certified prices for some of their produce. Therefore it is assumed that the average villager in Sri Lanka is currently living a happy life with less complaints.
On the other hand, the middle class doesn’t seem to be happy with what is currently going on. While enjoying a war-free country with better roads and walking paths, they have begun to complain. The educated middle class seems to be the main force behind the common opposition. They say that they need a change in the system. They talk about good governance, rule or law and proper checks and balances to ensure democracy.
Some say these two extremes show a clear polarisation of Sri Lankan society. But how realistic is this assumption? Many, probably a majority in the Government, would say this is the current state of affairs and therefore they have no worries about winning the impending election. But how safe is it for them to think like that?
This assumption is increasingly becoming non-relevant. There is enough evidence to suggest that the rural voters shouldn’t be underestimated. They may have behaved like that earlier, before the end of the war, at a time when security and other basic aspects of life had been challenged. But now they have emerged from that. They are aware of what is happening in the centre through various sources. Specially social media has played a major role in this. It would be a total miscalculation to think that they would be satisfied with the roads and other infrastructure development. It would have been adequate during the pre-war era.
But certainly not now. They want an equitable society where law and order is respected. They want a corruption-free country and an independent judiciary where they can get redress for their grievances.
If the Rajapaksa Government is banking on the rural vote this time also, like it did at previous elections, it would be making its biggest miscalculation because the Sri Lankan voter has grown up.