A voters’ dilemma

by Namini Wijedasa

(December 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Karu Jayasuriya waltzed back into Ranil Wickremesinghe’s arms last week, warbling, we think:
Mamma mia, here I go again
My, my, how can I resist you?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My, my, just how much I’ve missed you

And we believe Ranil Wickremesinghe was standing at the door with a bouquet of premium roses, imported (of course), to welcome him back. Oh, the tear-jerking, gut-wrenching, heartrending beauty of Sri Lankan politics...

First, the story was that all seventeen crossover MPs were planning to lope back to the UNP...though goodness only knows why. Then, the story was that only some of them will come, and that saner counsel had prevailed over the rest. (A quick look at Mangala Samaraweera convinced them that they had a much better deal where they were). Finally, only Karu went back, all by his lonesome self.

It is an enduring mystery why Sri Lankans bother to vote at parliamentary elections when they have no idea where their elected representatives will be one year from now. The public has two choices. Scrap general elections. Or change the format of the ballot paper to reflect the ground realities.

And what are those ground realities? For a starter, the man you vote for today will soon make an independent assessment of how his own interests are being served within a particular party—and will promptly change sides on the basis of that wholly partial evaluation.

Political future

While switching sides, he will probably say: “I am doing this in national interest, to defeat terrorism, to salvage the economy and to save the country from the gigantic meteor that’s heading this way”. He will never say: “Heck, I’m doing this to save my own political future, to make some money, to get a ministry or some other important position and to be president one day.”

Even after switching sides, there is no guarantee that your elected member will stay in his seat. Based on his own appraisal of prevailing circumstances—and how they impact on his career—he will change sides again and again and again. Meanwhile, whether or not he continues to make lame, face-saving speeches to explain his actions would depend on the number of switches he makes.

Experience has shown that some serial leapers, like Rauf Hakeem or Thondaman, no longer bother. Some of them quite likely cannot remember who they started out with and where they have ended up. We think that a few must get up in the morning and wonder while brushing their teeth: “Now, who am I with today?” Others probably read the papers to find out. Still more keep a foot in the opposition and one in government the whole year through. It’s a physically painful position but they pull it off somehow.


So, what to do with the ballot paper in the face of such frivolity among politicians? Surely, this is serious enough to merit the appointment of a parliamentary select committee. But that would take time.

For the moment, though, perhaps one could produce ballot papers with short summaries next to name of the candidates—detailing the name of the party they represent at the time of the election, a short history of where they have been and where they are likely to go and, if space permits, short extracts of their most recent cock-and-bull speeches.

No doubt this proposal will be rejected due to the costs involved. It would be almost as expensive as allocating ministerial portfolios to everyone in government. (And we’ve already done that.)

(The writer, senior Journalist based in Colombo, presently working with the Lakbima News, weekly news paper publish from Colombo, where this feature first appeared)
- Sri Lanka Guardian