All politicians respect and fear the collective voice of the people | Sunday Observer

All politicians respect and fear the collective voice of the people

The importance of exercising your democratic right to vote :
A viable third party candidate has failed to emerge despite early  attempts to form a united third front offering an alternative to the  nominees from the two main parties.
A viable third party candidate has failed to emerge despite early attempts to form a united third front offering an alternative to the nominees from the two main parties.

On November 16, 2019, our country goes to the polls to elect a new President. Now, this is a statement of the obvious, since if you don’t already know that, you are living in a cave and this article will not reach you.

So, why do I knowingly state the obvious? I think it is important to examine this upcoming election at a deeper level. For the past 41 years, Sri Lankans have gone to the poll seven times to elect an executive president and twice (President No. 1 and 3) were elevated from the office of Prime Minister to President.

All in all, we have had a total of six Executive Presidents and are about to elect our seventh.

Despite this line of Presidents with executive powers and parliaments with governments having an absolute majority or even 2/3 majority at times, our country lags behind many countries in Asia and the world, in the areas of technology, manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and per capita income, which reflects the general standard of living.

To call us a ‘middle income country’ (which is a moniker that we have received not too long ago, from the World Bank and IMF) is a virtual, economic sleight of hand. Out in the rural country side, thousands of farming families and in thousands of working, class urban homes, people live barely above the accepted poverty line.

These people form the majority of our populace of 22 million and they cut across ethnic lines and are distributed across this island.

This cold hard fact gives the lie to the statement ‘Sri Lanka is a middle income country’ and it is useful mainly to the politicians of various hue from the two main parties and now a third, who like to claim credit for this middle income ‘miracle’ or to international lending agencies that have a justification framework for diverting aid elsewhere and for restructuring loans at more commercial rates of interest and pay back schedules.

In the past 10 years we as a nation have borrowed enormous sums of money from China.

These have been borrowed at commercial interest rates and they are all payable in the next 20-30 years.

I am not an economist so I will refrain from saying anything about the alarming repercussions of being unable to service these debts or defaulting on payments and the consequence of that. Some of these consequences, the nation has already faced and there is a knock on effect on every Sri Lankan alive.

This Presidential election is important because the current field of Presidential candidates (although numbering in double digits) has only two clear contenders who have enough support across the country to attract the required 50% + 1 vote that will get them across the line into the President’s chair.

They also contrast in age, style, political exposure and temperament. It is important to vote because in abstaining from voting, the President who is elected (and the incipient government that will start forming long before the general elections in less than six months) will be of other peoples’ choosing.

If some voters are willing to forego the all powerful vote and passively allow others to choose a President and allow him in turn to choose the composition of a new parliament, they are also allowing other citizens to choose the future course of their country, perhaps their lives, and are willing to be along for the ride.

A viable third party candidate has failed to emerge despite early attempts to form a united third front offering an alternative to the nominees from the two main parties. There is no viable third force, and many in the field will end up as ‘also rans’. Every vote counts, especially when it comes to close fought elections.

The power of the ballot, the collective voice of the people is what all politicians respect and fear. At an election we hand that power, over to them, and only in a democratic system (where one man or woman casts one vote) does change occur peacefully that is representative of the majority of the voting populace.

We have got to learn that voting along cast, ethnic and party lines and failing to see individuals and agendas clearly, have yielded results that have generated poverty and insurrections and allowed insincere politicians to manipulate the electorate leading to disenchantment and apathy among voters.

It is important to look to the future but we cannot vote in the present without looking at the past, especially the track records of candidates. Actions of both omission and commission should be factored into our decision making process. In this country, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the democratic (albeit flawed) world, politicians have protected their own narrow self interests and have personally enriched themselves, cashing in on the gratitude and trust placed in them.

This has come at great cost to the growth, progress and distribution of both wealth and resources across the nation. It is important to see fraudulent election platform promises for what they are. It’s important to realize that empowering the wrong candidate can lead to arrogation and abuse of power, brutal crackdowns of democratic dissent and an erosion of democratic rights, all in the name of securing the nation from the enemy within and without.

After the massive breach of national security that occurred in April this year allowing the Easter Sunday bombers to create mayhem islandwide in the space of half an hour, our collective consciousness is particularly vulnerable to the promise of protection.

I would beware of saber rattling xenophobia, ethnic baiting and those that wrap themselves in the National flag and question the patriotism of those that do not agree with them.

Intolerance, division, suspicion and fanaticism will not build a nation that any right thinking person can be proud of. Seventy one years after independence, our multi ethnic, multi cultural and multi religious nation struggles to forge an inclusive Sri Lankan identity.

Sinhala majoritarianism is being cranked to fever pitch at times but one would think that that frayed old card, is now a desperate gamble that does not have mass appeal.

My request to you, to go out and vote after weighing all considerations is to those who are undecided but want to have a better future in this wonderful incomparable island that has always had enormous unrealised potential, due to its human and natural resources.

It’s good to be aware that our enviable strategic location, astride trade routes, connecting east and west makes the island the subject of interest of 3 perhaps 4 great powers. Many people will vote, along party lines and for their favourite candidate based purely on short term self interests or blind loyalty. Politicians who use catchy slogans and run slick campaigns are also able to convince voters with froth in place of substance. These voters, driven by their parochial tendencies have empowered politicians who have kept us, as a nation, clannish, backward and insecure ever since independence from Britain in 1948.

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