You may want the election independently of the Independent Commission | Sunday Observer

You may want the election independently of the Independent Commission

There is a tide in the affairs of men, in which statecraft becomes nothing but an ongoing epic pantomime. Pardon me if I sort of mixed a few metaphors in there, but such ongoing pantomime becomes manifest in some countries in a pronounced way at certain given times. It’s that silly-season in the UK now with prime ministerial adviser Dominic Cummings saying that he went for a 30 mile spin in his car during the Covid-19 lockdown, to test his eyesight. That’s just one comedic highlight from Boris Johnson’s newly incredible UK.

Speaking of which, 2015 to 2019 was ongoing pantomime season in this country. Remember Ministers having a raucous belly laugh when questioned about matters related to the Easter Sunday bombings?

Remember Mangala Samaraweera and Eran Wickramaratne going bonkers sharing girlish giggles as they held signboards with some ‘fuel price formula’ gibberish? Remember the ex-President providing jokes at an alarming daily rate, and almost being outdone in that department by the ex-Prime Minister?

The only reason people watched television news then, was that they didn’t want to miss out on the next episode of Parliament jokes and other slapstick specials, such as portly Ministers doing aerobic exercises opposite Independence Square, as if they were sexed-up schoolgirl cheerleaders excited about their latest brand of figure-hugging leotards.

That was pure pantomime era, with the country going down the tubes, and people not knowing exactly whether to laugh or to cry when the newscast ends.

People are relieved it’s all over — especially the comedic part of it — because there is so much douchebag hilarity anyone can take in a lifetime.

All well and good, except that the Sri Lanka Elections Commission did not get the memo.

Everybody else has departed that era, but the Elections Commission has become the National Authority for providing assorted clown shows and other comedic entertainment.

Here is a targeted message: “Mr. Deshapriya, take it from us, that era is over.” The Commissioner seems to be busy doing everything but preparing the country for elections, which is the one job he was appointed to do. Then there is Mr. Hoole whose comedic and thespian range must indeed be seen to be believed.

Hoole is the personification of the 19th Amendment nightmare. Together, Hoole and Deshapriya have become the subject of the seven o’clock news and the news analysis that follows. The sheer numbers of TV appearances and other media engagements they have in a week make them latter-day television-personalities providing cheap nightly entertainment. Public servants they are not.

Supreme Court

One looks in vain for any sign that these TV people have an iota of awareness that they are entrusted with the onerous task of conducting national elections.

But their day is on the telly, so they can’t help it. Planning for elections is at best a side gig they indulge in the spare hours.

On top of that Hoole is a pundit on anything and everything he surveys. He is ready with his opinions at the drop of a hat on any issue from ethnic politics to the state of the nation.

Small wonder he was referred to as ‘my countryman’ by M A Sumanthiran, the ex TNA MP when the latter made submissions in the recent Election Proclamation case before the Supreme Court. Can we take it that the Commissioner Deshapriya and the other member of the Commission Mr. Nalin Abeysekera are not Sumanthiran’s countrymen?

If anybody wants to know Hoole’s position on anything to do with any election, they only need to ask Sumanthiran or read reports of TNA briefings. Hoole is run by the TNA, period.

Hoole as Elections Commissioner, cannot shoot his mouth off and expect the people to accept that he is an independent Elections Commissioner, especially when he is caught very clearly on tape saying that the people should not vote for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the governing party.

Hoole and Deshapriya, seem in no way interested in putting their heads down and preparing for polls. Deshapriya is a great fan of elections, as long as he is on national television.

At the time of writing, the Commission is yet to announce a new date for polls, even though the Court order on holding the elections was given more than a week ago.

By the time you read this, a date may have been announced, but that’s no guarantee for elections, with Hoole and Deshapriya heading up the Commission.

Deshapriya doesn’t seem to be aware that people don’t want a ball by ball commentary on how he is organising the elections process. People want the elections, not an election narrative. People are not psephologists or other subject-specialists who have an abiding interest in the minutiae of how elections are planned and organised. 

So they don’t need Deshapriya to appear every evening on national television expounding on how mock-elections were held, or on how the Elections Commission operates.

Public service

Granted that in the current circumstances some TV News Editors and other newsroom planners may think he’s a good subject for TV chat shows, but that doesn’t mean that Deshapriya should haul himself into a television studio each time some headline hungry interviewer thinks he’s good material for a fireside chat.

Deshapriya can claim that he is keeping the masses informed and that it’s part of his job. He must be aware that other government institutional heads have paid press officers to do that job.

That’s because they have real work to do in their institutions that makes it imperative they delegate the media work to somebody who knows the job and can put across the message effectively to the people through mass media.

But Hoole and Deshapriya have chosen to run a kopi kade of their own. They are the Public Service version of Janai Priyayi. Except that people generally laugh at them and not with them as they do with the irrepressible J and P.

At the least, Jayampathy Wickremeratne must be happy. He was one of the chief comedic actors in the former government’s pantomime of five years. Here is one example of one of Jayampathy’s exquisite comedic tilts:

He got his laugh lines scripted into the Constitution no less, in the 19th Amendment. The relevant Clause regarding the quorum for the Elections Commission to convene a meeting, states the quorum has to be three. The Commission has three members, so it figures that all three must be present.

However, the very next Clause says that if the Chairman of the Commission is not present at any given meeting, the others who are present could choose one among them to Chair the meeting.

Landmark

From one Clause to another, the harum-scarum draftsman swallowed the quorum! Or did he? That’s the 19th Amendment for you. You read it at your peril, because you may die laughing. So it’s fitting that the two media stars in the Elections Commission owe their positions to this Amendment.

These things don’t appear to be real — a Constitutional Amendment that’s a national joke and a national disaster could only be a product of a surreal period of divine comedy. It’s in a way a fitting continuum, this fact that the Commission created by the 19th Amendment is peopled by two TV talking-heads whose election planning is a side gig at best.

If Hoole is independent, a prostitute must be a virgin, but that may be lost on him because he uses the word ‘sex worker’?

Commissioner Deshapriya is Mr. Hoole’s enabler, but by regularly denying that fact, he thinks he can play everybody for a fool. 

Of course, you may be right that progress is being made towards the elections, and all is not lost. Candidate numbers have been allocated, and by the time you read this, a new date for the polls may have been announced.

If these developments appear to be landmark strides towards elections, it’s because they happened in spite of Hoole and Deshapriya, and not because of them. Left to themselves, they may have blabbered all day before TV cameras and asked us the people, ‘Qui, moi?’. But the Supreme Court was firm, public opinion was severe, and the duo was finally compelled to imbibe a small dose of on-the-job reality.

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