Why elect rejected people? by Muhammed Ayub

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Interestingly, people are wary of newcomers and continue to vote for known parties at elections; despite not being happy at the manner in which they have governed this country 

Some three weeks ago President Gotabaya Rajapaksa put a very valid question to the people summarising the whole history since Independence. Being appropriate to the occasion, the President while speaking at an event to mark the World Science Day, at Temple Trees, on November 10 why the people re-elect the politicians they had rejected before for failure to live up to their expectations. And he urged them to reject such elements once and for all, and elect a new set of representatives. 

Though one might feel it to be belated, it is worth discussing the very vital point the head of the State put to his subjects. First of all, this is not a new idea or a question as many leftist parties were raising this issue at least since 1960s. They called the people’s habit of alternately electing the same two corrupt and discredited political groups that had proven their ineptitude in resolving issues faced by the people “Thattumaru Kramaya.” 

Despite the remarks made by the President possibly being a gem of a statement since one cannot expect such words coming from Sri Lankan politicians who know that they would boomerang, it is doubtful if it was really a moment of self-realisation or he spoke from his heart. It must just be a flash of thought uttered without much thought, just pondering over only the actions of the last government. However, had the people followed his advice exactly two years ago, he himself would not be in the saddle to give such an invaluable advice.

In fact, it is astounding to note that the people in this country have elected at every election, since the Independence, those whom they rejected some five or six years ago, interestingly with renewed hopes of having a better future for their children. It was during the first United National Party (UNP) administration that the famous “Hartal” or a general strike by the workers and agitations by the people of the rural areas in the south took place in August 1953. This followed a steep rise in essential items, including rice, the price of which tripled. And the situation was so tense that the Cabinet had to meet in a ship in the Colombo harbour. Had the leftist leaders who spearheaded the urban and rural agitations been prepared, they could even have captured power. 

However, the first UNP administration under three Prime Ministers was voted out at the Parliamentary elections in 1956 and a coalition led by the newly founded Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was elected to power. A chaotic period followed with strikes in a particular year having outnumbered the days of that year. An unprecedented ethnic violence spread across the country claiming hundreds of lives, especially in the North Central Province and the Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was also assassinated in 1959 over a different issue. 

Despite the sympathy wave towards the late Premier Bandaranaike people again voted in the UNP in March 1960, until they defeated the same party in July in the same year and as the President said handed over the reins to the SLFP. That too was not a government with smooth sailing. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had to appoint five finance ministers for the five years she ruled the country and had dissolve parliament after the throne speech was defeated in Parliament. 

“First of all, this is not a new idea or a question as many leftist  parties were raising this issue at least since 1960s. They called the  people’s habit of alternately electing the same two corrupt and  discredited political groups that had proven their ineptitude in  resolving issues faced by the people “Thattumaru Kramaya.”

In spite of the people having tested the credentials of the SLFP led by Bandaranaikes (husband and wife) twice it was again elected to power in 1970 with two thirds of majority, apparently due to the cancellation of the two measures of rice supplied at a concessionary price. However, it became a torturous administration in terms of supply of essential items where people had to wait in long queues for hours for rice, sugar, bread, flour, chilly, dhal etc. The food scarcity was such that there was a short period when every individual was given half pound of Atta flour for a week through co-operative society outlets. Carrying rice and chillies across districts was banned. Serving rice in hotels was banned on Fridays and Tuesdays.   

This paved the way for the UNP which had proven twice (except for their ill-fated three months old rule) its ineptitude in governance to come to power with an unprecedented five sixths of majority in Parliament. It was a rogue government under Presidents J.R.Jayewardene and R.Premadasa during which the country saw mass-scale corruption, absence of rule of law, mass-scale killings by the law enforcement authorities and State sponsored vigilante groups. It was the period when a state sponsored brutal pogrom was unleashed against the Tamils which in turn made the Tamil community an easy breeding ground for the then small separatist Tamil armed groups. 
One cannot but surprise to see the political literacy of the people when they reelected the coalitions led by same SLFP and the UNP in 1994 and 2015. The current ruling party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are not new political parties in practical sense. They are the avatars of the SLFP and the UNP despite the signboard of the two parties are held by other leaders. Thus the President or Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot absolve themselves from the responsibilities for the highhanded actions and corruption committed by the leaders of the SLFP led coalition (UPFA) government between 2005 and 2014. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was a very powerful figure in that government.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government became unpopular within four years since its huge election victories in 2010 which they achieved following a historic victory in a three-decade long war against the LTTE. The current government seems to have outdone it within a shorter period. Even the members of the Rajapaksa family, such as the State Minister Sashindra Rajapaksa are predicting the defeat of the government at the next election. Yet, pathetically, it is the SJB, the reincarnation of the UNP that is practically waiting to go up in the seesaw when the sun sets on the SLPP regime.  

The President’s call for the masses to find a new set of representatives is naturally an indication of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), though he might never have thought even in a dream to do so. The former rebels seem to have proven their honesty through dedication and the sacrifices in their political actions as well as lifestyles. Their analyses of the political and economic situations seem sound and realistic. Only issue that is haunting them is their race in cruelty with both the SLFP and UNP governments during their insurrections in 1971 and 1988/89. Yet, the question has to be raised as to how long such a political party has to be given to be reformed. It was a war situation and both the ruling parties at the time too showed even more ruthlessness introducing novel methods of cruelty such as the famous “tyre pyres” and torture chambers.  

Interestingly, people are wary of new comers though they seem to be acceptable while preferring the “known devils” and also to be on the winning side, no matter devils ruling the roost. They are not prepared even to test the newcomers but prefer to repose their false hopes on those who have hoodwinked them several times. It is strange. 

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Disclaimer: Why elect rejected people? by Muhammed Ayub - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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