Sunday, February 7, 2010

2010 President Election in Sri Lanka Clash of Cultures

The sixth Sri Lankan presidential election gained prominence as a uniquely significant election not because it was held in an atmosphere of political and socioeconomic turbulence but due to the distinct political factors which the two main contenders generated into that atmosphere. The characteristics of the various political parties which supported the two principal contestants factored unprecedented new dynamics into the campaign trail.
Of the 22 presidential candidates, Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka brought to the race two facets which were distinctive. Rajapaksa had been the commander in chief and Fonseka had been the army chief, who led a decisive battle that ultimately inflicted a military defeat on the 30-year menace of terrorism. Both of them exploited the war victory as the underpinning to their individual campaign issues as they vied for the crown of the nation. It is well chronicled that both played pivotal roles in this crucial military victory and were perceived by the public as being equally entitled to their share in that victory.

Clash of Culture
In fact, the political disparities between these two placed them world apart from each other. Rajapaksa is a much bruised veteran in politics who counts a formidable four decades of political expertise to his credit. Fonseka entered into the ABC stage of politics with his entry into the presidential race. He inevitably portrayed the fact that he was a political dilettante who had got stuck in its sub-culture while he was clearly the personification of a general of an impeccably combative disposition on the political stage in the garb of a socialist. His political amateurism was clearly evident in his lack of a grasp of the ramifications of his carelessly expressed statements and promises on the campaign trail.
From social institutions and communities such as the armed forces, police, prisons, slums, domestic units etc emanate distinctive sub-culture facets born of their uniquely individual natures. Rajapaksa's personality had its aura that's consonant with the traditions of greatness in politics. He claims the right to being molded in that tradition of greatness by dint of having fought his way up from village lad to suave elder statesman.
When Sarath Fonseka entered the presidential tussle his public personality was one that was consonant with one coming from a sub-culture with the temerity to challenge, even control and assume the bearing of one hailing from the culture of the great political traditions. This was a dismal try and his maverick stature was underscored by wild, unrealistic promises, and statements which smacked of a political ignoramus. So were his mundane speeches and lack-luster responses to attacks on his character. He then appeared to be mimicking his principal opponent and tried to project a people-friendly personality by waving enthusiastically from platforms at the people while simultaneously trying to cast himself in the role of a "father" with a great show of hugging and expressing affection to children. These were conscious attempts to break loose from the shackles of the ways and mannerisms associated with a sub-culture and to project himself as a product acceptable in higher social strata.
If Fonseka had a serious desire to win the Presidential Election, he knew he had to become acceptable at higher, more genteel, social levels. But then, the time was too short for him to achieve a total metamorphosis that in normal circumstances would take several years to come into fruition. The fact that he was running in harness with the (JVP), a group with a cultish non-elitist sub-culture personality, only served to impede his efforts at personality transformation.
Reports of the Presidential Committee affirmed that most of the members of the JVP are from the non-elitist rungs of society. It had been ascertained that they are predominantly representative of the less privileged rungs of society. This has been further established by other studies into the JVP. The JVP which is comprised of a membership that identifies with one of the no-elitist sub-cultures that stands juxtaposed against what is termed in politics as "the great tradition", is a group that often holds forth on the need to cause a change in the "great culture" associated with politics.
Someone could argue that Ranil Wickremasinghe and Mangala Samaraweera represent the cultured classes.
Ranil Wickremasighe, who favors a family-oriented life style and who hails from the higher rungs of the social milieu, thinks that children should be given an upbringing based on a European lifestyle with English as their mother tongue. He is identified as a person, who failed to appreciate the needs of the rural masses which identify with the nationalistic culture deemed by them to be the "great culture". It could be argued that Samaraweera comes from an altogether different sub-culture.
In a nutshell, the just concluded contest was a clash between a chief of the "great culture" representative of the greater body of citizens and an assortment of men representing other sub-cultures. Ultimately, the "great culture" won magnificently while the sub cultures were made to eat the dust.

Fanciful Thinking
Strangely, the underpinning of Sarath Fonseka's campaign strategy was an amalgam of sub-cultures which were backing him. The JVP employed a formidable strategy of terrorizing the public in their campaign during the period of terror in 88/89 when they distributed leaflets warning people with repercussion if they failed to obey JVP orders. This time around they intimidated people by propagating the falsehood that suicide killers were at General Fonseka's disposal. They also circulated a rumor that 80 percent of the armed forces and of the police were supporting the general. Subsequently, they portrayed Sarath Fonseka as the only savior and a private television channel was an accomplice in this campaign.
In the meantime, they also spread a rumor that the contest was even. Then came a campaign vilifying President Rajapaksa. As a result of these rumors, many started to believe that the government would be toppled well before the election. By all these ruses, they tried to drive the nation toward a "Visvasaneeya Venasak" (A Believable Change) syndrome which was the election slogan of the Fonseka camp. But they failed to explain how this so-called change would be achieved or to explain where it would begin or in which direction the change would take the country.
Those leaders have demonstrated that they have ever been reaching for ethereal changes, on earlier occasions as well. The JVP wrecked the networks of essential services of this country such as the electricity and transportation and they tried to stop people from going to work and they ultimately ordered the soldiers to withdraw from duty, thus disrupting the peace and jeopardizing national security in the process.
They did all that with the expectation of grabbing control. They tried the same ploy in this election as well and in fact they seemed to be full of hope that they would win this time. This fanciful thinking has been a common characteristic of men representing lower level sub-cultures.
People are by and large destined to live by the many facets of the sub-cultures they come from. For instance in the sub-culture of homosexuality, they insist that their same gender mating should be legitimized. Some US states have been compelled to approve this abnormal coupling. All this underscores the fact that this "believable change" is nothing more than making the unnatural appear to be natural.
Various individuals and community groups were subjected to analyses with regard to the Presidential Election. It was a group led by me that conducted the first analysis of this nature. It was conducted in the nine electorates in the Kegalle district during the last week of October and the first week of November 2009. These electorates represented a rural populace which presents itself as an appropriate subject for a case study that can be adapted to determine how the "great nationalist culture" is being perceived by populations in other regions in the country.
Within a fortnight of launching the study we discovered that 93 percent of the people, irrespective of their political affiliations, believed that Mahinda Rajapaksa would win this election. Moreover, 82 percent thought that he had been accepted as the most popular political leader in the country. The study further showed that he had over 62 percent of the rural votes. Some refused to accept this, but the election results have confirmed them to be accurate. Mahinda Rajapaksa got 61.8 percent votes in the Kegalle District and it was matched by results in other districts and electorates where the rural representation was predominant.
In the end, Mahinda Rajapaksa secured 57.88 percent of the votes of the nation and won the election. No other study presented such an accurate forecast. It should be mentioned that all the other studies conducted by us are equally reliable and accurate as well. The result of this study was presented in the Social Studies Society and the report can be obtained from its secretary or directly from me. We hope to host this report on the web as well.
The result of this study was published by most media institutions but the Lake House and the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation made some baseless remarks about it. Their remarks proved that they rejected the ethics of present the findings of scientific research and the principles controlling such research. They should only stick to publishing facts that have been given to them through analysis. Besides that, the Rupavahini Corporation violated its own ethics as well. They had procured information from another source instead of consulting me because I was exclusively responsible for this study.
Consequently, this election earned notoriety as a political contest that raised serious questions about media ethics. Though the two main political streams are responsible for this situation to a great extent, it is the heads of the media institutions that should be held responsible for this situation. Most people wanted to brag that "we gave superb publicity" and become the darling of their respective presidential candidates.

Decisive Factors
As identified by our analysis, three factors became decisive in this election. They are the war, cost-of-living and infrastructure development. The two main candidates tried to arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to have been the architect of that victory. Both pledged to increase state sector wages and bring down the cost-of-living. Evidently, the majority of government servants refused to believe Fonseka's bag of dreams.
Moreover, people have rejected Fonseka's fabrication that Mahinda Rajapaksa had not done carried out any infrastructure development at all. A considerable number of United National Party supporters rejected the JVP and a majority of the JVP members too have returned the favor by not endorsing the unholy alliance. Their views also prove that they also have rejected the allegations of Anura Kumara Dissanayaka who acted as the media spokesman for Sarath Fonseka. Ultimately, they have themselves proved that matchless marriages inevitably end up in divorce.

Champion of Great Culture
If the United National Party wants to cast itself in the persona of a defender of the "Great nationalist culture" concept, it should get itself a leader who truly represents that tradition. The challenge before Mahinda Rajapaksa is not that of contending with any other champion of the "great culture". The real challenges he has are formidable ones. It should be noted that this victory essentially is a victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa and not of the government. Generally, people intensely dislike most of his MPs and ministers. People dislike the way the ministers are being pampered. What the people need are ministers who will make sacrifices on behalf of their welfare and for the country. The forthcoming parliamentary election will give them an opportunity to elect such representatives.
It is the sole responsibility of Mahinda Rajapaksa to remove all persons from the political mainstream who are corrupt, favor thuggery and who desert their constituents. Unless he does this with integrity, he will never get a parliament, with the majority of his own, that he can effectively maneuver.
If he fails in this, his "War on the Development Front" will merely remain a slogan on the drawing boards. The country needs political leaders who will identify the needs and issues of the people for redress. The "Mahinda Chinthanaya" cannot be implemented with a bunch of ministers who forget the people after an election and who are not sighted after elections are over unless the people begin displaying 'WANTED' posters saying 'Have you seen this person?' as the people of the Uva Province once did.

War on Development Front
In this election, Mahinda Rajapaksa banked heavily on the intellectuals and the artistes of this country and their support is indispensable for the success of the proclaimed "War on the Development Front". In addition to this, they will need to identify for redress all the grievances of the Muslim and Tamil communities along with the issues of people living in the towns. These are the fundamental challenges a Mahinda Rajapaksa administration will be confronted with.
Solving such problems at electorate level is vitally important. Agreeing on a solution to the scramble for preferential votes will also be of special significance at the next election.

1 comment:

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