Wijith DeChickera reminds the polity that elections are to endorse people power – not ensure political survival – on the cusp of historic local government elections

I am penning this piece on Boxing Day. One can’t forget that it also marks the 13th year since the devastating tsunami swept away some 40,000 lives and damaged extensive swathes of Sri Lanka’s coastline. That cataclysm brought with it chaos but also the attendant opportunity for nation building through cooperation and consensual politics.

However, the rigours of a raging war and the stubborn refusal of partisan politics to heed Mother Nature’s call to lay down arms ensured that things returned to the normal state of things: conflict and cross-purposes. So it seems appropriate to remember opportunities lost – although the ravages of nature are often soothed by the panacea of time… and we limp on, half the whole people we could or should be.

Be the natural order as it may, the political order is another kettle of fish. As the nation gears up for local government (LG) elections, it is evident that lessons of the past have not been learned at all well. One glance at the nomination lists is sufficient to prove the point that aspirants to office expect people to be able, ready and willing to be gulled – again and again.

Such is the hall of fame (or infamy) that some candidates appear proud of their provenance as less than salutary citizens. There is a grim irony in the blasé attitude of their respective parties whose leaders endorse nominees as extensions of the political ethos at national level.

Since political leaders who once aspired to the mantle of statesmanship have been quite public about their disrespect for electoral sensitivities, it behoves civil society to nudge them in the direction of remembrance. A senior statesman (we use the term sadly) – who has managed to unite his party despite a lack of national integrity expected of a ruling faction – has blatantly expressed confidence in the short memories of voters when it comes to recent exposés.

That his opposite number at the head of a rival party is equally reliant on the forgetfulness and forgiveness of his electorate as regards promises made to be a one-term president is cold comfort. The suspicion that history will remember oath breakers better than keepers of political promises does not augur well for the brief tableau that was good governance – a candle in the wind…

THINGS PAST Not that we hanker for a return to the ‘efficient excesses’ of a previous dispensation. But for the laurels of returning the land to a modicum of normalcy under the guise of a police state, the former regime may have no accomplishment that is unique in its own right. And the present government has proven that the high moral ground and stalwart principles are no safeguard against the infringement of probity by human nature.

One look at the so perceived sellouts by the incumbent administration proves the new political order a convenient fiction. The best still lack all conviction.

THINGS PRESENT The most extensive – and the most expensive – election that the country has staged will be the crucible in which future prospects are forged. In a milieu where there are no permanent enemies or expedient partners, it is clear that civil society much less the larger citizenry can count on political players to position the national interest above other individual or partisan contentions.

Thus, the imperative that the all-powerful voter whose omphalos is literally his stomach must be educated on matters of the heart and mind as well…

Is corruption still acceptable for a country in our phase of growth? How does crooked politics compromise the development of a national identity? What deprecations can criminal activity with impunity carried out by political parties in power have on our short to medium-term progress from middle income status to emerging as an economically viable nation?

FUTURE PROSPECTS We still live in a politically immature milieu where sentiment rules over principle.

Even in remembering, our biases are loaded heavily in favour of a majoritarian ethic. The tsunami anniversary with its focus on traditional religious ceremonies to mark the day betray our ethnic bent in things that might be better served as a national dish.

Despite some progressive appointments of late, which break the mould of communally oriented power politics, the backlash of chauvinist ire that most political innovators fear holds true liberation at bay. Rather than play to the gallery to ensure a party’s or person’s political survival, the time has come for that sense of civic pride in our nation’s potential to trump the joker of power politics where elections underline the importance of politicians above people.

So however much the usual suspects dominate at the LG polls, the growing social unrest is a symptom of civilian dissatisfaction with the way things are. Therefore, we must remember past tragedies in order to preempt future disasters.

For now, nature is at rest… it is the unnatural order of political machinations that stirs restlessly – and which must cease soon for the independence of our peace-loving people to hold sway once more.