When I walk through the streets of Colombo, I see posters that constantly remind me that an election is around the corner. If you look a little more carefully you realise that there are two types of posters although they are both of moustachioed men. One is grinning from ear to ear and the other in a grim salute-maybe they both know what is in store for them.
But, excuse me, I am confused.
I say so because I am told that the 'United People's Freedom Alliance' is contesting the 'United National Alliance'. Gosh, we must be a pretty united and allied country. If so, what is all this bickering about?
Aren't they bickering about the General's security, the partiality of the state media and about who really betrayed the country? Soon, they will be bickering about who has the better moustache too.
What annoys me is that the UNP is doing most of this bickering. In my opinion, for a party which has not got its act together for the past fifteen years, the UNP never had it so good.
Still confused? There is a simple way to explain this, even to someone with the intellectual abilities of a Johnston Fernando, who until a few months ago was 'Johnston Who?' to most of us.
To begin with, find yourself a group photograph of the cabinet of ministers. Then, if you can remember who was in which party originally, count the number of UNP ministers in the cabinet. Recalling that will take some doing, even for someone with the genuine intellectual capabilities of a Lakshman Kadirgamar. And remember, you can't go by the colour of the saatakaya in the photograph either.
But if you really sit down and do it, you will find that the cabinet has seventeen ministers who were once with the UNP -- and this is supposed to be an SLFP-led government! And just for the record, there are only twenty five SLFP ministers. Ah, I would be complaining if I were an SLFPer!
And it could have been even better for the UNP. Why, they could have had nineteen ministers, if Karu had not returned leaving his son-in-law with the government as an insurance policy -- little wonder that he was appointed the Minister of 'Home' affairs -- and if SB had been in Parliament.
Of course, had SB been there, he would have been the first choice as the Minister of Sports instead of the morose looking Lokuge because he specialises in the long jump, the high jump and the triple jump and also because of his intricate knowledge of the Olympics.
So, how is all this possible? Some would say it is because of JR's PR even if it leads to a lot of FR applications. That is partly true. But what has really happened is that democracy in this country has evolved into something a little different from what Lincoln originally had in mind: government of some people, by some people for some people.
And who are these 'some' people? The list is long: the Moragodas, Amunugamas, Peirises, Bogollagamas, Rajithas, Samarasinghes, Hemakumaras et al -- and we shouldn't waste space mentioning all the others, should we?
The modus operandi is simple. The method was originally patented by a man called Saumyamoorthy Thondaman. Get yourself elected from Party A. See who forms the government. If it is Party A, you are through without a hassle. If it is Party B, you could still be OK, but a little work is needed. You wake up one day and suddenly realise that without your support, the President cannot really survive, never mind the fact that he is our 'maha rajano' at least for the next six weeks.
So, you summon a news conference-- with a banner with the colours of your own party, no less-and say how desirous you are of strengthening the hands of the beloved leader to develop the country. The way this had been done in the recent past, the man's arms must put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame by now!
Then you have to go to Kollupitiya and take oaths as the Minister of Negligible Affairs after which there is the mandatory hour long interview with state television where you spill the beans about what was wrong with the party leadership of which you just left -- and where you had been all these dozen and a half years, while the rot was apparently setting in but you hadn't noticed it until you woke up this morning. The Courts are always there to protect you from being sacked.
Now, don't run away with the idea that this is what only Opposition MPs do and it's just one-way traffic. We have dress designer Mangala Innocence turned political fixer Mangla Pinsiri suddenly having an apoplectic fit about how shabbily he was treated by the SLFP and teaming up with the very UNP he conspired to defeat in 2005.
Last week, realisation dawned on SB that the war's 'Man of the Match' Gen. Sarath Fonseka was a political novice who didn't even know what the cost of living was because he has eaten from the army mess for 40 years. This week, we also saw Captain Cool lose his cool and lambast the leadership of the SLFP while pledging support to the General. He seems to be a quick learner because he had taken a leaf out of Johnston's book saying that he would remain with his old party while supporting the other party's candidate-- ah how much more democratic can you get?
And who can forget the incomparable Mervyn Silva? True, he has become an icon of sorts with his verbal vitriol and physical pyrotechnics. But how many of us remember that the man was once in the UNP? And, if he were to have a brain transplant today -- or implant, more realistically -- and announce tomorrow that he would re-join the UNP, do you think they would refuse him? I'd bet my polling card that they will welcome him with open arms!
So, don't pity the UNP. If they are worrying about their 'plight', then they must be masochists. And Ranil Wickremesinghe must surely be the worst masochist (or best, depending on how you look at it) although this time around he has suddenly become sadistic and sent the General to the Frontline.
Pity yourself instead. Here you are, fretting about the choices you have to make on January26. Is the Executive Presidency good or bad? And what of the 13th Amendment? Or the 17th, for that matter?
Do all these issues matter for the Dissanayakes, Johnstons, Moragodas, Amunugamas, Peirises, Bogollagamas, Rajithas, Samarasinghes, and Hemakumaras et al? No, Sir, for politicians in Sri Lanka politics is like the way you want your fried egg: it is always sunny side up. And who ever said that it was America that was the land of opportunity?
Sure, we are having an election in six weeks and we should be happy about it. But if this election makes you feel a little bit queasy because of the mud that is being dished out liberally, you ain't seen nothing yet: just hold your breath until the general election campaign gets underway.
Remember, now they are all batting for someone else and the General, handicapped as he is, is batting with quite a few runners. But when it is general election time -- and the General will probably not be around, either being the numero uno or having used his Green Card to return to the United States -- that is when it will really hit the fan.
Elections are a necessary evil in democracy, you may argue. Perhaps, yes. But with politicians like these, who needs elections? Just re-elect the whole lot without an election and ask them to choose the ruling party and pick their ministries. Maybe JR got it right; that is why he had a referendum.
That way, at least we will save the money spent on printing posters of the macho men with moustaches. And the moral of the story is -- don't get too heated up when you are debating politics this festive season. Today's enemy can be your best friend tomorrow.