The election campaign is drawing to a close. In a short while, all electoral canvassing will come to an end. A few days after begins the voting. The question I ask myself therefore becomes very relevant. What is the principal criterion that should govern my thinking in this regard? Why should I be voting for one party and not for another?
The two principal parties that have held sway since the 1950s have been the greens and the blues. The JVP has come into the limelight as a very viable alternative. The Field Marshal’s party has perhaps not yet imposed itself on the national mind to the same extent. So, as the gap narrows down, my attention will be necessarily focused on the UNP Front and the SLFP Front; by ‘front’ I mean the respective coalitions. Foremost in my mind are the vivid recollections of MR’s rule. MR was the personification of his party, just as JR and Premadasa were, of their party, in their day. However, it was under MR that autocratism reached unprecedented heights.
If I may use one single word that characterize what to my mind, according to my experiences of that long period of the MR governance, was the dominant feeling that pervaded my political consciousness, it is that of FEAR. His wishes had repercussions on two groups of our citizens: his sycophants intent on making hay while the sun shines, and his opponents who were in the throes of a fear psychosis.
Why ‘fear’? It was because of the oppression of political opponents and acts of suppression with intent to silence them or quite simply to eliminate them. That is why the ‘fear’ complex was predominant in my thoughts and feelings. I did not perceive this as happening beyond my horizons, as something taking place ‘over there’, somewhere beyond my reach. NO, the forces of evil were all around me. They were not the devils of religions and myths; they were human beings, or at least human forms. They even had official designations. They were ‘members’ of governing bodies, of political entities going by the name of ‘sabha’, be it the ‘methi sabha’, ‘palath sabha’ and the ‘pradeshiya sabha’. They had a reach far beyond their legal powers. They were men and women with ‘connections’. These connections more often than not, led to persons on the highest steps of the political ladder most of them having blood links with MR. Those ‘members’, even though they be the scum of the earth, or the filthiest of gutter snipe, wore mantles of power that bloated them over, above and beyond their circumscribed statutory roles endowing them with unlimited power. They formed the power structure of MR.
What this meant was, shortly and sweetly, lawlessness. Even the uniformed gentry, be they the uniforms that designated ‘brawn’, or even the uniforms that designated ‘legal brain’, meaning the executive and the judiciary, used that option to keep their bottoms glued to their seats of power. In other words, the interpretation, declaration and execution of the law had become a ‘grand illusion’. It was a fake, a make believe, a falsehood. The reality and force that emerged from the suppressed consciousness was the sheer ‘lawlessness’ put on public displace, with total immunity and impunity. I had the dominant and well founded perception that lawlessness ruled the land and its people. Now what is the consequence of lawlessness in those exposed to its brunt? It is FEAR and its shadow which is the threat of violence.
During the last six months that followed the presidential election, FEAR has receded from my mind and its physical environment. The rule of law is now prevailing. So, I will vote for the party best equipped to spare me and all like me that which is the worst of mental tortures, namely: FEAR. Fear is not just a sentiment, a feeling. It is a power, a force. It is a force that oppresses and suppresses one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, one’s initiative, one’s creativity, one’s individuality and one’s personality. Fear is a barrier to growth, to the deployment of one’s positive energies. It takes away from one, one’s sense of pride, dignity and honor. It reduces one to silence and to abject servitude.
When there is no fear, one feels FREE, with a freedom that is a new birth. A new birth means a new individuality, a new identity, a new personality. For once, after such a very long period of time, I feel freed from the shackles of fear, and so I want to remain.
For what party then will I vote? I find that I have no other choice, but the UNP and its coalition. But here too I wish to make some precisions. In no way do I think they are perfect. Their governance will certainly have blemishes and even aberrations. But this I know, under their rule, I will not have to live in fear, as a worm under the heavy boot of gutter-snipe drunk and intoxicated with the fumes of lawlessness. I will not have to live subjugated by the uniformed forces of ‘brawn’ and ‘brain’ set apart to interpret and enforce laws subverted and contorted through the interference of those clothed with impunity because of their ‘connections’.
I will vote for the UNP coalition because without fear I am FREE to HOPE for better times for my family, my friends, and for like-minded citizens of this land. Sure I want development. Sure I want material infrastructures. Yet after 10 years of MR rule, I still live in a country with no productivity, reduced to a role of buying and selling for its survival and loaded with massive debts without transparency and accountability. Development for me is not promenading in mega cities that imbue me with the sense of being an alien. What is even paradise for me if I feel a stranger within it?
For me, development is productivity at a grassroots level. What can we show as development after these long years of MR rule? His mega structures are paths to nowhere. Sure MR promises to right whatever went wrong. Yet I prefer to look at achievements than at promises. Whatever has smacked of development and sustained growth of the past is associated with the Grand Old Party: from the Gal-oya scheme, construction of lakes, luscious paddy fields, abundant harvests and judicious colonization, right down the years of its rule. The list continues be it with the great Mahaweli project and the Mahapola under JR, and all the massive developments and export-oriented projects that got under way in the detruncated Premadasa era. Under MR, productivity came to an absolute standstill. Without productivity and export how can this country develop?
Our people have been provided with the elation that fills someone watching a hypnotizing film. Everything is moving, everything is action, and everything is colorful, beautiful and wonderous to behold. We were like film goers even watching road-races. But once we leave the hall we are engulfed in the inevitable sense of illusion. It was a dream. Out of that dream came the sense of desperation that produced the change of January 8. The film-producer was asked to go home.
I will not use my vote for a continuation of a dream or promises of alarm clocks which wake me up to ‘realities’ shown on election manifestos. I prefer to go by what I have seen taking place because they did take place. I would like to see development that embraces the common man and not make him into a sight-seeing alien in his own country. I for one would prefer to see a developing village than wander about in a mega city for the type of thrill I experience in Singapore or in Thailand, a thrill which is as superficial as the outermost layer of my skin, a thrill which has nothing to do with national pride. Those are thrills that become spills when I head back home to my under-developed country. No, I will not use my vote in the vague hope of the fulfillment of promises. Freedom is back. It is our birthright. It is my duty to do my little bit to ensure that it stays.