Local Govt elections: Dilemma of the voter People get the leaders they deserve - Joseph de Maistre

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By 2017-12-11

By Sugeeswara Senadhira

Radical extreme left politician Lal Kantha, of the JVP, said the voters foolishly elect the corrupt politicians again and again. He blamed the people for not learning lessons. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake too lamented that the voters praise the policies of the JVP but never vote for the party.

It is apparent that the JVP has not understood the psyche of the voter. A vast majority of Sri Lankan voters believe in democracy and when one democratic government becomes autocratic or fails to fulfill the given promises, they turn to the alternate democratic party at the next election. The revolutionary socialist leaders of the first generation of independent Sri Lanka learned this truth within the first two decades of elections and N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Peter Keuneman and others joined the SLFP-led Governments and Phillip Gunawardena and few others joined the UNP-led Governments. Although JVP joined a SLFP alliance Government for a very brief period, the party decided to part ways and stand alone with its rigid socialist policies.

Now that the nominations begin today (11 December) for the Local Government bodies and the elections are scheduled to be held within eight weeks after the nominations, we have another opportunity to witness the voter psyche and analyze the voting patterns.

As this is the first election since the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections of 2015, the contesting parties will muster all their efforts to treat this as a show of strength. Such a hectic campaign may lift the election fervour to an undeservingly high level for a local body election in time to come. However, what is evident now is a voter apathy that could result in a significant drop in voter turn up.

This apathy is seen in all those who voted for either of the main national parties including the SLFP, UNP and JVP as well as regional parties such as TNA, SLMC, CWC, NUW and others. There are many different reasons for this voter apathy. A large portion of the over six million who voted Maithripala Sirisena in 2015 - especially the pro-UNP segment - feel they have been let down by Sirisena when he took over as SLFP President and inducted many SLFP stalwarts to the Government. They are also disappointed over the delays in prosecuting those who are charged with corruption and fraud.

The bulk of UNP voters who believed in anti-corruption image of the UNP leadership are troubled by the findings of the Presidential Commission probing into the Central Bank Bond Issue.

A substantial segment of those who voted Mahinda Rajapaksa are shocked by the revelations of corrupt deals and frauds alleged to have been done by some close associates of the then Government.

The most unusual feature of the forthcoming Local Government Election is the fact that the UNP and SLFP will fight as opponents while continuing to be the partners in the Government. The other important feature is the split in the SLFP and the open combat between the two groups, which was studiously avoided at the last General Elections of August 2015. In the past elections, we have seen the UNP emerging victories whenever the SLFP and premier socialist and progressive groups were divided. However that cannot be predicted this time because of the two major burdens the UNP has to carry, i.e. the Bonds issue and the incumbent factor. As a partner in the government, the UNP has to answer for failures of the Government. The biggest problem of the UNP is the deep involvement of some party members in the Bonds scandal.

Similar to the Bonds issue, the Rajapaksa loyalists, who fight under the new entity, Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) are also saddled with the allegations of corruption and fraud. Due to several cases filed in Courts and the media reports of investigations into corrupt deals and frauds, those issues are still fresh in the minds of the voters.

The Presidential Commission Report on the Bonds issue is likely to be out early in January 2018 and it will have an impact on the political fortunes of the UNP.

The split in the SLFP will pave way for many newcomers to enter the fray. The most effective way for the SLFP to win the hearts of the masses is to project SLFP as a clean party with clean candidates. The party should take extra precautions to ensure that tarnished names do not figure among the new candidates for the forthcoming elections. There are allegations that some organizers have shady pasts. If the SLFP refrains from fielding such candidates at the next election, the party could be projected a clean image and win the confidence of the voters. This is essential for the SLFP to face the electoral challenges from the UNP and the dissidents in the party, who pose a major challenge under the umbrella of SLPP. This new party of Mahinda supporters claims that the majority of Local Government representatives and the grass-roots level SLFP members are with them, a claim yet to be proven. The SLFP has the strength of the traditional party loyalists as well as the new pure image of the untested candidates.

All in all, the February 2018 Local Government Elections will be a litmus test on grass-roots level popularity.



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