With the Local Government elections done and dusted, many still continue to give their own interpretation of the result, most, based on their political affiliations and in extension of their own agendas, a few in terms of a dispassionate evaluation. For the silent revolutionaries who took part in the January 8 rainbow revolution, prima facie, this might be alarming. Whatever the interpretation one gives to the voice of the people expressed and despite the obvious disappointment expressed by those who are pro-yahapalana government, there are unmistakably positive signs that can be detected in not only the result but also in the whole process of people coming out in large numbers to voice their thoughts. Without touching on the obviously political and much hyped issues, which by now have become almost threadbare, I would like to ponder on a few aspects from the perspectives of democracy, representation, citizens rights and progressive political movement.
Consistent pressure on representatives
One concern that was expressed prior to the local government elections was whether there would be a very low turn out; partly due to the voters of the main two parties in governance disappointed over the lethargy shown in fulfilling the wishes of their supporters in terms of the January 8 mandate and partly of a supposed apathy of the young voters with regard to the entire political culture. But a general turn out of more than 70% at a local government elections, as it turned out, is remarkable indeed and comes as a spark that could galvanize people’s involvement in matters of governance; it notes a significant change in the manner the voter has behaved at elections i.e. voting in numbers in parliamentary and presidential elections and being lethargic in elections for sub tiers of governance.
In other words, breaking away from the custom of being slumberous in directing the representatives through constant evaluation of the policies of governments and as this result shows, in issuing a blinding red light to the government. Quite contrary to the claims of politicians of the former regimes’ political gathering, it does not signify a deviation from their belief in good governance. It is a nudge on the powers that be, that the people are not happy with the way the government has set about the task entrusted on behalf of the voters.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
Beyond party lines
Another salient feature of the result was that the people have been able to transcend the traditional party political mindset in expressing their will in governance. A blind faith to the party and its leaders has been the bane of politics in Sri Lanka since we won universal franchise. For the first time the voter has wished to exercise the sovereignty vested in him in the manner that does justice, to the very idea of representative democracy. In fact that is one of the main features of a Republic, a modern one at least. People, in terms of sovereignty vested by Article 3 of the Constitution, does not simply send representatives to parliament or to power, but should manoeuvre their rights constitutionally entrenched by putting pressure on their representatives, now approving their acts and now reprimanding them when they misbehave. A dominant partisan mentality diminishes the value of sovereignty of the people, as it has been for decades. Yet this time the voters, especially those belonging to the UNP have shown their leadership that they are not willing to surrender their constitutional right of governance, blindly to the party and its leadership.
The general tendency to have low turnouts at local government elections viz a viz parliamentary and presidential elections has been a feature of our election culture. Turn-outs hardly go beyond 50% in this type of election and that also normally ends up in a hands down win to the ruling party at national level. Yet the political awareness of the people in expressing their heartbeat through the LG election on February 10 was a sure sign that they were no longer inactive in guiding the mandate they express on national elections or submissive to the rulers to do what they like with their mandate. It sends red signals not only to the government, as some are quick to point out, but to the opposition and all parties that the voter of this country has come of age.
Bursting the Bubbles
Yet another political outcome that I observe in the result, takes the form of an early signal to both the PM and the President that the path they have been treading, in the past few months in particular, in eyeing the executive seat, whether it is the executive presidency as it stands presently or executive premiership, as has been envisaged by a future constitution, is leading them nowhere. At the same time it sends bad tidings to the former president who is testing the waters after the debacles in January and August 2015 through the proxy party under the symbol of the flower bud; it is a signal to him that his dream too, of occupying the high seat is going to remain in the bud without blossoming in 2020, given the composition of the results on a national scale. This is a remarkable message that the voter of this country has sent to all three national leaders, who seem to be hellbent on pursuing their own agendas for political power in 2020.
Northern voters show maturity
Although apprehensions have been expressed on the rise of nationalist politics both in the North and the South, at the same time it is important to note that there is substantial counterweight against such tendencies as well. In the South nationalists have failed to muster more than 50% of the vote while in the North also, the Tamil voters have shown that they were not all inclined towards Tamil extremist policies despite the emergence of parties such as TNPF. That they have voted substantially in pockets for anti-caste and socially progressive parties and independent groups augurs well for the Tamil polity in their effort to move away from traditionally secessionist polarizing policies of the Federalists. In that respect the Northern Tamil voter, too, has sent a signal to their traditional representatives that they are no longer content on passively toeing the line championed by the Tamil elite.
This was the first election that was held under the new system of a mix of the first-past-the post (FPP) and proportional representation systems introduced by the yahapalanaya government. The absence of the dog fight for preferential votes made the campaigning tolerable to civil society. Although the outcome sent shock waves through those sections of the populace who wanted democratic reforms and liberal economic policies, all is not lost as yet. The citizen has declared that he or she has woken up and watching how the mandate, which is his sacrosanct right, is being used or misused, and demanding accountability from the representatives.
Thus, the claim that all is not lost.