Connect with us

Features

Some election reminiscences

Published

on

A csynic once remarked that politics in Sri Lanka is ‘Poly tricks’ or ‘Podi tricks’, adding that half of the reputation of a politician was ruined by lies and the other half by the truth.

It was also his view that the gift of the gab and the toothy smile did not make one a politician. Nor does being obscure, inept, ill-educated, clueless, nonentities, verbosity.

Honesty, consistency, ability, hanydwork and commitment appear to be things of the past.

As usual various promises which could never be kept are made at elections.

The world’s first politician is said to have been Christopher Colombus. For, he did not know where he was going and also did not know where he had been. All that, he did at people’s expense.

Prior to 1947, the mode of voting was very simple. Each candidate was allotted a colour and the voting was by dropping the ballot paper into the ballot box bearing the candidate’s colour, The colours much in demand were yellow and red. Yellow, because it evoked a responsive chord amongst a great majority of the voters who were Buddhists. Red was favoured by the leftist parties. In Ruhuna, the Lion of Ruhuna, the late D.M. Rajapaksa, chose the colour brown, the colour of the soil and the staple diet of the poor, kurakkan (finger millet).

From 1947 a voter had to mark the ballot paper with a Cross (x) opposite the symbol of a candidates and drop it into a common ballot box.

In this constituency, the majority of the voters were semi-rustic humble people. And this candidate went from house-to-house canvassing. “I am contesting this seat and my symbol is the lamp. I hope you are voting for me,” he said.

“Of course Mahattaya, need you ask us that? We are certainly voting for you.” “When you get the ballot paper, please make a cross opposite my symbol.”

At the next house too, he introduced himself. “Why the devil should we vote for you? And what have you done for us? We are going to vote for the clock,” they rudely told him.

“Well, that is your privilege. Then in the square opposite my symbol (lamp), in the ballot paper, mark a cross to show that you reject me.”

In 1931, the Anuradhapura seat in the State Council comprised the entire North Central Province. Today, the NCP has been broken up into 10 seats, as the population has increased ten-fold, thanks to the colonisation schemes of the late Father of the Nation, D.S Senanayake. In 1931, one of the contestants for the Anuradhapura Seat was an Englishman named H.R. Freeman, a retired Government Agent who preferred to live with his beloved peasants of the Vanni. Freeman’s election campaign was a novel and even casual one. He did not ever ask a voter directly for his vote. He would walk into a village, and sit on a rock or a tree stump by the road, and when the adoring peasants surrounded him, as they always did, he would tell them in a very matter-of- fact manner, “‘When you get that piece of white paper and put it inside the BLUE box, I go to the Council.” And the villagers would immediately raise their hands to Heaven and cry “Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!” “And if you put the paper into the RED box,” Freeman would continue, “I go to England.” “Apoi, hamuduruwane,” the villagers would wail, “Don’t do that! We will put the paper into your blue box!” The mini-meeting being over, Freeman would pick up his umbrella, and go on to the next ‘meeting’.

In the 1931 General Election to the Ceylon State Council, the Dumbara Seat was contested by the late A. Ratnayake (later President of the Senate), and the late M. B. W. Mediwaka, and their election campaigns were something that peace loving people would like to see today. They appeared on a common platform. How nice if we could revive this sporting and gentlemanly practice today.

During the General Election in 1989, Ranjan Wijayawardena, one of the UNP candidates for the Matara District, arrived at the Matara Textile Industries Centre premises with some of his supporters to hold an unscheduled election meeting. Just then, Mahinda Wijesekera, an SLFP candidate, also arrived at the same venue to have a meeting of his own. The two rival candidates conferred, and decided to have a joint meeting. Wijesekera was the first to speak and outlining and explaining the policies of the SLFP, he appealed to all those who were not going to vote for his party or him, to vote for Ranjan Wijewardena. Ranjan in turn, after explaining the policies of his party, exhorted those who were not voting for him, to vote for Mahinda Wijesekera. At the end of the meeting, the huge crowd that was present gave the two rival candidates a standing ovation for the sportsmanship they had displayed. Incidentally, both candidates were returned to Parliament from the Matara District.

At this time the election fever was hotting up. with even candidates from the same party fighting for the preferencial votes, on which depended their being elected to Parliament. It was in this atmosphere that an election meeting was held at the Mahajana Pola at Galewala in Matale. A candidate was speaking, when he saw a rival candidate from another party coming towards the Pola, about to turn back, on seeing the meeting of the rival group in progress. The speaker stopped speaking and hailed his rival over the loudspeaker. “I say, Mr…, don’t go! Come up here and join me!” The invitation was accepted, and the candidate who was speaking, introduced his rival to the crowd, adding that there would be so many who would not vote for him (the speaker), and appealed to them to vote for his rival. The rival candidate, when he was asked to speak, replied in the same vein, adding that his rival candidate was a very honest man just the sort of man needed in politics.”

Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe, the leader of the Communist Party was on his feet, addressing one of his own election meetings, when a man came up to him and whispered something urgently in his ear. Dr. Wickramasinghe stopped his speech abruptly and rushed off the stage and into a waiting car. The message was from his rival candidate, Sarath Wijesinghe, saying that Wijesinghe’s only daughter was seriously ill. After attending to the patient, Dr. Wickremasinghe returned and continued his speech, but not a word did he say about where he had gone, and why. He could have made a tremendous political capital out of it, but, the gentleman that he was, he did not.

 

Many years ago, and a certain MP noted for his quick temper and impulsive ways sought re-election. One day, while he was going round the electorate, canvassing, a supporter of his rival was rather rude to the MP.

 

The MP gave the man back in kind, and as the verbal exchange became heated, the MP drew back his fist and let his constituent have it on the jaw. Three of the man’s teeth were broken and he immediately went to the police station and made an entry against the MP. The parliamentarian was charged with grievous hurt, and the- case was postponed. Supporters, and especially speakers at the election meetings of the rival candidate, were strictly warned by their party hierarchy not to refer in any way to the incident as the matter was ‘sub judice’. But one irrepressible speaker was not to be put off so easily. Speaking at one of the MP’s rival’s meetings, this man said, “Sahodarawaruni it is nice to be loved by one’s wife. But my wife is overdoing her solicitousness for me. Every time I address a meeting and go home, she promptly grabs me and counts my teeth to see if any are missing!”

Talking of belligerent MPs, there was this not too popular chap who was nominated by his party to a certain seat. On the nomination day, as he returned home from the Kachcheri after handing in his papers, there were the usual wayside receptions and garlands. He was garlanded no less than nine times. The candidate reached his house, and leaping out of his car, grabbed his chief political catcher by the arm, and dragged him inside. Soon the people who had gathered at his house heard a loud altercation and the sound of a few slaps. They rushed into the house to see what the matter was, only to hear the would-be MP shout, Yakko, I gave you money for TEN garlands, and I got only nine!”

In one election, the doughty LSSPer Robert Gunawardena, was challenged by a prominent Buddhist coming from a very famous family which had been in the forefront of the battle for the emancipation of Buddhists and Buddhism from the restrictions placed on them by the British Raj. In his manifesto, this information of his famous family and that fact that he went to Dambadiva (the historical name for India) twice a year on pilgrimage were mentioned as qualifications. At one of his own election meetings, Robert Gunawardena, held up his opponent’s manifesto and said with withering scorn, “Sahodarawaruni, if going to Dambadiva twice a year is a qualification, then my barber is more qualified than this candidate, for that fellow goes to Dambadiva FOUR times a year!” (What Robert did not mention was that his barber was an Indian).

“In the general election of 1965 an SLFP Minister seeking re-election, had got off the stage after his speech, at one of his own election meetings, and surrounded by his cheering supporters, was making his way to his car to go to another meeting. He opened the door of his vehicle, but before he could get in, the huge crowd, surged forward, and the Minister’s hand got wedged in the door.

“Atha Atha!” (hand, hand!), yelled the politico, wincing in pain.

JAYAWEWA!” shouted the crowd, thinking he was referring to the SLFP symbol.

“Na, na, magey atha!” screamed the politico.

“Jayawewa!” roared the crowd….

Led by Somaweera Chandrasiri, the Poet of the Revolution, ‘hitivana kavi’ (impromptu verses) played an integral part at election meetings. Once when Ariyawansa Pathiraja, the famous Sinhala poet, was addressing an election meeting at Kotte, someone whispered to him that people from the enemy camp were recording his speech. Pathiraja immediately stopped his speech, and broke out into an impromptu verse:

 

Jathiya wanasala mage mulu rata holla

Newathath awuth apage chandaya illa

Tape karanawalu mun ayinak alla

Patigatha wenna honda hoowak daapalla

(“They’ve ruined our nation and shaken our country to its foundations. And now, once again they [impertinently] ask for our votes. Apparently they are furtively recording [my speech]. Let’s sound a big hoot they can tape.”) And the crowd responded with a mighty hoot!

About thirty years ago, a prominent local Marxist leader was addressing a public meeting, his theme being the equitable distribution of wealth. As he spoke, a young man in the crowd yelled out, “Everybody knows you are a very rich capitalist, Sahodaraya, so why don’t you set an example by distributing YOUR wealth among the people?”

The Marxist leader put his hand into his pocket, and taking out a ten-cent coin, tossed it to the young man. “I am worth about ten lakhs,” said the Marxist. “The population of this country is about ten million, and if my wealth is distributed among them, each person will get exactly ten cents! And now that you have got your share of my wealth, Sahodaraya allow me to go on with my speech!”

During one of those regular S. de S. Jayasinghe – Colvin R de Silva bouts for the Dehiwala-Galkissa Seat at one General Election, S de S. Jayasinghe speaking at one of his own election meetings said confidently, “I am winning this election, nonawaruni mahathwaruni! For my name begins with ‘Jaya’; Jaya for victory!” Speaking at one of his meeting a few days later,’ Dr. Colvin R. de Silva said, “I am told that my opponent Mr. Jayasinghe is bragging that he is going to be victorious, because his name begins with ‘Jaya’. Yes, Sahodara Sahodariyani! because his name begins with ‘jaya’ he may seem to win at the beginning, but come election day and I shall be the winner, for MY name ENDS with WIN.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Investigative Journalism?

Published

on

I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

Continue Reading

Features

The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

Published

on

Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

Continue Reading

Features

Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness

Published

on

A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

Continue Reading

Trending