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Rhino Politics And The Grassroots Voter Base

Oct 28, 2010 8:03:32 AM - thesundayleader.lk

I was on the way to work when a lorry overtook us (on the wrong side, of course). Emblazoned on the side of the lorry, a charging rhino had been painted. And on either side of it, in glaring capitals- Mahinda.

Down and dirty

Forgive the clumsy analogy, but it is an effective one. Since the end of the war, the President has charged singlemindedly towards his own goals. Whether it be treating himself to an extra term, opening ports, or building bridges, there’s no denying Mahinda Rajapakse gets things done. Although all the major development projects are impressive, what Rajapakse (and the SLFP) really specialise in is winning over the people. Turn on the TV ahead of an election and it’s almost a given that a member of the ‘Blue Army’ will be embracing the elderly, carrying an infant or participating in a religious festival. Even JNP MP Wimal Weerawansa got down and dirty (working in the fields) recently. The fact is a large percentage of Sri Lanka’s voter base are unconcerned with legislation and the local economy. They simply want to know that there’s enough money to put food on the table. They want immediate needs provided for. And just as importantly, they want to feel included.

Waiting for an invite

At rallies in the past, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has publicly said he would come forward and lead the people- but only if the people wanted him to. It seems that he is waiting for an invitation that will never come. Where Rajapakse and his party espouse aggressive politics, many people see the UNP as a ‘party of press conferences.’ A party indulging in endless deliberation and debate, with very little translated into action. There aren’t many members of the main Opposition party visiting villages and trying to win over the people. Instead, they point fingers at other members of their own party. It’s all talk and no action.

A rural lifeline?

Today, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya said the rural vote base is the ‘lifeline’ of the UNP. Right now, that doesn’t hold true. The lifeline of the UNP are urban middle class voters. Over the years, as the abysmal election results show, Wickremesinghe and the UNP have fallen increasingly out of touch with the grassroots.

However, the UNP maintain that all is not lost. They plan to introduce the ‘Grama Charika’ programme in Horana this weekend. The objective of this programme is to renew ‘lost contacts’ in the villages. As part of the programme, members of the UNP will be visiting village communities, attempting to reconnect with the grassroots. None of Jayasuriya’s statements are particularly earth-shattering. These are opinions which have been circulated around dinner tables months, if not years ago.

The UNP’s weak position seems to have finally galvanised party leadership- at long last- into action. But is it too little too late?

Though his system of governance is far from satisfactory, what is admirable about Rajapakse is his determination to reach his goals. If the fractured UNP found that same purpose, we would have a fight on our hands. Instead, Sri Lanka faces a future dictated by the whims and fancies of one man. And that is a singularly unpalatable prospect.