Election time is when the Morality Theatre moves on to the political stage and begins its performance.
Since nomination day, candidates with their supporters and TV crews have been besieging sacred places of worship, temples with political orientation, kovils, churches and receiving the blessings of chief incumbents. Nationalist-religious sentiments have not been trumpeted out — at least not yet. A fragrant peace and calls for reconciliation pervade the air. Candidates want to be seen as pious, morally upright people. The purpose of the whole exercise is to project a ‘holier than thou’ attitude vis-à-vis, their rivals.
So far, so good the Elections Commissioner will say. But a Sri Lankan election sans mud- slinging, sticks, stones, placards, cut-outs and buntings?
The electors, despite the performance on the High Morality stage, know very well the candidates on the platform. They are all representatives of the same two packs of cards that have been elected and rejected many times before. But the wonderful paradox of Sri Lankan politics is that voters keep rotating the same jokers in the two packs at every election.
Despite 35 candidates on a lengthy ballot paper, it is apparent most voters are quite convinced that there will be only two front runners: Sajith Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Of the two front runners Gotabaya (Gota) has a disadvantage in that he has been a politico-bureaucrat, far more powerful than any other bureaucrat or politician to the extent he wielded power — only lesser than his brother, the president. Besides he shares that crown of War Hero which only his brother Mahinda, other than him, is entitled to wear, according to Rajapaksa folklore. But it is also a Crown of Thorns.
Both brothers are tainted by the so called international community for the so-called war crimes said to have occurred during the last stages of the terrorist conflict. And it has come down the line to the succeeding governments. The Rajapaksas, of course, consider this political cudgel to be wielded to rally the Sinhala majority but at the cost of losing the Tamil and Muslim vote en bloc.
Gotabaya also faces the issue of National Security on which his supporters think he is the last word.
Since international terrorism is the main threat now posed against Lanka and the terrorism that Gota and his brother claim to have tamed over a decade ago, the claim that he is the best in Sri Lanka to fight terrorism loses much of the clout.
The claim by two persons as the heroes for the triumph over terrorism in a near 30-year-old war, in which tens of thousands perished, is not accepted by a great many people.
The claim of triumph of the Rajapaksa brothers in war is dimmed very much by their peacetime performance, where many, especially their critics like journalists, were abducted or killed presumably by those in the armed forces.
Thus when it comes to moral judgement, how Gota will fare is to be seen. What will be his credibility rating?
There is an acid test for his credibility as a patriot and nationalist, which his critics have not yet come out with: Did he take the Naturalisation Oath of Allegiance which all those who become American citizens are required to take?
The oath is made of these words: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
It is apparent that a foreigner who becomes an American citizen ‘absolutely and entirely renounces and abjures all allegiance and fidelity… to state or sovereignty of whom he has been a citizen and vows to support and defend the constitution of and laws of the United States of America including bearing of arms.
Thus whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now renounced his American citizenship or not or whether the American authorities have permitted him to do so, his credibility as a Sri Lankan citizen is gravely in doubt. Why he did so may be a personal issue, but why is he now seeking to be the first citizen of Sri Lanka to lead the country, having forsaken his Sri Lankan citizenship nearly two decades ago?
Did his patriotism die when he took the Oath of American Allegiance? Can patriotism be resurrected? Gota and his think tanks have to provide answers to the people of Sri Lanka.
Sajith Premadasa has emerged victorious after a long and epic intra party struggle.
He did so apparently, like his father, without any big names backing him. His father’s reign was aptly described as a ‘One Man Show’ and that precisely was the paternal error. Sajith has to build a competent team around him, like all leaders do.
He does not wear the Crown of Thorns that Gota does, having held ministerial posts only for brief periods mainly that of Housing and Construction. On being appointed the UNP’s candidate a short time ago he has been cryptic about his economic and political agendas but he has to spell them out soon. It is a tough task indeed.
Premadasa’s advantage is that he is not tainted with a past political history. There is no blood on his hands but having no political history behind him he has to project a bright realistic future for the people to believe and place their trust in him. In the coming weeks, he has to build an image of himself as a national leader.
He is a welcome change to aging septuagenarians now doddering about for power.