Sri Lanka Presidential Election 2010: Choices made, now we move on…

Heads you lose, tails we win...?

With over 10 million others, I voted in Sri Lanka’s sixth Presidential Election yesterday. Today, after the votes were counted and tallied, we were informed that the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been re-elected for another six year term. He has won 57.9% of the valid votes.

Nearly 11,000 polling stations had been set up for this purpose, mostly at temples or schools. A quarter of a million public servants were mobilised to handle this massive operation, while close to 100,000 policemen and soldiers were tasked to maintain law and order. And the whole business of choosing the next leader is costing the war-impoverished nation several billion rupees.

So do the results — basically, more of the same — justify all this cost and effort? Was there real choice for us the hopeful little men (and women) who walked into little booths with little pencils in hand to make a little cross on a (not so) little bit of paper?

Opinion is highly polarised on that last question. The two main candidates not only tried to outpromise each other without coherence or focus, but also made a mockery out of the whole campaign process.

In fact, as I noted in my essay last week titled Open Moment, Closed Minds: “Party politics has always polarised Lankans, but no other election in recent memory has been as divisive…The two main contenders both claim to hold a mutually exclusive key to a better future for our land and people. Their dizzy campaigns bombard us with lofty claims and counter-claims 24/7 delivered through broadcast, broadband, mobile and other media.”

With pre-election violence escalating, the choice before voters looked like this a week before election day.

The election results will be analysed and debated for weeks to come. At first glance, it looks as if the voters used this election to express gratitude to Rajapaksa for having provided the political leadership to end Sri Lanka’s long-drawn civil war.

We can argue whether presidential elections should be turned into referendums on individual performance of candidates – or instead, decided on the vision and policies offered by them. I grant this is a bit more serious than American Idol – or its local variations – where we text our preference for the candidate with the best looks or talent.

In fact, I’m still not convinced whether it’s such a good idea to mix personal gratitude with voting for a head of state.

I’ve voted in four presidential and three general elections (I missed some due to overseas travel). With one exception (1994), all have been ‘protest votes’ – I was voting against an incumbent more than in favour of an aspirant.

But there are more things in heaven and on Earth, dear reader, than are dreamt in our messy politics. Albert Einstein said it so well many decades ago: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

We can only hope that our votes were properly counted — and that they count and matter to the leader whom we have collectively chosen today. That is, if he can see and hear beyond the cacophony of sycophants who surround him 24/7.

And as I tweeted earlier today: As Sri Lanka re-elects the President, we hope ALL 20 million Lankans can share the promise of a Better Future on which he campaigned and won…

Cartoons courtesy: Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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