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Why people vote for Thugs - Crooks Film Stars

2015-08-03

t does not reflect well on the UNP, when rival underworld gangs clash
in its election campaign. Now police suspect that shooting in Kotahena
that killed one woman and injured 13 others was due to a
longstanding rivalry between the two underworld gangs; The
members of one gang were canvassing for Ravi Karunanayake, when the
members of the rival gang opened fire.
But, why do politicians of all political parties hire the underworld to conduct
their election campaign? Why do they prefer the services of Bloemendhal
Sanka and Dematagoda Chaminda or some other thug who was recently
granted bail over the expertise of the intelligentsia, who made weekly
appearance at that ITN talk show, Doramadalawa.

The answer lies in the practical logic: In general, politics is not just about
intellectual deliberations and reasoning; in the Sri Lankan context, there is
much more to do in terms of mobilising, organising, demonstrating,
canvassing and also threatening political opponents and their supporters.
Those activities require intensity and commitment, but not necessarily
knowledge or political sophistication. So the Mora Sunil is a better bet than
Mr Suriyappperuma. And due to the zero sum nature of our politics, there is
little incentive even for the well intentioned politicians to shun the services
delivered by the underworld gangsters. If rejected, gangsters would move
on to his opponent. Given organisational capabilities and human resources
at the disposal of those underworld factions, politicians who shun those
gangs would be at a considerable disadvantage via a vis his opponents.
During the election campaigns in recent times, Duminda Silva and Mervyn
Silva stole the show from more established and better respected
candidates. And the visibility and the reach of their campaigns which was
ably assisted by those petty criminals and drug peddling youth, and
overseen by their hardcore overlords finally translated into votes; both of
them polled more votes than meek yet principled candidates.

"Their political choices are hardly driven by principles or rational


calculations; they are more likely to vote for a village thug, a Wine Stores
owner or a soap opera star. "
And, if we expect the voters to shun the politicians who harbour the
underworld, we are being too idealistic. Results of Parliamentary and
Provincial Council elections in the recent past would reveal that politicians
known for thuggery polled more
votes than their restrained
counterparts. I do not wish to give
a list of names for obvious legal
reasons, but one can easily check
the preferential vote lists of the
last parliamentary and provincial
council election available in the department of elections website.
And, if you do not indulge in thuggary and if you still want to have a decent
shot at politics, then, you have to be a film star.
There is a universal consensus that an informed electorate is essential to
good democratic practice.
However, nowhere in the world, do you have that ideal knowledgeable
citizenry; if that is the case Donald Trump would not be calling out Mexican
immigrants rapists and Wimal Weerawansa would find it hard to incite
racism on every other day.
In our society, like elsewhere, there are some people, in fact, quite a lot of
them, who are dumb and simply politically ignorant.
Interesting enough though, in the 1950s, some conservative political
scientists argued that having a portion of the population as politically
ignorant is, in fact, necessary for maintaining democracy. If all people were
passionately involved and deeply attached with issue based politics, stakes
would be too high and potential polarization of society on those lines would
loom large. That was their argument.
I dont think that line of argument holds water any longer. The most likely
scenario in modern times, where mass politics have penetrated every nook
and corner of politicians, like Wimal Weerawansa, would exploit the
ignorance of people to turn them into vicious Zombies.
Sri Lankan people are very political, but at the same time, they are ignorant
in terms of issue based politics. Their political choices are hardly driven by
principles or rational calculations; they are more likely to vote for a village
thug, a Wine Stores owner or a soap opera star.

This may denote the cheapness of the electorate, which has deteriorated to
the level at which drug kingpins and rapists contest and win elections to
public office.
"Results of Parliamentary and Provincial Council elections in the recent past
would reveal that politicians known for thuggery polled more votes than
their restrained counterparts"
An ill-informed or ignorant voter is a bad voter. When you are eating at a
restaurant or boozing in a bar, whatever the choices you consume would
have a bearing only on you. You will have to live with its consequences.
However, when you are casting your vote to elect your parliamentarian or
the president, you are deciding not only on your behalf, but also on behalf
of the rest of the citizenry.
In other words, when you make a bad decision, you will be imposing its cost
on the rest of the society.
Of course, a single vote does not have a decisive impact. But, when a large
segment of the population is ignorant and vote blindly, they are imposing
the cost of their decision on the rest of the society. We have sent crooks,
rapists and thugs to Parliament. That is where you see the pernicious
influence of collective ignorance.
Also shrewd bosses of political parties have exploited that ignorance. Expresident Mahinda Rajapaksa was one of the smart operators. He fielded
film stars, sporting heroes and gangsters from the UPFA nomination list and
brought down Salman Khan to one of his campaign rallies in Colombo. That
is one way to manipulate an ignorant electorate.
James Madison famously said a popular government without popular
information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to farce or
tragedy or perhaps both.
However, here the problem is not the lack of information or accessibility.
Those who will vote to send those least salubrious individuals to Parliament,
know their past track record. However, that does not stop them from voting
for thugs, rapists and swindlers. What makes those elements attractive for
the voter needs further analysis.
The obvious point is what I referred to at the outset. Politics requires

intensity and commitment, and not necessarily knowledge or political


sophistication. And in our case, intensity and thuggery often prevail over
political sophistication.
This has resulted in the lowering standards of the political office. In Sri
Lanka, like in most other countries, while the size of the electorate and
popular participation have increased over the past six decades, the quality
of politics and political decisions have declined. Obviously gangsters,
mudalalies and film stars are not the best ones to make policy decisions on
behalf of the public.
However, some of their idiosyncrasies are mitigated by institutions,
bureaucracy and constitutional provisions such as the 19th Amendment.
But, as the chicanery in our last Parliament revealed such personalities are
destined to become lapdogs of their political bosses, by extension, they
help eroding the very democracy they pledged to protect.
Posted by Thavam