Sri Lanka`s political party system like politicians who do nothing but go forth and multiply keeps mushrooming. Parties have come to resemble a herd of goats grazing on a parched paddock and struggling for survival at one another`s expense. It is a classic example of the survival of the fittest. Most of them are skin and bones and only a few look healthy.
Yesterday, five more political parties were registered. With those quintuplets of the beggar woman that is the party system, the tally has risen to 53. (Only god knows what the score will be tomorrow!) Forming political parties is apparently becoming the nation`s most popular pastime?perhaps second only to viewing cheap humdrum soap operas.
Most political parties, like ceasefire agreements in this country, exist only on paper. Legally, all the parties that contest an election are entitled to security and airtime on state owned TV and radio. They make a business of those things and lend to the highest bidder their slots for polling agents who, more often than not, work for either of the two main parties at an election.
Small parties and independent groups are thus at the beck and call of big parties which treat them like call girls. (The JVP leader famously said the SLFP was notorious for kerb crawling. How the UNP, after the rejection of its nominations, backed the so-called Spectacles Group that contested the last election to the Colombo Municipal Council is a case in point.) However, the Independents proved to be smarter than the UNP thought they switched allegiance to the government! The JVP used the Sri Lanka Progressive Front in 1994 to gain representation in Parliament.
The protracted war and economic hardships don`t seem to have taken their toll of Sri Lankans` puckish sense of humour. They remain past masters at coining sobriquets. The dwarfish vans scurrying about like cockroaches on public roads have been dubbed `One Shot` (name of a popular movie) as they are so fragile that they have no chance of surviving an accident. Another van has become known as `Sadahatama Oba Mage` (title of an old film) or `You are mine for ever` as it has no second hand market. Similarly, small political organisations are known to cynics as `three wheeler parties` because they argue a trishaw is sufficient to transport all the office bearers and members of any of those outfits!
The people have nothing but contempt for the leaders of small parties with big egos. (The public has the same attitude towards the leader of the main parties as well!) They are the darlings of television stations conducting regular cockfights that pass for political debates. They are also liked by the various NGOs which involve them in protests to impress gullible foreign sponsors who are easily duped into believing that such parties are a force to be reckoned to get funds. That is why we have faded red shirts et al shouting themselves hoarse and performing for TV cameras opposite the Fort Railway Station almost daily.
Has anyone ever wondered why political parties, especially the smaller ones, prefer the Nugegoda junction as a venue for their meetings? That is because Nugegoda is always chock-a-block with people, mostly shoppers, and even if no body turns up for their meetings, they still have an audience.
We have had musicians in politics and politicians involved in music. Lyricists have also mastered the art of making an easy living by taking to politics. It is not seldom that we have politicians waxing lyrical about their achievements. But, never did we have lyrics of a popular song as the name of a political party. Today, we have that too. One of the new parties has borrowed, for its name, a line from Victor Ratnayake`s popular song?`api okkoma rajavaru, okkoma vesiyo (We are all kings and we are all subjects). It has, as its symbol, the till. (What an appropriate symbol for a beggar woman`s child!) Victor`s enthralling song is a masterpiece but how can all of us be kings in politics. They are the kings and we are the subjects. We are kings only on an election day, when we hand over the crown to leaders of one party or another and choose to become subjects. We are also said to be kings in a market economy. But, are we? Where on earth do kings skip meals and go to bed on empty stomachs, unable to afford rice and paan? An appropriate name for a political party may be derived from the popular number, `Me rate minissu thanikara kelinne pissu` which roughly rendered into English means `People of this country are bonkers`.
However entertaining some names may be, the multi-party democracy gains nothing from the three wheeler parties whose leaders don`t at least get the votes of their family members, if their pathetic performance at elections is any indication. They are a nuisance to the voting public as ballot papers are getting longer and more confusing.
Democracy is a mixed bag of rights which we have to respect. There has been a proposal to impose restrictions on the registration of new parties. But, the wisdom of such limitations has been questioned on the grounds that at the beginning any party is small and it takes years, if not decades, for a party to become a fully fledged political entity. That is how, it is being pointed out, the two main parties have gained their present status. So, what can`t be cured must be endured in the name of democracy. If someone wants to found a party and call it anything under the sun, so be it!
Let`s sing together: `Me rate minissu thanikara kelinne pissu?`