IN SRI Lankan folklore, there is a story of a king who loved to play the fool with everyone. One day when the king, Yasalalaka Tissa, noticed that the guard at the entrance to his court resembled him, he decided to play a practical joke on his ministers.
He told the guard they must exchange roles for one day meaning the king would stand guard at the entrance while the guard would sit on the throne. The king wanted to laugh at his ministers when they bowed to the guard thinking that he was the king.
When it happened, the real king in the guard s uniform, started to laugh, but the shrewd guard who was acting like king, seized the opportunity and ordered the immediate execution of the king. It was the story of how a palace guard became a king. I remember this story well because I played the role of the palace guard at a school concert when I was in grade one. But Sri Lanka s real-life politics, too, is not short of similar stories.
A few years ago, we witnessed the spectacle of a three-wheel auto taxi driver becoming the mayor of Colombo by a strange quirk of fate. It happened when the election commissioner rejected the list of candidates put forward by the main opposition United National Party (UNP) for Colombo s municipal elections. The party then decided to back a totally unknown independent group in a bid to prevent President Mahinda Rajapaksa s party from wresting control of Colombo, a UNP bastion.
The independent group won the elections hands down and Mohammed Imthiyaz, an unknown candidate with no political base, no experience, no money to campaign and no academic credentials, became the mayor.
I am not against a taxi-driver becoming a mayor, but I related the incident to prove a point that strange things do happen in Sri Lankan politics.
With elections to nine local councils in the eastern Batticaloa district scheduled to be held next Monday (March 10), many stories that make the whole exercise a laughing stock are doing the rounds.
The people in the east are less enthusiastic about the elections. They have more pressing issues to be worried about than casting their vote at an election which the government is keen to hold to prove that it has brought normalcy to the east, once a Tamil-Tiger infested part of the country.
When nominations were called for the elections, not many parties came forward. The main opposition UNP said it was boycotting the elections because the Batticaloa district was being run by armed thugs of the Pillaiyan group, formerly known as the Karuna group, a breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The Pillaiyan-Karuna group has a political party -- the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil People. President Rajapaksa s party is contesting the elections in alliance with the TMVP. Besides the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the other parties and groups contesting the elections are government allies. But they faced a problem. Not many people were coming forward to contest the polls on the pro-government ticket.
It is alleged that force was used to threaten people to come forward as candidates. In some instances, names were included with forged signatures. Some people came to know that they were contesting the elections when two policemen turned up at their residence to give them round-the-clock protection till elections are held. Most of these candidates are not prominent people. They are daily labourers, fishermen, painters and butchers.
One candidate, a daily labourer, went to a police station and threatened to commit suicide if the two constables guarding him 24 hours were not withdrawn immediately. He told the inspector in charge of the police station that because of the two policemen he was unable to drink kasippu illicit liquor at a hooch den after a hard day s work.
Residents in one eastern village say a painter who is hired to colour-wash their houses is also a candidate and has been given two police guards. The two constables go wherever he goes.
In another instance, a fisherman cum candidate joined his friends to go fishing after he learned that the catch was good these days. The two policemen had to wait on the beach till the candidate returned in the night.
Like Mary s little lamb, everywhere that the candidate went, the constables were sure to go .
Go, they must. It is an order from the government which is holding the elections in the east after 14 years probably to show that everything is hunky-dory.
But reports from the east say that very little has changed since the LTTE was defeated there in July last year. The people continue to live in fear with the Pillaiyan group holding them at gunpoint. Tens of thousands of refugees who fled Mutur and Sampur areas in the nearby Trincomalee district still live in Batticaloa. With their villages declared high security zones, the refugees wonder whether they would ever go back to their homes.
There may not be a big turnout at the elections and civic action groups believe that the polls won t be free and fair.
But the government is keen on holding the elections. On Sunday, it announced that after the successful completion of the local council polls in the Batticalo district, steps would be taken to hold elections in May to the Eastern Provincial Council to which political and administrative power would be devolved.