Bribing voters is a negation of democracy. However this is exactly what politicians all over the world have been doing ever since the birth of electoral democracy. Bribing voters with promises has been an essential feature of election campaigns and it is only the degree to which each party or candidate stoops down that makes one different from the other.
It goes without saying that Sri Lanka along with her South Asian neighbours and a few African nations form an unenviable group where even the principal parties go on stage making promises to repair broken taps and school fences even during major elections. Barely a month to go before the Southern provincial polls which is soon to be followed by the presidential and general elections, one can only guarantee that the electorate is once again in for a lot of entertainment at the expense of the intelligence of the informed voter.
And both the SLFP and the UNP are responsible for this dismal plight of one of the Asia`s most mature democracies. The electorate with its high literacy rate and media reach is certainly ready for a sober debate. Unfortunately it is an effort to wean politicians of the practice of catering to the gallery. This has resulted in the people`s representatives being reduced to the status of a pack of comedians in a case of gross erosion of people`s faith in democracy.
Democracy, it is said, consists of a clash of opinion. In a system like ours which has more features of a two party system than a multi-party system an ideal election campaign should only see the principal parties offering the electorate a clear choice between opposing ideologies.
The continuous efforts by the SLFP and the UNP to offer catalogues of harebrained promises at each and every election only go to display fundamental flaws in the two parties. Firstly, they both lack speakers who can effectively explain the party ideology to the public. It also to an extent shows that the SLFP and the UNP believe that the gulf that existed between the ideologies is fast being narrowed down and there are very little differences to talk about. After all, gone are the days of pro-market and anti-market clashes. Thirdly they hold the view that the voters are too immature to understand policy and therefore the only way to win elections is by bamboozling the `gullible` voter with promises. They have forgotten that even the elderly, both male and female read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch the news on TV and are able to distinguish chaff from grain.
All these have gone to deprive the informed electorate of the very essence of democracy - their chance to see a healthy conflict between opposing ideologies, if not philosophies.
The utter lack of interplay of opinion within the parties continues to demoralize both the SLFP and the UNP and hampers their progress as mature political parties with clear cut policies. While the SLFP has got its ideology confused with the manifesto of the executive, the opposition still seems to find it difficult to understand that concept of Opposition - that is not only about alternative leadership but more about an alternative policy and an alternative government ready to take office at any given time.