Colombo, Elections, Politics and Governance

Wasted vote!

Caveat: It is strongly encouraged that one reads Dr. Saravanamuttu’s article “Rajapakse vs Fonseka: Tweedledum vs Tweedledee” before proceeding. Also, in this fragment I have failed to adequately define terms such as “moderate” and “extremist”; however, I hope my readers will be considerate of the informal, conversational nature of this fragment.

In previous presidential elections, although the (generally) two primary candidates were far from satisfactory, one was generally the lesser of the two evils. The question whether President Rajapakse or General Fonseka is the the lesser of the two evils cannot be convincingly answered.  Dr. Saravanamuttu, in his latest Groundviews post, aptly used the cliché, “between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. There will be enough and more banter about the merits and demerits of each candidate; everyone trying to vilify one candidate more than the other. But there will be no resolution to the question in the foreseeable future (ie before the election)

Nevertheless, the terrible choice that has been put before us is an opportunity as well. I don’t believe there has been an instance in living memory where one has come to the point where a presidential candidate has been more or less as bad as his/her opponent. Moderate voters who cannot reconcile voting for one of the two candidates have no strong reasons for voting in the current election. Therefore, vote for a moderate candidate would not be a wasted vote which provides some political leeway for a third candidate. Such a candidate could leverage the distasteful choice being faced by voters and build a critical mass around which a wider presidential campaign could then be fought, hopefully uniting moderates under a common banner. Some wishful thinking: if the Opposition Alliance splits with a significant proportion supporting a third candidate the protest vote against the incumbent may shift away from General Fonseka to the third candidate giving such a candidate a possibility of victory.

Furthermore, even if such a candidate does win the election (which is admittedly highly unlikely) it would provide a opportunity for a renaissance (or naissance for that matter) of moderate politics by bringing moderate politicians and policies to the forefront of political discourse. This provides a unprecedented, ready-made political platform from which a moderate candidate can engage with the electorate and present a viable alternative to the corrupt, xenophobic, incompetent etc. politics that prevails in Sri Lanka today.

Yet, as always there are problems. A strong moral hazard is likely to ensue as the moderate vote will converge on such a candidate. Hence, President Rajapakse and General Fonseka will have no incentive to appeal to moderate voters and may shift tactics viz trying to out do each others extremism.  If one of them is elected they will be more than aware that they are in office due to extremist votes rather than moderate ones and will be, to some degree, compelled to act accordingly which may have worse results than allowing the political process to continue its current course. The question in my mind is whether it is worth the risk? As a voter and citizen I feel I virtually no chips left- nothing lost by going all in.