Colombo, Elections, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Citizens held hostage in the name of ‘Nationalism’

Desperation for my Paradise Isle had turned to appreciation this time around when the plane landed in Katunayake. I quietly celebrated that sense of relief and relaxation that spreads through my whole body when in the motherland. Even after over 10 hours of flying in a cramped, fart filled plane my heart overflowed. By reason of other travel elsewhere this time around was the longest I had been away from my Paradise Isle, 18 months too long.

I was still caught by surprise when all the Paradisians who were on the plane pushed and jostled past me in a hurry to deplane. Still in a buoyant mood I generally got out of everyone’s way, spent a minute thanking the stewardess Marize for always smilingly obliging me whenever I went to the flight kitchen and asked her for innumerable cups of tea and the unprompted sandwiches. A lengthy wait in line for immigration still did not spoil my mood. The two gay boys from Brighton behind me kept me entertained with their questions as first time travellers to Paradise. Umpteen purchases of duty free booze and the quick arrival of bags meant that I was out in quick time to meet the minder who had arrived for my airport pick up.

It was Christmas morning and I thought a simple task awaited me. To make it to my friends brothers house in Dickwella for Christmas lunch. The time in the Paradise Island then said 8am. Paradisian traffic however meant that after a quick stop at a siblings home, meal in Hikks that I got into Dickwella only around 3pm. Fortunately the Christmas lunch had now all but turned into bacchanalia and dinner!

Two nights there and it was then onwards to Kataragama, one night with my gods, Udawalawe and finally Colombo via Ratnapura. Although this holiday was only for ten days my usual keenness to do as much as possible ensured that I was out and about Colombo in various forms of conveyance from walking, scooter taxi’s, 588’s to rides in various cars of mates.

So obviously I was privy to all sorts of conversations about the latest and only topic of note in Paradise Isle – The Presidential Elections. Most of these conversations were initiated by your truly. So obviously yes, although I did promise a good friend and relative I shall not write about the elections, the information I got was so forthcoming, discretion has now proved to be not one of my finer points. To avoid confusion and boredom creeping in, I illustrate some key points.

At an eating-house down south I spooked a young waiter by asking him who he will vote for this election. The fact that my minder is well over six feet tall and we were in a black jeep may have contributed to his discomfort. However he came back in about five minutes with this answer:

“We must give Mahinda Mahattaya one more chance. After all he won the war. This is it, last chance, but we owe it to him”.

He also avoided any other conversation with us during the meal and did not even acknowledge it when I asked him for his name.

A scooter taxi driver from Crescat drew me into conversation. He believes that Sarath Fonseka will emerge the clear winner.

A moneychanger in Negombo believes that Mahinda Rajapakse will lose only in Colombo, Kalutara and Negombo and it will be a clear Mahinda victory.

A 588 driver froze when I asked him the key question, whom do you think will win? He did not want to be engaged in any conversation pertaining to the elections.

Amongst my peers no one really wants or likes to talk about it. The conversations were many, talk about elections were not encouraged.

The army officers just went ape shit pulling my friend and I over on a lazy Sunday evening. Simply because of our casual attitude and that my friend just popped open the trunk of his car and got back in the drivers seat. We argued back as it was irrelevant what our attitude was. As long as we had proper ID and were not rude my getting out of the car to present ID was not an issue. Peace reigned only when they realised my friend was ex-forces too. While this was an extreme instance, the armed forces usually chilled out at checkpoints were now in our face.

When I visited 18 months ago and I spoke to friends or any Paradisian, Mahinda Rajapakse was akin to God. He was a king; he was President Mahinda Rajapkase the greatest Paradisian ever. No one dared speak one word against him. He was the great saviour of Paradisians and my Paradise Isle.

This time around amongst the masses he is ‘Mahinda Mahattaya’. For the Sinhala pundits you must know how the word ‘Mahattaya’ can be pronounced in many ways, sometimes complementary and other times a wee bit iffy.

The hoi polloi in Colombo quietly (sometimes in a whisper) now refer to the President as Mahinda.

There is quiet hope. To say nay aloud makes one a traitor to their motherland. But everywhere suddenly everyone knows that things have gone a bit too far. The stick wielded too much. Too much dissonance from both sides of the political spectrum. But a firm hope. Agreement perhaps that winning the war is not enough.

The JVP cross over a huge hope as the JVP have a voice among the masses that is believed.

The wise voter in Paradise, 90% literate is realising that all that glitters is not gold. The breakaway politicians have reached them and they are listening. No one dares say it loud, but it is whispered amongst many. When the voter reaches the privacy of the polling booth, they may or may not cast the cross against whom they say they may vote for!

This election will not be won by the rural masses and whom they vote for, it will be hard fought and fearful, and it will be decided amongst those who are brave enough to vote in the urban and suburban boroughs throughout of my Paradise Isle.

Of this I am sure. I am glad that I don’t have to make that decision. The Paradisian voter is faced with an enviable task.

This is it. Please do vote, be heard.