Civility and election fever | Sunday Observer

Civility and election fever

29 January, 2023

Civility in the public discourse returned after scores upon scores of years, strangely, after the aragalaya last year, which was necessary but which turned out to be far from civil. No revolution can be civil and that’s a given because uprisings cannot be polite affairs executed with great unctuousness.

But in a manner that befitted the moment after the aragalaya, when the people had achieved something from their actions, politics became ultra civil. The most likely reason for this was that people realised they have to close ranks if they are to fight the common enemy that was poverty, deprivation and social disintegration.

Politicians had a more special reason to be civil. They realised that all of them were susceptible to being attacked physically by enraged voters if they do not solve the problems such as those that led to the aragalaya. In Parliament they spoke in maudlin tones about how they lost houses and personal property due to arson attacks and more.

They saw common cause for being together because they knew that despite their superficial divisions, they are all classed as politicians by the public. They decided they had to be civil to each other.

So the resurgent politics of civility that came after the aragalaya may have had strange antecedents. But the civility has helped. Strangely it has meant that politics is being taken to be public service and not some blood-sport.


It’s civility that was long overdue. It means that after a very long time, people are able to see politicians being somewhat serious about their concerns, because they are not focusing on acrimony and the blood-sport of partisanship.

Some of the key agent provocateurs of the pre-aragalaya era are strangely subdued even. They appear on the same platform with politicians from different parties and are able to carry on a civil conversation these days.

What the politics of civility did is also focus on the issues. These days politicians talk about debt, the probes relating to foreign reserves, and of food insecurity. Before that they used to talk about who was doing what to whom.

The return of civility has also meant that there is less in terms of political provocations based on ethnic divisions. Those on the extremes of the political spectrum are far less strident than they used to be. They know that there is far less currency for their jingoism these days because post-aragalaya, there is a crying need to focus on issues such as hunger and the energy crisis.

Unfortunately the Local Government elections seem to bring on the risk of petty politicking once more to the fore. This is not to say that elections are trivial. Let the people’s representatives and those empowered to take judicial decisions decide whether elections would be held on the date that had been announced.

But, let the elections and the discussion on them be civil, whether elections are to be held or not. Being civil does not mean that public protests are out of bounds. It means simply that innate political jousts that benefit no man or beast are avoided.

These cynical displays of political one-upmanship are put on most of the time as pantomimes required to keep the public distracted. A good fight may be followed by a collegial repast among the contending parties after the glare of the cameras are off, but the public doesn’t know that.


These types of divisive and duplicitous pantomimes are not a central feature of post-aragalaya politics because people grew tired of such inane displays that took them to be morons.

Politicians have been forced to take their duties seriously after the aragalaya, and civility is a concomitant of that.

Nobody wants a reversal to the head-banging jousts of the past just because there is an election on the cards.

They don’t want the overweening ‘papas’in Parliament to preach, and the ‘mamas’ to beat their breasts. They want results instead, and some workable ideas when it comes to issues such as getting corruption under control and downsizing the tax burden on the people resulting from a top-heavy public sector that has been packed with political ‘catchers’ who are henchmen and leeches that suck the exchequer dry through a dysfunctional system.

Television talk shows have been the breeding ground for platitudes, but now the public is holding politicians more accountable with probing questions aimed at them at Town Hall style meetings. The people are sick of the pantomime staged with the connivance of electronic media that’s salivating for better ratings, and wants to put on a show in place of serious debate that dissects the issues.

Of course elections in this country have been acrimonious affairs anyway. Some level of violence and law-breaking necessarily has accompanied any poll, even when it’s as relatively unimportant as a local Government election.

However, this year politicians would be drawn and quartered if they physically attack each other during local-Government elections. People are not in a mood for that. They see the new found civility as being refreshing.

They are also happy that politicians are being more circumspect. Politicians are not coming up with pet theories at the drop of a hat, mostly because most of them are struggling to make sense of what’s happening in the first place.


They don’t have a clue. Are we out of the woods? Most would agree we are not, but will we be out of the woods soon or will things deteriorate further?

Most of them don’t have a clue which is one reason the political discourse has become more civil. Most political players are not opinion makers when they don’t have any opinions and why don’t they have opinions? It’s because they don’t have a clue.

The public may prefer clueless politicians to obnoxious ones because they are tired of the acrimony which they now know is primarily a staged show, put on to keep them distracted.

This sort of political lull where relative civility has replaced the ugly blood-sport was not in evidence even during the worst days of the violence and unrest during the insurgencies, and the so called separatist war in a different era. Politicians have never been more chastened than when the entire country was facing an economic crisis that was blamed almost exclusively on them — and of course the politicians that preceded them over the years.

It could be said in jest, but is it possible to have a pre-election referendum on whether people want to have an election at all? That would of course be Mahadenamuttas solution — and for those who don’t know, Mahadenamutta was the village know-it-all in Sinhala folklore. He had a solution for everything but the less said about those heady ideas, the better. But if opinion on the viability of elections at this time cannot be tested with a countrywide poll, could there be an opinion poll on the matter instead?

A well organised poll that quizzes a cross section of persons selected on a scientific basis would be one way of testing the national mood on the issue. Of course the poll has to be credible, and those that are being polled ought to know the facts about the economy, and the economic feasibility of a national poll at this juncture.

They must also know the socio-political repercussions, and for that they need common sense, but there is no test for common sense. A public opinion poll may never have credibility for various reasons for the simple reason that it’s not a referendum.

But at least a non-partisan one could give people some indication provided that the sample being polled is not only scientifically chosen, but is also guaranteed to be aware of the relevant and pertinent facts.

That’s easier said than done. But even so, having some indication of the possible voxpopuli on this matter is important. Pity opinion polling is still not exactly trusted, or relied on in this country.