Revisiting The Second-Preference

By Kumar David –

Prof. Kumar David

A few of my recent short-pieces in Colombo Telegraph have attracted comment. I have met both favourable and unfavourable reactions and this is the time to address some. Most comments were about my call to voters to cast their first-preference for the PP candidate Anura Kumara and second-preference fot the strongest anti-Gota candidate. I ask those who disagree to nevertheless give my second-preference tactic a patient hearing.

To keep it simple I will assume there are only three candidates Gotabaya (SLPP), the DNF candidate and Anura (who is also JVP leader). The questions I am asked frequently, often not in hostility but in curiosity are:

1. Even you Kumar do not expect PP to come first or second. So, won’t we be wasting a vote by giving PP first preference? Why not give the DNF (or Gota if that’s one’s view) first choice straight away?

2. What exactly is the point of giving the PP first preference and second preference to a main candidate?

3. What is the relationship between your presidential election tactic and your long-range thinking?

My response covers all three points in overlapping fashion. Yes, I do not expect PP to poll 30% or 40% though I would be delighted if it polled 20% and disappointed if less than a million (say 11%). The crux of my thinking is that Sri Lanka must begin forging an alternative to the corrupt and failed two-party system. I have still to meet a person who did not say the main parties are corrupt, opportunistic, lacking in vision and if they return, they will do no better than they have been doing all along for so long – ong okoma horu; ong okama kaalakanni

Seriously, will a new SLPP or another UNP led government achieve anything significant? We have come to the end of the road with these two bunches; Gota is not a new broom, he is the militarisation of an old broom. Sri Lanka has to strike out anew with eyes focussed ahead. Look how fast ‘alt-movements’ have blossomed all over the world in the last decade. It will not be slower here. The answer to Q3 is: “Use the presidential election to launch a movement with long-term objectives”.

The answer to Q2 is that while we think and plan long-term our actions must at the same time dovetail with existing circumstances. As an example, say like me, you believe that the return of Gota will be perilous (return of white-vans, political assassinations, the military and ex-military lording it over the country etc) and a threat to the albeit limited democratic rights that have been recovered after 8 Jan 2015. That means we must ensure the defeat of Gota. Second preferences when counted (this election will surely go to second-preference counting) will add to the ‘less-worse-than Gota’ DNF candidate’s vote and hopefully clinch the deal. 

Some anti-Gota people think this may be risky. No, it is not risky. A few sectarian PP voters will not mark an anti-Gota second-preference, but hard-sectarians will not vote for the DNF/UNP anyway. My tactic is aimed at others like DNF voters who want to show disgust with yahapalana before holding their noses and reluctantly voting for it. There is no risk. If Gota gets over 50% on first count this tactic obviously makes no difference to the outcome. [In fact, this is a tactic that pro-Gota voters too can adopt if they wish to show their disgust at the corrupt, racist and authoritarian SLPP-SLFP before reluctantly choosing Gota]. Whichever way you look at it, “one-for-PP; two-for-main candidate” brings together the wisest short- and long-term choices. This address both Q1 and Q2.

An entirely different matter is that I have met a few idiot sectarians on “our side”, the PP side, who have mumbled “give first-preference to PP and don’t give second-preference to anyone”. Short-sighted and selfish sectarianism is not unfamiliar in the left. These sectarians must be confronted and snuffed out. What the devil does PP lose if it gets someone’s first vote and he or she casts a second preference for anyone else? NOTHING! In fact, PP gains a lot becomes many DNF or SLPP voters may choose to do just this.

The next step is to patiently explain to voters unfamiliar with preference indication how it’s done. There is plenty of time; three months is quite enough to get the public familiar with the details.

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