Celebrity Politi­cians

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the anti-so­cial el­e­ments that have par­tic­i­pated in past elec­tions, some sec­tions of the Sri Lankan me­dia have crit­i­cized fe­male artistes who wish to par­tic­i­pate in the coun­try’s provin­cial coun­cil elec­tions.

Southasia - - GLAMOR SRI LANKA - By Sam­ina Wahid The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous leading pub­li­ca­tions.

Of late, Sri Lankan pol­i­tics has taken a most in­ter­est­ing turn. At cen­ter stage are lo­cal ac­tresses and fe­male singers who are mak­ing their pres­ence felt in time for the coun­try’s provin­cial coun­cil elec­tions. This unique trend has re­ceived much crit­i­cism, es­pe­cially by the coun­try’s me­dia. Many feel that these fe­male celebrity fig­ures have no busi­ness be­ing in pol­i­tics be­cause that is con­sid­ered a ‘se­ri­ous’ en­deavor. In fact, most me­dia out­lets in Sri Lanka have la­beled these women as ‘sex sym­bols’ af­ter news of their in­ter­est in lo­cal pol­i­tics broke.

Par­tic­u­larly of­fen­sive was a state­ment is­sued by a main­stream web­site called the Cam­paign for Free and Fair Elec­tions (CaFFE) which said: “The main po­lit­i­cal par­ties have

com­menced in­ter­views to se­lect can­di­dates for each district. Re­ports have re­vealed that a large num­ber of re­gional politi­cians with years of ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind them have been ne­glected in fa­vor of ‘sex sym­bols’… CaFFE urges all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in­de­pen­dent groups to dis­en­gage from petty pol­i­tics by pro­mot­ing ‘sex sym­bols’ for short-term gains.”

This ex­tremely of­fen­sive state­ment re­flects the preva­lent mind­set. For starters, there is the as­sump­tion that the fairer sex and in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity can never go to­gether. The fact is that it is not the gen­der that is be­ing ar­gued here but the un­der­stand­ing of pol­i­tics of those wish­ing to con­test elec­tions. That may not be what the Sri Lankan voter checks when polling his vote. Then there is the fact that sev­eral ques­tion­able char­ac­ters have made their en­try into Sri Lankan pol­i­tics but CaFFE, or any other news web­site for that mat­ter, has not ques­tioned their cred­i­bil­ity as pub­lic ser­vants. This shows a clear bias on the part of the me­dia as far as these fe­male celebri­ties are con­cerned.

The re­sponse of the Sri Lankan me­dia is sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing that women have made their pres­ence felt in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics time and again. As early as 1960, Sir­i­mavo Ban­daranaike shat­tered the glass ceil­ing to be­come the first woman prime min­is­ter in the world. When she took charge, her po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were less than re­cep­tive and even said that the prime min­is­ter’s chair would have to be washed monthly. Ban­daranaike ig­nored these base­less and child­ish jokes and showed her met­tle. She is re­garded as one of the great­est and most pop­u­lar prime min­is­ters of Sri Lanka. She was even able to ex­er­cise con­trol over the ‘golden brains’ of the Left par­ties that joined her govern­ment and be­came mem­bers of her cab­i­net.

Indira Gandhi, Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia, Mar­garet Thatcher (known as the ‘Iron Lady’) Prime Min­is­ter of the U.K., Be­nazir Bhutto, two-time Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan and Chan­drika Ban­daranaike Ku­maratunga, Prime Min­is­ter of Sri Lanka, are ex­am­ples of some other women who made a name for them­selves in pol­i­tics.

The Sri Lankan ac­tresses and fe­male singers who wish to be elected as coun­cilors in the Provin­cial Coun­cils of the Western and South­ern Prov­inces are likely to de­rive greater strength from their fore­run­ners in pol­i­tics and, if elected, would make a strong bid to im­prove the im­pov­er­ished con­di­tions of the vot­ers who placed their faith in them.

There­fore, call­ing these women sex sym­bols and edit­ing their pic­tures (a trend that has been mak­ing the rounds on the so­cial me­dia) to prove the point is highly of­fen­sive and defam­a­tory. Per­haps these artistes have be­come a tar­get of ridicule be­cause of their pop­u­lar­ity among their fans who like their per­for­mance as ac­tresses, singers and mod­els.

The sec­tion of Sri Lankan me­dia that has been crit­i­ciz­ing these fe­male artistes surely does not deem it nec­es­sary to de­mand from po­lit­i­cal par­ties and groups that they avoid nom­i­nat­ing crim­i­nals, drug ped­dlers, rapists, child abusers and other such anti-so­cial el­e­ments in elec­tions. For them, the only is­sue is ‘sex’ in elec­tions, based on their own un­der­stand­ing of the con­cept. Ac­cord­ing to the Colombo Tele­graph, a pop­u­lar Sri Lankan news­pa­per, “The CaFFE mind­set and value sys­tem on ‘sex’, ob­vi­ously rep­re­sent­ing the Sin­hala ma­jor­ity, per­haps ex­plains in­creased rape and sex­ual ha­rass­ment in our present-day so­ci­ety.” It is time some in the Sri Lankan me­dia let go of their Vic­to­rian, pu­ri­tan­i­cal morals.

Mean­while, oth­ers have lam­basted the state­ments is­sued by elec­tion - mon­i­tor­ing agencies and crit­ics on the so­cial me­dia cir­cuit, say­ing that there would have been no fuss had these been male ac­tors and singers. This, they say, shows that Sri Lanka is still a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety that deems women as be­ing in­ca­pable of do­ing any­thing else be­sides pro­cre­at­ing. “Are they wor­ried that the Provin­cial Coun­cils would get into a mess? Surely not, as it is con­ven­tional wis­dom that the Provin­cial Coun­cil is an ab­so­lute joke. The PCC have added noth­ing to the qual­ity or level of gov­er­nance; rather they have been a huge bur­den to the pub­lic purse and thereby a se­ri­ous dis­tor­tion to the al­lo­ca­tion of tax­pay­ers’ money. They have am­pli­fied the pres­sure of politi­ciza­tion of gov­ern­ing agencies in the is­land. Po­lice­men are at risk in their du­ties; so are doc­tors in hos­pi­tals, heads of schools, teach­ers, and even san­i­tary in­spec­tors. The ap­pli­ca­tion of the rule of law is dan­ger­ously at risk. Even or­di­nary men and women on the street are at risk,” writes Shya­mon Jayas­inghe in re­sponse to the com­ments made by CaFFE in the Colombo Tele­graph.

The fact is that Sri Lankan pol­i­tics is marred by cor­rup­tion, dou­ble-deal­ing and the works. To date, more than a hun­dred min­is­ters have been ac­cused of in­dulging in all kinds of ques­tion­able ac­tiv­i­ties and have noth­ing to show for pol­icy de­vel­op­ment in their ju­ris­dic­tions. An il­le­gally con­sti­tuted chief jus­tice says he wants to re­form the jus­tice sys­tem while the prime min­is­ter is fac­ing al­le­ga­tions of hero­ine deal­ing. Sim­i­larly, an ex­am­iner who had failed the son of a big shot in a pre­lim­i­nary avi­a­tion test is be­ing pushed out of of­fice and a law col­lege prin­ci­pal who was sacked on se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of nepo­tism in the con­duct of ex­am­i­na­tions is be­ing pro­moted to high of­fice.

If people like these can par­tic­i­pate in lo­cal pol­i­tics and don’t suf­fer the con­se­quences of their ac­tions, then why, ask crit­ics, should the ac­tresses be pun­ished for want­ing to do the same? Who knows, they may pro­duce bet­ter re­sults than the afore­men­tioned male politi­cians and may ac­tu­ally have some­thing to show for in the com­ing years.

(Left to right): Gayesha Per­era, Nadee­sha He­ma­mali and Anarkalli – Sri Lankan beau­ties who are test­ing po­lit­i­cal wa­ters.

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