Thoughts On Seeing Sajith

A candidate (?) for President of Sri Lanka

These things never start on time. It said 2:30 on the invite but Harsha said 3 for the livestream, so I had to time this correctly. Too early and I’d be sitting there, too late and no sitting.

I had a coffee at Black Cat, gave a tourist some directions to Gangaramaya and walked over around 3. This was correct. I registered with my email and a fake phone number and sat down in the back row.

Sajith Premadasa was late but like 15 minutes late, which is wicked early for a politician. My dad once waited like 7 hours for a meeting with CBK, a previous President. When he walked in almost everyone stood up, but what the fuck am I standing up for.

Sajith Presmadasa is an unimposing person and a formidable head of hair. His father’s hair was ruthlessly gelled and combed into submission. Sajith’s is not.

You can’t talk about Sajith without talking about his father, Ranasinghe Premadasa. In many ways a tireless advocate for the poor, in many ways a reputed killer. He made a mess of the war and did a lot of good for people vis a vis the economy. He died in a bomb blast on Armour Street— bicycle, explosion, nothing.

Sajith would have been 26 at the time.

You can’t talk about Sri Lanka politicians without talking about their families. Sajith’s is unusual because it’s just his dad, not some feudal line that has been serving/oppressing some fief since the British started handing out liquor licenses. His dad came from a working class background, which is super unusual in our fundamentally feudal society.

Sajith was born a prince but he ended up in the poor and not UNP-friendly district of Hambantota where he, by all accounts, has worked for the poor and established some grass roots support. But nevermind this background he’s talking.

Oh God it’s boring. What you could say in two syllables he says in five. What you could say in one sentence he says in ten. For example:

Prosperity is predicated upon fulfilling four essential pre-requisites.
1. Necessity to establish decision-making structures that promote sound decision making which ultimate results in positive policy results.
2. Identifying the national priorities to be incorporated in governance agenda.
3. Ensure fast-tracked implementation of, time-targeted policy implementation in terms of the policies that we have formulated.
4. Most essential — thorough monitoring and feedback on the various policy initiatives, its successes and failures.

If you unpack this word sambol, we need a government that plans stuff, does it on time, and then checks to see if it’s done. There’s a lot of that. His opponent’s answer for everything is basically the military, so this dry recitation of process is preferable, but nonetheless dull.

I didn’t have enough charge to play Catan so I’m just sitting there, but it got better. Whereas Sajith’s speech was boring, his direct interactions were quite compelling. I would say that he shines one-on-one, whereas it’s unclear whether his opponent can even take unscripted questions without confessing to a crime.

For one thing Sajith looks at people when talking to them, something the current leader of his party congenitally cannot do. And he also listens.

Indu asked about whether the government should regulate Facebook. Sajith said that he supported self-regulation and that getting the government involved could be a slippery slope. He then said he was sorry he differed from her suggestion.

Whatever you think of his position (I agree), my point is that he listened and actually answered her question, clearly disagreeing but also empathizing. This is highly unusual for a politician, or anyone really. He showed both general and emotional intelligence..

Politicians have to decide everything but they can’t know everything. If they can’t gather the right people and listen to them, they’ll make bad decisions. Sajith listens. This is a huge plus for a politician.

He also seems aware of the difficulty of actually getting anything done. As Housing Minister, he has targeted shelter for all by 2025, in line with his father making 1987 the year of shelter for the homeless at the UN. Now, however, the task has been divided among six ministries. Despite this, he said that they’ve built 2,553 model villages, out of a target of 2,500. The point being that he can execute what he calls time-targeted policies.

I do think that Sajith has done work on the ground, and he has done work for the poor people of this country, where I think it’s best invested. I don’t know if I agree with all his ideas, but if we can get not murdered and invest in the poor I’d be happy.

In his way he tied all the questions back to his verbose speech and in that context it does make sense. Listening to the right people, making a plan, executing it on time. Simple but devilishly difficult. Sajith has an understanding of the nuts and bolts of government, and an ability to connect that to humans one-on-one.

Sajith is obviously happy talking to people and the moderator had to actually get him to stop. Then he remembered that he had to be at Temple Trees, presumably to see the Prime Minister, in like 7 minutes. So he eventually left, but after I did. He hung around to take selfies.

That of course is the problem. Not the selfies, the Prime Minister. That meeting with the party dictator didn’t go well and Sajith still isn’t the official UNP candidate. We don’t have internal party democracy, so Sajith just has to wait for the aristocratic dear leader to let him run.

Ranil should let him run. This would be the first time the UNP runs its own candidate in 15 years. Sajith doesn’t seem like a murderer and he can listen, which basically vaults over the bar for Presidents these days. I don’t know if I’d vote for him yet, but I could vote for him. He deserves a shot.

The link to his livestream is below. Watch and decide for yourself. Just skip to the Q&A (1:19).

Livestream of Sajith 4 New Sri Lanka New Media Event (FB) — 27 August 2019