Campaigning ended here today for Thursday's general election, with political pundits generally agreed that the vote will spell an end to the seven-year reign of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
The temptation to draw parallels with the country's large and imposing northern neighbor. India, has been great, and the opposition United National Party has succumbed with enthusiasm.
Sri Lanka, the opposition says, has its Sanjay Gandhi, in the person of Bandaranaike's sone Anura. Like Prime Minister Gandhi's son before his election defeats, Anura leads the party's youth wing, and his earlier readiness to speak of "Asia's two rising sons" has provided ammunition for his critics, who recall Sanjay's role as an exponent of some of the harsher aspects of his mother's emergency regime.
Bandaranaike also ruled under all emergency decree, and it ran four years longer than Gandhi's - from shortly before the uprising by leftist youths in 1971 until February this year. Like Gandhi, she sought to extend her team by another two years, until opposition within her own coalition government dissuaded her.
The leader of the United National Party. Junius Richard Jayewardne, is known to his friends as "JR.." and to his enemies as "Yankee Dick," because of his opposition to rubber sales to China during the Korean War, and his invitation to U.S. servicemen fighting in Indochina to spend their "rest and recreation" breaks in Sri Lanka. He pictures himself now as Sri Lanka's version of Moraji Desai, the ascetic leader of India's new People's Party government.
"I am an nustere man," he said in an interview at his large but frugally furnished home in a fashionable suburb of Colombo. "Moraji Desai has given us lead," he said. "We must put government in a moral base." He neither smokes nor drinks does yoga every morning, and is a vigorous 71 years old.
The extent to which the Indian experience is reflected in Sri Lanka is more in the difference than in the simialrities, however.
In Sri Lanka, the emergency did not see even a temporary fall in prices, much less any challenge to in efficient burcauracy or state-run enterprises.
Charges of nepotism and corruption against Bandaravaike have gone mostly unanswered.
As a member of the recently legalized People's Liberation Front, which spearheaded the 1971 uprising put it, "The fact that 262 of Mrs. Bandara naike's relatives have jobs in government and public service might not make much difference when there are a million unemployed out of a total population of 13 million, but nepotism and corruption have been so blatant that even in a society where patronage is the norm, it has become too much."
To small extent, Bandaranaike appears to have sensed the sentiment. Two of her daughter's and a son-in-law wanted to run for office until she discouraged them.
Her own seat is apparently safe enough. Her nephew and finance minister, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, is expected to win, and ner son Anura should scrape home third in a three-member constituency. The arithmetic of the election nevertheless throws her future into doubt. Bandaranaike's party held 85 seats in the old Parliament and enjoyed additional support from coalition partner sin the 168-seat assembly.
She came to power in 1970 partly with the support of the Trotskyite Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Moscow line Communist Party. Both have now ruled out cooperation "with the present Freedom Party leadership."
The government in office has lost in the last five general elections, and although the electorate is one of the most literate and politically sophisticated in Asia, immediate bread-and-butter issues have the most impact, especially with inflation running at 35 per cent.
Bandaranaike's voice was hoarse and breaking after more than a hundred rallies in which she argued that her government brought land reform, the nationalization of British-owned tea estates, irrigation project and one of the most wide-ranging system of social services in Asia.
For the unemployed and the underemployed, the mothers who cvnnot but milk for their children, or the subsistence farmer wondering why Sri lanka spent a small fortune hosting last year's non-aligned conference the long-term issues are unimportant, however.
Wht Magic Jayewardene hopes to work is not clear.
He asys that prices can be reduced by rooting out corruption and mismanagement in the public sector. He proposes a free-trade zone on the coast to encourage foreign investment. Like every other party contesting the election, his United National Party calims to be "socialist," but he promisses greater freedom for individual enterprise. Like Bandaranaine. Like Bandaranaine, he is an opposite apostle of nonligment in foreign policy.