Western Provincial Council candidates go online: So what?

Duminda SIlva was the first that I know of to launch a website to support his campaign. The bloke looks like Queen Elizabeth on a bad hair day. He has an interesting track record and his (erstwhile) website claims his “foundation” has “donated 9,850 families”, which makes about as much sense as why anyone who would vote for such vile swine. As Indi notes,

Duminda is a repugnant human being who happens to have money. The way he treats women alone is disqualification for public service. And yet he wins. Why? Perhaps because we haven’t offered an alternative. I’m now trying to figure out if/where I’ve registered to vote. I think I’m part of the problem.

So what are the alternatives? Two other candidates from the UNP and JHU have created websites and even entered Facebook.

Shiral Lakthilaka from the UNP has a Facebook profile and a rather interesting website.

Shiral's website
Shiral's website
Shiral's Facebook profile
Shiral's Facebook profile

Not to be outdone, Udaya Gammanpila from the JHU also launched his website recently and also has a Facebook identity.

Udaya's website
Udaya's website
Udaya's Facebook profile
Udaya's Facebook profile

Duminda had a website, but it is offline at the time of writing.

Shiral and Udaya differ on their Facebook approaches. Shiral has a page whereas Udaya has an identity. Shiral has 15 supporters on his page, whereas Udaya has 138 friends, both at the time of writing. Both don’t have much information on their Facebook identities, but with Shiral, it’s possible to view the information without becoming a friend, which is a better approach for a political candidate using Facebook as a means to connect with voters. In both cases however, I don’t believe debates and discussions with those on the platform are engineered to the degree they can be – in other words, this is just an extension of their website strategy, which is itself largely peripheral to real world electioneering.

It’s interesting that not a single candidate has content in Tamil or Sinhala, the assumption being perhaps that everyone in the Western Province can read and comprehend English. The quality of English across the sites is poor and the idiom is very much anchored to Sinhala.

Udaya’s site has a place for donations, the only site to feature this. That said, though the site claims you can donate via VISA, MasterCard, Amex and PayPal, there’s no payment gateway or mechanism in the site.

Content analysis on the sites as they stand is interesting. All the candidates are for democracy, human rights and good governance. Udaya notes he has worked with Amnesty International, Shiral points to his experience in conflict resolution practice and study, and Duminda, well, his website is mercifully offline at the time of writing. All the sites feature the good deeds, writing, research, videos and photos of the candidates and use Flash. The colour schemes generally reflect the colours of the political party they represent, though Udaya’s website has a strong emphasis on the national flag as a motif, mirroring the political ideology of the JHU.

Interesting absence of any audio (e.g. political speeches, radio talk shows, soundbites) on the websites, to date.

Shiral’s website homepage loads in 9.76 seconds and is 530kb. Udaya’s is 494kb and loads in 10.11 seconds (measured using Safari 4 beta on SLT ADSL). Both look aesthetically bad, but render accurately across browsers. Shiral’s website is hosted on GoDaddy under his own name and its clear that it was only started late February in the lead up the campaign. It’s short term utility is reflected in the fact that the domain name is only registered for a year. Udaya’s domain is registered by someone else in California, but is registered for two years. Not convinced that this is because Udaya understands the need to engage with his constituency through the web more than Shiral.

Compare these efforts with the likes of Pissu Poona on Facebook or even some leading bloggers in Sri Lanka and you realise just how far behind the curve they are in leveraging the potential of the web and Facebook to generate votes, or at the very least, as a platform for democratic engagement and progressive ideas generation.

No candidate is using mobile phones, though I was told that one candidate is planning a telephone campaign – the old fashioned but effective method of calling up voters. And though I don’t want to be bombarded with SMS messages touting Duminda’s angelic qualities, it is evident that not a single candidate is aware of the medium as a way of reaching out to prospective voters (e.g. through FrontlineSMS).

The web strategies are self-referential and are platforms for debate, even though the candidates themselves are open to public debate. I haven’t seen any disclosure of assets on the sites, which is required by the law of those appearing for public office. I’ve been told that two candidates have or in the near future will make such a declaration in public (a hugely positive development) but clearly, the emphasis on real world campaign strategies is extremely poorly linked to web based campaign structures.

Would be interesting to see how well each web strategy / site fared after the elections, and in fact, how long they stay online and updated once the candidate has been elected to office, or lost.

4 thoughts on “Western Provincial Council candidates go online: So what?

  1. I know your blog, but excluded it because it was not started in the run up to the PC elections. I was interested here of politicians who had started websites and FB profiles as part of their campaigning.

    But perhaps you can dare to be different and disclose all your assets on your website?

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