Mahinda’s magic and Ranil’s rot dominate the electorate
Posted on March 19th, 2011
H. L. D. Mahindapala
As expected, Mahinda Rajapakse won the local government elections. And, as expected, Ranil Wickremesinghe lost. The surprise, if it is a surprise at all, is not in these result but in the solid grip Mahinda still has on the electorate. The pundits were predicting losses for Mahinda, saying that his magic has gone due to (!) the rising cost of living, (2) corruption (3) Sarath Fonseka factor and (3) the erosion of the feel-good factor in the post-Nandikadal period. Despite these, the pundits were still expecting him to win but not on the scale of the results on the board. The results confirm that the voters do not want to abandon Mahinda. At least not yet. In fact, the figures show that they have given him a new lease of life. Simultaneously, the figures show (whichever way you juggle the statistics) that the voters are not prepared to trust Ranil. He is to the voters what the pigs are to the Muslims: arahan!
The bells have begun to toll not only for Ranil but also for the JVP and their icon Sarath Fonseka. The joint opposition was waiting gleefully to reap a windfall from the missteps of the Rajapakse regime. Misreading as usual the signs of the time, the opposition, projecting its own hopes – and not the ground realities — was expecting a revolt on the scale of what’s going on in the Middle East. There were theoreticians and media commentators who thought that this election would be the beginning of the end of the Rajapakses. Right now the opposition is faced with the task of manufacturing excuses for their failure.
Leaving aside the usual allegations of thuggery, violence, rigging, unfair use of state resources, bribery, non-distribution of vote cards etc., one single factor is undeniable: Mahinda Rajapakse stands tall because there is no alternative to him in the political arena. The way the political parties are positioned in the national electorate the only available alternative to Mahinda is Ranil. But nobody wants him – not even the UNPers. That is the essential meaning of this election. In other words, the voters have said for the umpteenth time that they neither trust Ranil nor do they want him anywhere near the seats of power. He is branded forever, rightly or wrongly, with the tag of being a traitor to the nation.
So Ranil has to go. If the UNP is that dense not to get the message this time then they deserve to be in opposition permanently with Ranil as their leader. Of course, the pro-Ranil lobby will come out saying that the election was not led by Ranil but by Karu Jayasuriya, his deputy. If Ranil’s camp comes out with this excuse then they must get their head examined for suicidal tendencies. The UNPers were hoping to make the people believe that there had been a change in the leadership by putting Karu into the frontline. But the results prove that the people were not willing to buy this argument. The voters could not be fooled by this katta-kapati keliya of Ranil who was hoping to stage a triumphant come back, through the backdoor, if by any chance the UNP won. He stepped out of the arena hoping to claim credit if the UNP won and, in the alternative, hoping to put the blame on his deputies who ran the campaign if they lost.
But the underlying fact in this game of deception was that Ranil had virtually resigned from the leadership of the party and handed it over to his deputy, Karu, until the elections were over. It is in short, an admission of him that he is not fit to the run the party. In a democracy, if a leader is not there to run an election campaign what is he there for? Is the sword that is not there for the war to chop jak? (Yuddeta nathi kaduwa kos kotannada?) He was hoping that Karu will pull the chestnuts out of the fire for him. But that gamble too has failed.
Desperate Ranil is going from bad to worse. This is the last trick he can play. He has no legitimate grounds now to claim the leadership of the party hereafter. If he lacks self-confidence to face the public with the party behind him what is the use of him for the party? Is he a leader or a free-loader waiting to grab the victories of others?
What is he going to do now? More importantly, what is the UNP going to do now? The people have passed their verdict once gain. They say that they will not trust him ever again. They know that if he won the election in 2005 the history of this nation would have been written not by the people but by Erik Solheim and Prabhakaran jointly. They also know that if he wins again he would push the reverse button and take Sri Lanka back to the days of the Ceasefire Agreement, handing over the north-east to the Tamil Eelamists. The people also know that the Tigers and Ranil never change their stripes.
This is the time for the UNP to change the leadership. The results should strengthen the hands of the Sajith Premadasa camp. He should be given his place not only because he is popular but also because nothing significant is going to happen politically till the next major elections in 2015 and 2016. This will give enough space for him to gain the necessary experience and also to stabilize the UNP as the alternative.
As for Mahinda Rajapakse he can still bank on the goodwill of the people who are grateful to him for restoring the lost dignity and pride of the nation. The post-war macro-economic management too has gone well. Nivard Cabraal, the Governor of the Central Bank, manages and articulates the broad issues of the economy quite effectively. . The biggest problem facing the Rajapakse regime is in maintaining the political and economic momentum. The success in these areas will depend on the management of the micro-economics at the grass-root level.
In the domestic front food security and job security are going to be two of the critical issues that will dominate politics between now and the next elections. Of course, they must be mindful that whatever goes wrong – even natural disasters — will be blamed on them, whether they like it or not.
In the foreign front the government will have to face the full brunt of the Tamil expatriates and the NGOs. The government cannot avoid the challenges coming from these two anti-Sri Lankan sources. At the moment the government is struggling to get on top of these two issues. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the government as a whole is equipped to take these challenges head-on. The government is batting on the back-foot on these two vital issues. Unless the government gets its act together on the foreign front it will be plagued by foreign pressures. The government must focus on these two issues on the same scale on which it fought the battle against the Tamil Tigers. Anything less would have serious consequences to the government and the nation.