The dullest of all presidential election campaigns
Posted on December 7th, 2014

Courtesy Island

That Navin Dissanayake defected to the opposition last week was hardly surprising. From the time Karu Jayasuriya went back to the UNP, Navin’s days in the UPFA were more or less numbered. With a father-in-law who was the deputy leader and later the Chairman of the Leadership Council of the UNP, Navin would never have been completely trusted by the UPFA leadership. Yet, to his credit, it has to be said that Navin was one of the 17 UNP defectors of 2007 who managed to win a seat in parliament contesting on the UPFA ticket in 2010. He came first among the UPFA’s two Sinhala MPs in that Tamil majority district. (the top three slots in that district will always be taken by Tamil MPs under the proportional representation system.) That is not a bad achievement at all given the fact that when the 2010 parliamentary election was held, Navin’s father-in-law was the deputy leader of the UNP. If he managed to swim upstream against the natural mistrust that the SLFP voter would have entertained about him, that displays certain abilities.

The UNP effusively welcomed him back into the party. The present writer always held Gamini Dissanayake in high regard, and Gamini D never tried to hide the fact that he wanted to bring Navin into politics. In fact when this writer would go to see GD, he would get Navin to sit in at the discussions obviously to acclimatize Navin who was then barely out of his teens into the world of politics. When Navin wanted to leave the UNP in 2007, he asked the present writer for some advice. My advice to him was that his heritage and his roots are in the UNP and that he should think very carefully about moving out because he would in fact be moving out into alien territory. But by that time, the internal bickering in the UNP had taken such a toll on the young man that he probably didn’t care about the possible consequences of leaving the UNP. Well as it turned out there were no real consequences as he did manage to get elected to parliament even on the SLFP ticket.

It has also to be said that Navin has now returned to a UNP that is different to the one he left in 2007. The party leader is now more concerned about maintaining unity in the party than he was in the past. Furthermore, Sajith Premadasa has been appointed deputy leader. In fact Sajith was present when Navin made his first visit to Sirikotha last week and Sajith welcomed Navin with many warm words at the press conference that followed. Sajith drew attention to the fact that he had been appointed an electoral organizer for Hambantota for the first time by Gamini Dissanyake. Though the political rivalry between R.Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake shook Sri Lanka to its foundations in the early 1990s, it was clear that Sajith wanted bygones to be bygones and for the second generation to make a fresh start. In fact two decades ago, it was Sajith and his mother Hema Premadasa who took the first steps in that direction by taking a leading role in Gamini’s presidential election campaign and exhorting all supporters of Premadasa to vote for Gamini.

Navin will of course have to watch out for his future electoral prospects in the Nuwara Eliya district. Gamini Dissanayake was held in high regard by the Tamil people but in the context of today’s ethnic based voting pattern such considerations fall by the wayside. Tamils vote for Tamil candidates and the Sinhalese vote for Sinhala candidates. In 2010, not a single Sinhala MP was elected on the UNP list in the Nuwara Eliys district. Even veterans like K.K.Piyadasa and Renuka Herath got nowhere. In fact, ironically, Navin managed to get into parliament in 2010 only because he contested on the UPFA list which has two Sinhala MPs. Be that as it may, the return of Navin Dissanayake and Dr Rajitha Senaratne to the UNP fold is good for the UNP. So is the defection of Vanni district MP Hunais Farook and Wasantha Senanayake.

Except for Rajitha these are all relatively young people and it would give the UNP some much needed rejuvenation. Hunais Farook entered parliament from Rishard Baithiudeen’s party in 2010. He may not be able to get elected on the UNP ticket from the Vanni district next time as the only ‘UNP’ parliamentarian from that district is actually a member of the Muslim Congress. So you have to be either with Rishard or with Hakeem to stand any chance of becoming a Muslim MP from the Vanni district. Nevertheless Hunais is an educated Muslim who may be of help in shoring up the UNP’s fast eroding Muslim base. The UNP will not get anywhere with the presidential election. But at least they have managed to get a few people who may be of help to this party in the future. Rajitha especially, will be a great boon as a platform speaker and TV debater for the UNP.

MOU signing a flop

The signing of the joint opposition MOU at the open air theatre in the Viharamahadevi Park last Monday was a damp squib. In normal circumstances, if a presidential election has been announced and  the leader of the UNP was contesting that election, and it was known to the public that the UNP presidential candidate will be signing an MOU with other political parties in Town Hall, the whole area would have been a sea of heads and traffic would have come to a standstill. Yet when the common candidate signed the MOU with several political parties and up to 35-40 other organizations, the open air theatre was not even full. And even the apathetic and indifferent looking crowd that was present was there only because the UNP leader was present. If not for Ranil’s presence, the only people there would have been the signatories! Clearly that is not an auspicious start.

After the signing of the common opposition MOU, the first public meeting promoting the common candidate was held at the Uyanwatte stadium in Matara. Even that was hardly successful in comparison to a usual UNP presidential rally. The UNP leader addressed this meeting, but like the MOU signing ceremony this meeting too did not draw large crowds. At this meeting, RW was just a speaker. The interesting thing is that Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe are not going around the country together as the Presidential candidate and his designated ‘prime ministerial candidate’ should. One would have thought that all meetings of the common opposition should have had the photograph of Sirisena in one corner of the stage with the caption ‘Janapathi apekshaka’ and RW’s photograph in the other corner with the caption ‘Agamethi apekshaka’.  In such an event perhaps there would have been greater enthusiasm among UNP voters. But RW speaks at these meetings as just one of many speakers.

In fact Ranil and Chandrika appear to be getting the same prominence at these meetings of the common opposition candidate, which is certainly not going to do anything to reassure the UNP voter. One of the reasons why CBK gets such prominence is obviously due to the media focusing on her for scandal value. But this prominence may also be due to the very real influence that CBK appears to be wielding in the common opposition campaign. News coming down the grapevine indicates that CBK has virtually taken over the campaign for the common candidate and even appointed her own coordinators at the district and electorate level. There are of course, some practical reasons for this. Even in the best of circumstances at a presidential election, the candidate has to look after himself even if he is the leader of a political party. The parliamentarians in a political party will not exert themselves for a presidential election the way they would to get themselves re-elected at a parliamentary election. Everybody puts one’s personal self interest first.

Given this situation, the presidential candidate has to look after his own interest without relying completely on the parliamentarians in his party. At the very least, the presidential candidate should have some mechanism of ensuring that the necessary work is done at the ground level. So this may be what CBK has been doing. But even in the best of circumstances, this causes friction within the camp. Even within a political party, the local politicians resent being supervised by election coordinators from outside. Now in a situation where Sirisena does not have a political party and is dependent on the UNP, appointing coordinators from outside will only fuel the resentment of ground level UNP politicians. Despite this, there is no alternative to appointing campaign coordinators from above because if money is distributed to UNP organizers to do the work, they may simply stash it away for their own parliamentary election!

Nobody in the UNP is really interested in this presidential election and even Ranil himself is interested only in the parliamentary election that will follow, so the probability of organizers stashing away money for their own purposes is that much greater. But if no money is distributed to the UNP organizers and their involvement is minimized, the common candidate project will be courting disaster. Such signs are already apparent. The reason for the lack luster MOU signing ceremony in Town Hall could probably be because nobody in the UNP is prepared to spend even a cent on the common candidate given the fact that a parliamentary election would be due soon.

Apart from these organizational factors, another reason for the rather lacklustre and muted campaign is the lack of campaign slogans that would fire the imagination or motivate the man on the street. The MOU that was signed by the common opposition on December 1, concentrates on four factors, of which three have no relevance at all to the man on the street. The abolishing of the executive presidency, the abolishing of the 18th Amendment to the constitution and introducing a hybrid electoral system are not topics designed to attract the attention of the ordinary voter. The issue of the cost of living which has been taken as the fourth matter is however certainly relevant to the ordinary masses. But here too the opposition would be at a disadvantage because nobody really believes that the cost of living can be brought down by changing governments.

Another serious disadvantage that the opposition is having with regard to the campaign is the personality of the common candidate. Seniority in a political party alone will not make someone suitable as a presidential candidate. Maithripala Sirisena was never a key figure in any SLFP led government, the way S.B.Dissanayke and Mangala Samaraweera were in Chandrika’s government. You can’t expect a back row figure to transmogrify into a national leader overnight. The stark contrast between Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main challenger can hardly be lost the voter – which is another reason for the rather muted presidential campaign. Those who have promoted the common candidate by now probably realize that they have made a bad mistake and have probably set the opposition back by another ten years by not allowing the UNP leader to come forward.

How S.D. Muni got things wrong

Last week, when this writer asked one prominent promoter of the common candidate project whether it wouldn’t have been better for the UNP leader to have contested, the answer I got was that even if Ranil had contested, Sajith would not have supported him fully and that after Ranil lost he would have tried to wrest the party leadership from him. This has now become a stock excuse that promoters of the common candidate project use to downplay the enormity of the mistake they have made. Sajith Premadasa is no doubt an aspiring leader of the UNP, but he could not have aspired to the leadership of the party by sabotaging the election campaign of the party leader. If Ranil had contested and Sajith had been seen to be sabotaging his campaign actively or passively, that would have destroyed Sajith’s political standing in the UNP. He could not have staked his claim to the leadership of the UNP by pulling the party leader down when the latter is engaged in combat with the enemy.

Undermining a presidential candidate fielded by one’s own party can be done by a political leader who already holds the leadership of that party – the way Mrs Bandaranaike worked to undermine Hector Kobbekaduwa in 1982. Likewise at this election, Ranil Wickremesinghe can, if he wants to, undermine Sirisena’s campaign and not suffer any consequences. But if Sajith Premadasa aspires to the leadership of the party, he will not make any headway if the party rank and file sees that he has facilitated Ranil’s defeat at an election. On the contrary had RW contested this election, Sajith would have had to be seen to be doing his best to make the party candidate win.

It’s remarkable how even overseas commentators who should know better have failed to take into account the dynamics of political parties with regard to a presidential candidate to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa. At a recent RSTV talk show in India, S.D.Muni, a former Jawaharlal Nehru University don and recipient of the Sri Lanka Ratna award, described Ranil as a ‘serial loser’ thus dismissing his potential as a presidential candidate. That Ranil is a serial loser of elections is only too obvious. But Professoer Muni who is familiar with the local political set up and should have known better has failed to recognize that he who is most likely to be able to muster the entire UNP vote is also Ranil (with appropriate backing from Sajith Premadasa). The most essential factor that the promoters of the common candidate have forgotten is that what matters most is the ability to galvanize and harness the UNP vote without which no common candidate has any hope of getting anywhere.

It may be pertinent to point out at this stage that even though reform of the electoral system by replacing the present proportional representation system with a hybrid first-past-the-post/ proportional system has been posited as one of the main platforms of the common opposition, none of the signatories to the December 1 MOU ever agreed to the hybrid electoral system that was finally decided on by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms of the last parliament headed by Dinesh Gunawardene. Of all those parties that have joined the common opposition candidate, only the JHU agreed to it. The UNP never agreed to it even though the hybrid first past the post-proportional system actually favours the larger political parties as against the smaller parties – a fact which makes JHU support for the reforms suggested all the more creditworthy.

Be that as it may, the fact that there is yet no electoral system to which the UNP has agreed to, makes all this talk of electoral reform and wide ranging constitutional reform promised by the common candidate pie in the sky. If the political parties were unable to agree on a formula for electoral reform at a parliamentary select committee that sat throughout the better part of the last parliament, how are they going to effect sweeping constitutional reforms including the abolishing of the presidential system, within just 100 days? All these reasons are contributing to public apathy and this presidential election campaign is now clearly becoming the dullest presidential campaign of all the presidential races held so far.

Supreme court vacancy

Last Monday, Ceylon Today reported that the President of the Bar Association had said that Appeal Court Judge Anil Gooneratne should be appointed to the Supreme Court in place of Justice Saleem Marsoof who will be retiring soon. The Bar Assn. Head had made the allegation that Judge Gooneratne was being penalized for having issued a writ against the impeachment of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake by a parliamentary select committee. This writer wishes to make an observation on this matter as we did write extensively on this subject at that time. In the view of this writer the judgement delivered by the Appeal Court by Justices S. Sriskandarajah, Anil Gooneratne and A.W.A. Salam in the writ application made by the then Chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake was by far the most scandalous and dangerous judgement ever delivered by a Sri Lankan court.

What these three judges did was to interpret Articles 138 and 140 of the constitution in such a manner as to bring parliament under the jurisdiction of the appeal court! Article 138(1) which outlines the jurisdiction of the Court of appeal goes as follows:

“The Court of Appeal shall have and exercise subject to the provisions of the Constitution or of any law, an appellate jurisdiction for the correction of all errors in fact or in law which shall be committed by the High Court, in the exercise of its appellate or original jurisdiction or by any Court of First Instance, tribunal or other institution and sole and exclusive cognizance, by way of appeal, revision and restitutio in integrum, of all causes, suits, actions, prosecutions, matters and things of which such High Court, Court of First Instance tribunal or other institution may have taken cognizance :”

Article 140 of the constitution lays down the powers of the Court of Appeal and goes as follows:

“Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall have full power and authority to inspect and examine the records of any court of first Instance or tribunal or other institution, and grant and issue, according to law, orders in the nature of writs of certiorari, prohibition, procedendo, mandamus and quo warranto against the judge of any court of first instance or tribunal or other institution or any other person.”

Anybody reading these provision will see that the jurisdiction of the Appeal court extends from the High Court downwards to counts of first instance, various tribunals and other institutions. From the order in which these institutions have been mentioned, it is crystal clear that the ‘other institutions’ mentioned here are institutions ranking below the courts of first instance and various tribunals. By no stretch of the imagination can anyone include parliament under the rubric of ‘other institution’ in terms of Articles 138 and 140 of the constitution. For arguments sake, if parliament comes under ‘other institutions’ mentioned in Articles 138 and 140, so should the Supreme Court. Does that mean that the Appeal Court has jurisdiction to correct errors in fact and law made by the Supreme Court as well?

It is fortunate for this country that we had an opposition leader who was experienced enough and knowledgeable enough to see the danger in giving the Appeal Court a handle over the supreme legislature of the country.  In the view of this writer, this judgement given by appeal court judges S. Sriskandarajah Anil Gooneratne and A.W.A. Salam was far more serious than anything done by Shrinai Bandaranayke. It is certainly true that Shrini Bandaranayake was the chief justice at the time she made that writ application in the court of appeal. But an appeal court judge is not a police inspector who can claim to have been intimidated by a DIG. These are judges of the higher courts. They should have flatly refused to misinterpret the constitution in such an obvious and scandalous manner. Now if a judge who delivered such a judgement which calls into question even his professional competence and integrity, is promoted to the Supreme Court, what is the message that this will send to the entire judicial service?

10 Responses to “The dullest of all presidential election campaigns”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Brilliant Analysis by Sunday Island, a pro-UNP paper

    This is all what we have been discussing and I am sure on 8th January everyone in Sri Lanka will understand the gravity of electing a dangerous and untrustworthy man who can easily take others down for himself to go up, who uses manipulation to get what he wants, instead of inspiration and motivation.

    He should be a natural mediator rather than one that creates conflict, tension, and separation

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Palwatte Gamaralage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena’s MOU’s are not MOU’s but MOM’s: Memoranda of Misunderstanding … designed to PANDER to potential ALLIES, CONFUSE the PUBLIC, and embed enough VAGUENESS to ALLOW REVERSAL!

    The “Common Opposition” is a VAST CON GAME being inflicted on the VOTERS of Sri Lanka to USURP the Government and engineer a REGIME CHANGE with foreign money!

    The GOSL should monitor SUDDEN INCREASES IN WEALTH of all Politicians seeking election and inflows of REGIME CHANGE funds.

    This will REQUIRE all candidates to DECLARE THEIR ASSETS to the Dept. of Elections, as an integral part of the candidate registration process, ENACT NEW LAWS with SEVERE PENALTIES that define PERMISSIBLE campaign contributions, and to DISCLOSE all sources and amounts of CAMPAIGN FUNDS after the election. Individual campaign contributions from a single individual, company or organization should be LIMITED and the DIVERSION of campaign contributions for any other purpose, such as the private accounts of the candidates, should be made ILLEGAL.

    This will allow Foreign Regime Change Funds to be DETECTED and STOPPED, REDUCE bribery and corruption by identifying politicians who GROW RICH IN OFFICE, and PREVENT wealthy individuals from BUYING elections!

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Divaina says
    මෙහිදී පොලොන්නරුව ආසන සංවිධායක කිංග්ස්‌ නෙල්සන් රනිල්ගෙන් ප්‍රශ්නයක්‌ අසමින් කතා කළේ මෙසේය.

    “පොලොන්නරුවේ මෛත්‍රී මහත්තයා දැන් ඔන්න ගොවි පුතෙක්‌ බව කියනවා. හැබැයි නායකතුමා පහුගිය කාලේ වී ගොවියව නැති කළේත් ඔයගොල්ලම තමයි. මෙහේ හාල් මාෆsයාවක්‌ ඇති කරලා ගොවියෝ නැති කළේ පුංචි මෝල්කාරයෝ විනාශ කළේ ඔය මෛත්‍රියි එයාගෙ මල්ලියි ඩඩ්ලියි තමයි. ඉතින් සර් එයාට ඡන්දෙ දෙන්න කියලා ගමට ගිහින් මිනිස්‌සුන්ට කියන්න කියල ද සර් අපට කියන්නේ. පොලොන්නරුවේ ජනතාවට ඒ වගේ අපහාසයක්‌ කරන්න අපට පුළුවන්ද… ඔබතුමා හිතුවද පොලොන්නරුවේ මිනිස්‌සු එයාට ඡන්දය දෙයි කියලා…”

  4. Hiranthe Says:

    Thank God!

    Some relief!

    If the Old Deities who protected our motherland from the time of Great King Parakramabahu are still looking after us, they will make sure the people who are responsible of lowering the water level of Parakrama Samudraya will not win to rule this country. MS’s defeat will start from Polonnaruwa. That is exactly Kingsley Nelson has told Run-nil.

    Ill will planning by US and the West are human strategies. It is no way comparable to divine plans. Our motherland is protected by divine blessings and strategies. Lord Budda has instructed them to protect this land and that is it…

    JHU Ratana Mahaththaya will go and settle in US with his masters as they promised him. Patali and Udaya will have no way to run. They should at least now realise and change the camp. If they have no place to go.. why not BBS? They are more national minded than the Common Candidate Camp and also the SLFP.
    MR should not take the credit of the win to himself. He should kill his ego and surrender to the local deities and Gam bara deviyos and ditch all the Kudu captains and thugs and get a clean bunch of people to rule the country with “Dasa Raja Dharma”. Spread Metta to all and then ditch the 13A. The power of Metta will keep Endia at bay as we are honestly trying to help solve Tamil aspirations by establishing Grama Sabha, to which they can easily relate to.

    Finally the Divine plan for Mother Lanka seems to be working when all our human brains have become over worked and tired and stupid.

  5. Vimutti Says:

    According to Sri Lanka Resettlement Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka offered him a green card and scholarships in the US to his children if he removed the army camps in the North and East

    Google: “US denies funding opposition to oust Sri Lanka leader”

    It is clear that the US understands that military presence in the North and East and the prospect of settling the area with Buddhists to balance out the Tamil population completely destroys their plan to destabilize the country with more terrorism and divide Sri Lanka into two countries.

  6. Independent Says:

    Vimutti,
    There is minimal presence of security forces there right now. Less than Chandrika’s time. we must increase this urgently otherwise it is just a matter of time that trouble will start. It may not be similar to last time it may be different, worse form of separatism. It is imperative to change education system and teach them properly about Sri Lanka than teaching Tamil nadu tales.

  7. Ananda-USA Says:

    My Presidential Election Prediction!

    Total Number of Registered voters = 15 million

    Percentage voting for the top two candidates = 66.7 %
    Percentage of non-voters and those voting for other 16 candidates = 33.3%

    Number of VOTES CAST for the top two candidates = 10 million

    Percentage of VOTES CAST for President Mahinda Rajapaksa = 62.5%
    Number of VOTES CAST for President Mahinda Rajapaksa = 6.25 milllion

    Percentage of VOTES CAST for the Common Candidate = 37.5%
    Number of VOTES CAST for the Common Candidate = 3.75 million

    Margin of VICTORY of President Mahinda Rajapakse as a Percentage of VOTES CAST for the top two= 25 %
    Margin of VICTORY of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Number of VOTES CAST for the top two = 2.5 million

    This is my CONSERVATIVE estimate, folks!

    My OPTIMISTIC ESTIMATE is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa could get over 2/3 of the VOTES CAST constituting a LANDSLIDE VICTORY!

    Mewa Ranga Dena Baila; Mewa Liya Ganilla!

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    SLMC and some CWC MPs plan to crossover tomorrow.

    As the govt. weakens, remaining MPs will make their demands to stay.

    Harin of UVA has said he held talks with some UPFA councilors and they may crossover during the week giving the opposition the top post.

    It will be the FIRST defeat of a Rajapaksha. IF it happens, Rajapakshas invincibility goes out the window.

    Oh! the 13th amendment! It RUINED MR.

  9. SenaD Says:

    This question that I want an answer is out of topic but I am curious to know why so many no-hopers are in the fight.

    Do they get any privileges just by being contestants?

  10. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lorenzo,

    Why do you wailing about “runing MR”?

    After all, if MR is ruined in this election, you are one of those who helped ruin him! I expect you to REJOICE!

    Don’t shed Crocodile Tears here; it is rather unbecoming, old chap!

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