Ranil’s tactical success, Mahinda’s strategic victory
Posted on February 19th, 2018

By Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA Courtesy The Island

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe scored a tactical victory in the power struggle with President Sirisena. He won it on terrain that was favorable to President Sirisena. This means that in the art of infighting and manipulation, Ranil Wickremesinghe has no peer in Lankan politics. What of Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the battle for the SLFP vote base, one may well ask. Mahinda did not win that battle by the art of infighting. He won it by taking the battle outside, to the people, and by reposing his trust in the people. Ranil has won the battle in the corridors and the backrooms. Mahinda won the ground game.

What makes it tactical is that it comes on top of an unprecedented defeat in the local government elections at the hands of a political party which is only a few months old, and a political phenomenon—the MR comeback—which is only three years old, if you date it back to the Nugegoda February 2015 mass mobilization.

What makes it tactical rather than strategic is also the fact that the only change that has happened at the level of mass popularity is the UNP’s drop by 13% and 1.3 million votes. At least the official SLFP has the factor of a split to blame. The UNP remains intact and the loss was therefore not the result of a split but rather of a drastic reduction of support at the ground level.

Why then do I say that Mahinda Rajapaksa won a strategic victory? Firstly he and his brother Basil have repeated SWRD Bandaranaike and DA Rajapaksa’s achievement but in a compressed time frame. The founders of the SLFP built a third force that swept to the top, but it did not do so on its first electoral outing. The SLFP was formed in 1951, contested the election of 1952 but could not displace either the UNP or the Left, which remained the main Opposition. The SLFP broke through at the next general election in 1956. By contrast, the Pohottuwa beat the UNP, the official SLFP and of course the JVP, at its very first electoral outing, mere months after formation.

Mahinda Rajapaksa not only holds the largest chunk of votes in the country– 45%– but he has also probably jumped the 50% mark by now, thanks to the way in which the UNP won the recent power struggle. That struggle has been won by the UNP at the expense of President Sirisena.

The President’s power base is the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He has no other political power base, only an institutional one. That power base is being drastically undermined.

That undermining was because its votes were hemorrhaging to the breakaway Pohottuwa. That hemorrhage was because the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was in alliance as a subordinate partner with the UNP.

The breakaway organization was the natural result and reaction of the SLFP shifting drastically from its traditional role as moderate nationalist opposition to the UNP.

It was a subordinate partner of the UNP in government because the SLFPers who crossed over to the project of a unity government with the UNP could not carry their party with them. They could neither convince the majority of their fellow MPs nor their vote base.

The SLFP’s vote base was repelled by the policies and profile of the UNP as it was led by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe was taking the government in a direction that was anathema to SLFP voters.

Therefore the official SLFP failed to retain the bulk of their base. Thus it is was weakened at this last election and by direct extension the President’s power base was weakened. Therefore the President had to act.

That action initially took the form of seeking to persuade the UNP to drop Mr. Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister because he was toxic to the SLFP base. The President was willing to stay with the alliance with the UNP and the SLFP was willing to remain within it provided the main center of neoliberalism and anti-nationalism, the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, was surgically removed.

When the UNP stayed with Ranil and he eyeballed it with the President, the latter finally blinked. What happens next—or rather, now—is predictable, almost inevitable.

Though the Chandrika faction of the SLFP, supported by some who came from the UNP and were always UNP at heart, will remain within the government, many SLFP MPs will not. They will constitute the second wave of resistors, after the first wave that stayed with the August 2015 mandate against a coalition with Ranil’s UNP. The official SLFP will suffer its second split, this time a smaller one, but one which will leave Mahinda Rajapaksa with a larger number of SLFP MPs than before Feb. 10th.

In terms of MPs, Mahinda is not back to the day of the August 2015 election, at which he won 96, but he certainly will have more than the 50 plus he had after 44 SLFPers defected to the unity coalition with the UNP and the 56 he has now.

More important in the strategic character of Mahinda’s success, is the shift in the vote base. Though the number of SLFPers who cross over may or may not be larger than those who remain in government, what will almost certainly happened is that the 13% of the SLFP vote which stayed away from Mahinda’s camp will almost certainly switch to it.

That switch will come either with the move of the SLFP MPs from Government to Opposition, or simply by a shift of allegiance, as the official SLFP leadership has shown itself unwilling or unable to make good on its signals of dumping the UNP and forming an SLFP government or at the very least of retrenching Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

The ensuing disappointment will shift a significant part of the official SLFP’s 13% vote to the Opposition. This 13% was basically an anti-UNP vote which stayed with the SLFP leadership because those voters gave him the benefit of the doubt especially after his critique of the UNP over the bond scam. All that is over now with the imminent formation of a government in which President Sirisena is weaker, his SLFP participation is smaller and the UNP’s grip is greater.

The shift of much of the residual SLFP vote to the Opposition, accompanied by or accompanying several SLFP MPs, will mean that three years after Nugegoda, Mahinda now has vaulted the magic 50% mark of popular support. This puts him in a situation better than he was when he lost in January 2015. Thus Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s tactical victory in the eyeballing or hand wrestling with President Sirisena would have meant a strategic enhancement for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The factor of the discrediting and thereby weakening of the Sirisena-ist SLFP at the expense of the rightist UNP can only help the populist Opposition which had already won the Feb. 10th election. Either the moderate center shifts to or slipstreams behind the populist Pohottuwa/JO, or the Pohottuwa/JO absorbs and becomes the moderate center.

The final factor that helps Mahinda and enhances his strategic gains are the policies that a predominantly UNP government is almost certain to impose or rather, continue to impose on the people. The result will be observable when the Provincial Council elections are held—and the later that is, the more pronounced Mahinda’s victory will be, as we saw with the delayed Local government elections. And then comes the Presidential election next year, followed by the parliamentary one. It is all visible on the horizon, and the trend—the “real dynamic” as Trotsky termed it—is clear.

4 Responses to “Ranil’s tactical success, Mahinda’s strategic victory”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Sinhala Alt-Right (a term coined by Dayan) won the election.

    He flagged the rise of the Sinhala Alt-Right and the huge space it controlled within SLPP well before the election. He’s right. They won. But my intrigue is since winning the election, Dayan has dropped his term Sinhala Alt-Right.

    The trend of what Dayan called the Sinhala Alt-Right must be maintained. The advantage is it prevented the split of the Sinhala patriotic vote. JHU went bust and BBS could not challenge and divide the SLPP vote. NFF, MEP and PJHU called off their intended split. It is the Sinhala Alt-Right that stops all political solutions in their tracks. What Sri Lanka needs is the Sinhala Alt-Right that avoids extremism and violence.

  2. Christie Says:

    This is a loss for India and Indian Parasite Cabal in the Island.

    Banda was financed by India and Indian Parasite Cabal.

    It appears Mahinda was not financed by India and the Indian Parasites. (If it was it is not to the extent of Banda)

    This is a win for the Sinhalese since 1956 except for Dudley, John and Mahinda.

  3. ranjit Says:

    February 10th victory was a masterpiece led by a political master crafter Mahinda Rajapaksa our beloved leader. That was a poor man’s victory led by a war hero and a patriot to Motherland. His team too should be credited for all the hard work they did during the course of the election. Decent countries around the world which respects democracy bow down to the voice of the people and leave unfortunately we don’t have a decent government to accept the defeat even. So sad of the situation. I hope Mahinda Rajapaksa will not take any wrong decisions like in the past and join with Yamapalanaya yamaballo or any other treacherous traitors who backstab him. He should stick with the pohottuwa and his Mahinda chinthanaya to make our country great again. He should forget the SLFP party and the two symbols which represents it hand and beetle leaf and it’s spineless leader Sirisena. He should not do any hanky panky deals with that traitor or any other leader. Mahinda’s team has many good patriot leaders therefore no need for him to go behind traitors or conspirators to get power back. He has the backing of sinhala buddhists who loves this nation therefore he should concentrate on the issues of the people and work tirelessly with his die hard team and supporters to fulfill their dreams and bring peace and harmony to our Motherland.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    MOKODA WUNAY overight of Feb. n18, 2018??

    The SLFP/UPFA with the support of the JO was going to form a Govt with a majority well in EXCESS of 113 on Feb 18th. Yet, overnight the UNP is confidently claiming VICTORY! How did that happen?

    Did the promised CROSSOVERS from the UNP REFUSE to show up?

    There were also reports that a handful of SLFP MPs DISAPPEARED into hiding and switched off their cell phones, while an EPIDEMIC of SICKNESS struck some other SLFP mPs who checked themselves into Hospital!!

    Did the TRAITORS DISEASE strike WITHOUT warning as it did 200 years ago on March, 2015, and DID IN FACT AAPPAYA Sirisena ORCHESTRATE a SECOND BACKSTABBING??

    Thank God the POHOTTUWA was smart enough to stay beyond the reach of these Machiavellian TRAITORS who cannot be trusted!!

    JVP: SLFP’s traditional support base has shifted to a new camp
    February 19, 2018, 10:48 pm

    By Saman Indrajith

    JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told Parliament yesterday that the results of the local government election had proved that the SLFP’s traditional support base had shifted to a new camp.

    Participating in the adjournment debate on the prevailing political crisis in the country in the aftermath of the local government polls, Dissanayake said: “The elections results have shown the world that SLFP is no longer at the Darley Road but elsewhere. We could not reach our target but we achieved some success. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena should realise that they cannot dream of winning the next presidential election. They won’t be able to muster the forces which brought them to power at the Jan 08, 2015 election. The country needs to end their power gambling.

    Some try to interpret this election results as a referendum. If anyone does so, then there is no clear cut victor in this referendum for none had polled more than 50 percent.

    The incumbent government provides safe haven to fraudsters and thieves. It has become a den of thieves. The government acted in contravention of the mandate it received. The Prime Minister protected one set of thieves while the President protected another. The government failed to punish thieves. It could not punish a single person responsible for the crimes under the previous dispensation. The government delayed investigations. The people reacted by voting against it.”

    MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena moving the motion for debate said the government’s time had come to an end. The government had no legitimacy. “People have rejected you. The government cannot say that the results are only of local government bodies. It is not so. Both the Prime Minister and the President engaged in the campaign and asked people to vote for them. People rejected them. Now, you have no mandate to run this country.”

    NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa, seconding the motion, thanked the people for having sunk their differences and voted for the SLPP for the sake of the country. Now, those who lost would come up with statistical lies to cover up their humiliating defeat. “It is laughable that some pundits are adding up the votes all other parties which contested the LG election polled in a bid to make the SLPP out to be the loser.”

    Health Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne said the Opposition had a dream of toppling the government but it had been shattered. There were media reports to the effect that the UPFA was breaking ranks with the government. The reports quoted Minister Mahinda Amaraweera. Now Minister Amaraweera denied those reports.

    MP Weerawansa challenged Minister Senaratne to prove that Minister Amaraweera had denied it. While Minister Senaratne was trying to read out from his mobile phone, MP Weerawansa said that if the minister had a document to prove it he could table it and what is read out from a mobile phone could not be considered official.

    Minister Senaratne: You are afraid of new technology. You have not passed even Ordinary Level.

    MP Weerwansa: I challenge the Minister to prove that I failed my O Level, if he can do so, I will resign.

    Minister Senaratne: There was a beggar minister, who took funds from his ministry and spent them to throw a party at his sister’s daughter’s wedding. There were no such beggars running ministries anywhere in the world.

    MP Weerwansa: Prove that allegation, Prove it. If you can prove it, I will resign from politics.

    Minister Senaratne: I need do nothing to prove it. Housing Minister in his budget speech tabled all the documents. You went into hiding then. He tabled those documents in this House. You are dreaming of toppling this government so that you can become a minister and influence investigations and get away.

    Opposition Leader R Sampanthan: The team led by Mahinda Rajapaksa could not poll at least 50 percent in last three elections including the recently ended local government elections. Parliament is not constituted on the basis of local government polls results. It is wrong to demand power in Parliament on the basis of local government results. During the early stage of their campaign Mahinda Rajapaksa said that Tamil eelam was being revived. It is abhorrent to play the racial card. If you continue to behave the way you have, eelam will bloom; it will bloom out of your lotus bud. We want a solution in a united, undivided, indivisible and single country. We have made our position clear. It is wrong to instigate communal feelings against a single community while we are demanding a political solution.”

    UNP MP Nalin Bandara said UPFA members had short-lived dreams of forming a government. You came here to prove you had 113 MP on your side today. You cannot now even find 13. I am not sure whether you can show at least three. The President gave you a dead rope. You swallowed it.

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