Presidential candidacies in focus -UNP candidate will have to carry RW on his back -JVP’s decision will be decisive for UNP -Sirisena a victim of his own subterfuges
Posted on June 22nd, 2019

by C. A. Chandraprema Courtesy The Island

June 22, 2019, 12:00 pm 


With the presidential elections drawing ever closer, all political parties have started their search for candidates. The greatest uncertainty with regard to the possible candidate is within the ruling UNP with Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya being in the fray. This time around there isn’t the possibility of the UNP being able to field a candidate from outside the party as they did in 2010 and 2015 due to stiff opposition from the battered party rank and file. The short-lived hype about Dahammika Perera becoming the common candidate of the UNP showed that in the UNP Wickremesinghe at least has not completely given up on trying to field an outsider again, but the opposition to fielding outsiders is such within the UNP that the idea is now all but dead.

One can see that both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa have announced in an indirect manner that they are in the fray with Karu hinting that he will be willing to take up the candidacy if the party unanimously hands it over to him. Sajith Premadasa has been announcing his availability by stating that if he were the president, he would provide a pair of shoes each for school students in addition to the free uniforms that his father provided. Sajith’s battle cry in a way indicates the seriousness of the position that the UNP finds itself in. There is nothing they can offer the people other than the pledge of handouts. At the next election the UNP will not be able to claim that it has improved the economic situation of the country or national security.

Indeed, the UNP will be fighting the next election with nothing but disaster behind it. It has ruined the economy and the political party system; it has rendered the country ungovernable through various ill-conceived constitutional changes; it has destroyed the political party system by fielding common candidates and it has shown an inability to govern. Against such a background, whoever comes forward as the UNP candidate will face an uphill struggle. The fact that the UNP even has people willing to contest as a presidential candidate even in such circumstances is due to the hope that the block vote formula which carried the day in 2015 will give them a fighting chance once again. That is that the Tamil vote in the Northeast and the Up country vote plus the Muslim vote will give the UNP candidate a chance of victory.

Wildcard, the JVP

The least uncertainty with regard to who the next presidential candidate is going to be is within the SLPP, which has more or less decided on Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The situation following the Easter Sunday bombings has brought security to the forefront of the national agenda and that is an area where GR has a unique advantage over any and all other candidates who will contest against him. The SLPP will be going to this election with the advantage of being the political party that won the last local government elections against all odds and the new political party that trounced both established political parties to come out on top. Furthermore, those associated with the SLPP have a history of having run a very successful government which increased this country’s per capita GDP threefold in nine years, built many infrastructure projects which had been only been dreamt of by other political parties and won a war which the entire world thought was unwinnable.

In the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings, communities who had been estranged earlier are drawing together in scenes that we would never have been able to witness just one year ago. It may not be incorrect to say that the Buddhists, Christians and Hindus today have a confluence of interest unlike at any time before in the post-independence history of the country, and it may well be that the block vote phenomenon that the UNP hopes will be their ticket to victory may not manifest itself in quite the way they expect this time. Some of the blocs that made common cause with the UNP at the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections now have other issues which they know can never be addressed satisfactorily by the UNP.

There is another factor which is not discussed as much as it should be, but will be of crucial importance to the UNP candidate – the JVP. The latter still has a vote bank of about 500,000 and the decision that the JVP makes may well determine the outcome of the presidential election for the UNP. The JVP’s position up to now has been that it will support a common candidate together with the UNP but not a candidate from within the UNP. For the JVP to support a member of the UNP for president will be suicidal in political terms. As of now it has together with the UNP supported two common candidates who were completely outside the UNP. This time however it is unlikely that the UNP will ever agree to vote for an outsider again and hence the support of the JVP will be in doubt.

Back in 2015, the Sinhala votes that the JVP brought in were crucial in ensuring the victory of Maithripala Sirisena. The difference between the total number of votes polled by the two main candidates was just over 449,000, which is roughly equivalent to the JVP vote bank at that time. Without this crucial input the common candidate would not have been able to obtain 50% of the valid votes cast and the counting may have gone into the second round and there is the possibility that Mahinda Rajapaksa may have won on the second count. Hence the UNP will have to watch out for what the JVP does or does not do this time around. At least as far as the public pronouncements of the JVP are concerned, this time it may field a common candidate of its own. Its pledge was that if the executive presidential system was not abolished by the time the next election becomes due, it would field its own candidate to ensure that its votes did not go to any other candidate.

If it follows through with that threat, the UNP’s goose will be cooked. The UNP candidate is more dependent on the JVP vote than many people realise. Wickremesinghe is now having to face the consequences of having twice dodged presidential contests and diluted the UNP’s base by linking it with other political parties in lose coalitions for the sake of political expediency. When he did this the first time in 2010, it may have appeared to be a mighty smart move to avoid defeat at the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa. But the second time he did it, he fell victim to his own strategy. In fact, the second time he was forced to yield the candidacy to an outsider in a situation where the UPFA had clearly gone into decline as shown by the results of the provincial council elections that took place in 2014.

The UNP candidate’s burden

If Ranil had contested in 2015, he might have won. Ultimately, what ensured Sirisena’s victory was the overwhelming minority vote. The minorities would have voted for Ranil in the same or even greater numbers than for Sirisena. As for the Sinhala vote which everybody thinks that Ranil would not have obtained, the results of the Western and Uva provincial council elections, clearly indicated a change in Sinhala sentiment and gains for the UNP even with Ranil leading the party.  If he had contested in 2015, he would have obtained more Sinhala votes than he would normally have commanded because there was a swing against the Rajapaksa government among significant sections of the Sinhalese especially the youth and the middle class. In 2015, when RW wanted to contest the presidency, people like Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanaye insisted on fielding a common candidate from outside. What that shows is that if you step off the beaten track just once, it’s very difficult to find one’s way back.

This is why nobody in the UNP except for RW’s favourites who stand to lose their positions if he is forced out, want him to contest as the UNP’s presidential candidate. Sajith and Karu are the present favourties as far as the party’s rank and file are concerned. If one of them contests and loses, RW may be able to retain leadership of the defeated UNP for a while longer. If he is unable to clinch the candidacy, human nature being what it is, there is the possibility that RW will select the candidate least likely to win. At least at the moment, he is believed to have given the nod to Karu because Karu is more pliable than Sajith. The next presidential election will be a ‘gala uda satana’ for Sajith and Karu because if the candidacy goes to Karu, he who will make political capital out of it will be Navin.

Sajith and Navin are not seen as rivals the way their fathers were. But the rivalry will emerge if Navin becomes the son-in-law of the President in a situation where the UNP constitution says that if a member of the UNP becomes President, he will automatically become the leader of the party. Another complicating factor if that whoever the UNP presidential candidate is, the prime ministerial candidate will be Ranil, who has not indicated anywhere that he will be quitting politics if he is not going to be the presidential candidate of the UNP. This gives rise to the complication that of the Sajith-Karu duo who are the front runners in the UNP presidential nominations race, the winner gets all and the loser gets nothing. Whoever wins the candidacy will have Ranil as his prime ministerial candidate and the other person will be left out altogether with no consolation prize.  

There is another issue in that whoever gets the UNP’s presidential candidacy will have to carry Ranil on his shoulders. That will be a distinct disadvantage at an election because the Opposition will take up the cry “If you want to have Ranil Wickremrsinghe as the prime minister of the country again, then vote for the UNP presidential candidate!” That will definitely queer the pitch for the UNP’s presidential candidate.

In addition to the candidates of the UNP, SLPP and probably of the JVP, the incumbent President Maithripala also seems to be interested in running with the help of the Joint Opposition. The Opposition now is made up of four different groups; there is the Joint opposition which is the real opposition force and then there is the SLFP, which was until recently a part of the government but is now reluctantly and due to the force of circumstances in the opposition. Then there is the JVP, which is a part of the coalition that brought the present government into power. Then there is the TNA, which is an integral part of the government but pretends to be in the opposition.

The Sirisena-led SLFP has been trying to persuade the Joint Opposition to field Sirisena as its presidential candidate. There are enough and more reasons why that cannot happen. Firstly, Sirisena is now damaged goods in political terms. He has to share the responsibility with the UNP for bringing this country to the present sorry pass. He may not have been the guiding hand as far as the economy was concerned. It is well known that the UNP dictated economic policy within the yahapalana government. But the moves that sent the economy into this tail spin were part and parcel of Sirisen’s own manifesto. The Rs. 10,000 salary increase and reduction in the prices of fuel and certain food items thus increasing government expenditure and reducing government revenue at the same time, were corner stones of the Sirisena manifesto.

Previous governments had always disregarded the more extravagant election pledges they gave the public, but this government was not able to do that due to the fear that they would lose the parliamentary election that was due later. Thus, they ended up giving all the concessions they promised the voting public and sent the entire economy into a tail spin. Furthermore Sirisena was actively involved in some of the irreversible damage that the yahapalana government did such as the privatisation of the Hambantota port. When the UNP Minister Arjuna Ranatunga refused to privatise the port on the terms proposed by the UNP, Sirisena removed Ranatunga, appointed an SLFP parliamentarian Mahinda Samarasinghe as Ports Minister and ensured that the privatization of the port went through.

Sirisena’s survival strategy

Sirisena’s list of transgressions are as long as that of the UNP, if not longer. When the UNP betrayed the country in Geneva in 2015 by co-sponsoring resolutions against Sri Lanka, Sirisena did nothing to stop it. When it came to the Easter Sunday bombings, Sirisena held both the defence and law and order portfolios and the people naturally placed the entire blame for the security lapse on Sirisena. So at this moment, Sirisena is a political liability and the political party that fields him as their presidential candidate will definitely lose. President Sirisena furthermore holds the unique record of having destroyed two political parties, the SLFP by turning it into a tail of the UNP and the UNP by not giving them proper ministries in his failed bid to build up the SLFP. A person with such a record of destruction and failure cannot hope to win an election.

The UNP voter is not going to vote for him and nor is the SLPP voter. The SLPP constituency will not vote for him even if Mahinda Rajapaksa personally appeals to them to do so. Sirisena promised the dwindling band of followers he has in the SLFP that he will take a decision that will safeguard their honour. The only way to safeguard whatever is left of the SLFP’s honour will be for President Sirisena to hand the party back to Mahinda Rajapaksa and resume his position as the Polonnaruwa district leader of the SLFP or to quit politics altogether.

President Sirisena is profoundly mistrusted by the SLPP constituency because he has consistently expressed the view that he will be willing to work with any leader in the UNP other than Ranil Wickremesinghe. He has publicly stated on numerous occasions the manner he tried to persuade either Sajith Premadasa or Karu Jayasuriya to take up the Prime Ministership and to oust Ranil. If the SLPP fields him as their presidential candidate, he may very well end up inviting Sajith Premadasa to form a government.

Sirisena’s chance of getting the SLPP nomination as presidential candidate is therefore, virtually non-existent. Sirisena would have had a chance of being accommodated within the SLPP fold had the executive presidential system been scrapped and replaced with a parliamentary form of government. Sirisena could then have been able to cast his lot in with the SLPP on the understanding that he would be appointed as the ceremonial President or as a deputy prime minister. However, no such constitutional change is on the table at the moment and as far as Sirisena is concerned it’s either the presidential candidacy or nothing at all.

It’s ironic to think that Maithripala Sirisena’s political career is to come to an ignominious end because he failed to abolish the very position he was elected to power to abolish. If he had followed through with his pledge to abolish the executive presidency, there would have been no presidential election at the end of this year and what everyone would have to face would be the Parliamentary election next year. In such circumstances, if Sirisena had parted company with the UNP, then he could have negotiated with the SLPP to form a coalition for the Parliamentary election to become a deputy Prime Minister or the ceremonial President. But now because he has retained the executive presidency instead of abolishing it, he finds himself in the position of either having to obtain the presidential candidacy from the SLPP or bow out of politics altogether.

He has the option of contesting on his own so as to facilitate the victory of the UNP candidate, but that will destroy him and his entire family’s political prospects for good. In the beginning, when Sirisena refused to abolish the position he said he was going to, it may have seemed a mighty smart thing to have done – to bamboozle an entire nation into voting for you on a pledge that you never had any intention of keeping. No doubt the yahapalanites who engineered this massive political scam would have been hugging themselves for joy and laughing their heads off at the manner in which they hoodwinked an entire nation. But now the chickens have come home to roost and Sirisena is going to see his political career coming to an end precisely because he retained the executive presidential system instead of abolishing it.

With the executive presidential system, he has no chance of forming a coalition with the SLPP unless he gives up on his own candidacy and backs the SLPP candidate. But without the executive presidential system he would have been the principal coalition partner of the SLPP and would still have a career in politics. In politics, nobody will lightly turn down a request for an alliance. In the case of the SLPP, the reason why the proposed alliance with the SLFP is not making headway is because of the excessive demands being made on the SLPP to yield the presidential candidacy to the discredited SLFP. If there was no executive presidency, no such obstacle would exist.

4 Responses to “Presidential candidacies in focus -UNP candidate will have to carry RW on his back -JVP’s decision will be decisive for UNP -Sirisena a victim of his own subterfuges”

  1. Christie Says:

    Elections in an Indian Colony?
    Since 1956 we Sinhalese have been directly under India. Bandas and JRJ did what India directed.
    The Indian terrorists the Tamil Tigers killed Sinhalese and India’s Sinhala terrorist killed Sinhalese and got Sinhalese killed.
    Genocide of Sinhalese started in 1958 continues in the Indian colony.
    Let us Sinhalese understand this and unite and stand up to the Indian Empire and Indian imperialists.

  2. Vaisrawana Says:

    “The UNP voter is not going to vote for him and nor is the SLPP voter. The SLPP constituency will not vote for him even if Mahinda Rajapaksa personally appeals to them to do so. Sirisena promised the dwindling band of followers he has in the SLFP that he will take a decision that will safeguard their honour. The only way to safeguard whatever is left of the SLFP’s honour will be for President Sirisena to hand the party back to Mahinda Rajapaksa and resume his position as the Polonnaruwa district leader of the SLFP or to quit politics altogether.”

    Excellent advice to the worst traitor the country has ever known since independence. Retaining a district leadership of the SLFP he destroyed and quitting politics altogether will amount to the same thing.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    However, Sirisena can exert more influence by contesting himself. I’m not saying it is advantageous for Mahinda or anyone. He is the president and more than anyone he has the right to contest re-election. People will surely reject him which is up to the people (not him).

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    Mahinda Kalliya is very careful not to attack Sirisena. I believe Sirisena likes Gotabhaya very much and if he becomes the candidate, he will negotiate for the Prime Minister post. Madness will continue destroying the country.

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