19 May, 2024

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A Tale Of Shifting Sentiments & Political Chess

By Vipula Wanigasekera –

Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera

As Sri Lanka prepares for both Presidential and General elections, the political scene is filled with anticipation and speculation. With three leading presidential candidates already announced and the SLPP, or Pohottuwa, yet to name theirs, the stage is set for a compelling contest.

The known presidential candidates are Sajith Premadasa of the SJB, Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the NPP, and Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP (TBA?). The potential SLPP candidates range from Basil Rajapaksa, Dhammika Perera, Dilith Jayaweera, to Namal Rajapaksa, or perhaps a wild card pick. Additionally, Janaka Ratnayake is running as an independent candidate, though his motives remain unclear.

Given the current situation, the most strategic move for Pohottuwa would likely be to ally with Ranil Wickremesinghe by merging SLPP and UNP during the campaign to save face. However, the party’s image requires significant transformation to regain trust of the people without using Marcom tactics.

With Premadasa and Dissanayake closely matched in popularity, some analysts predict a runoff election if neither achieves 50% in the Presidential race—a scenario unprecedented in Sri Lanka’s history.

The General election results may require coalition-building to secure a majority, depending on the momentum following the Presidential nominations. Similarly, if General elections precede the Presidential election, alliances will be crucial for a common candidate.

Public sentiment fluctuates between cautious optimism—”things seem okay now” and ‘a desire for sweeping change to combat corruption and malpractices’. Sri Lankan voters have shown flip flop allegiances in the past. For instance, the middle and lower-middle classes, once vocal critics during the ‘Aragalaya’ protests, shifted their stance after Ranil Wickremesinghe took office.

This shift suggests that the anger was directed more at the Rajapaksas than the country’s challenges. Wickremesinghe’s tenure in 2015-2019 also saw substantial loans and slow progress during his tenure as the PM.

Anura Dissanayake’s popularity has grown following his recent international visits and positive feedback from Sri Lankan expatriates, potentially influencing domestic opinions. His apparent clean image and outspokenness against corruption appear to resonate with many voters.

Youtuber Bharatha Tennakoon’s interview with the group of expats reveal the psyche of the majority of Sri Lankans where most of them expressed the view that NPP must be given a chance even if it means a risk and that there is no other choice after having tried out the left right and middle wings since independence.

There’s growing support for NPP/JVP as people seek change. The negative perceptions of JVP’s actions in ’88/’89 are waning and yet segments of older generation remain overly loyal to politicians or parties, even when accused with scandals- a unique trait possibly found mainly in this part of the world.

Sajith Premadasa has launched his campaign and is expected to fully showcase his potential. While gaining minority support, he needs broader appeal to sway the electorate. There is speculation however that all non-NPP parties will make a compromise and back Sajith for obvious reasons.

In IHP SLOTS polling in March 2024 ‘net favourability rating of SJB leader Sajith Premadasa increased 30 points to -30 in March compared to the previous month while favourability ratings of NPP/JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and  President Ranil Wickremesinghe remained relatively unchanged at -24 (-2) and -78 (+1) respectively’.

Though these numbers provide some insights scientifically, they may not fully reflect voter sentiments. Public opinion can be unpredictable and influenced by various factors including spontaneous thoughts on the way to the polling booth. It is known that most Sri Lankans vote on perceptions than policies.

Sisira Kumara Manikkarachchi’s observation in his book in the late ’60s, “A stupid island surrounding the ocean,” still holds true. Sri Lanka begs for justice, integrity, honesty, and development for a brighter future. Without a significant shift soon, some Sri Lankans might even entertain thoughts of outside economic intervention for better governance, the process which appears to have begun already.

*The writer is a former diplomat, Head of Tourism Authority, and currently a lecturer at ECU Perth

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Latest comment

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    This article has been there for a couple of days. No comments, yet. Why?
    I read the article, to find that out.
    This article is detailed, logical, much better than his previous contributions.
    Encourage him. Comment on his thinking. He could end up with better stuff.
    .
    Here, I go.
    “It is known that most Sri Lankans vote on perceptions than policies.”
    True. Truthful. Reality.

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