By Dayan Jayatilleka –
I shall ignore the negative personal speculation and amateur psychoanalyses in Shyamon Jayasinghe’s ‘Dayan at the Crossroads’, to make some important political points.
1. Analysts, commentators and readers in general should check the results of the 1982 Presidential election. Despite an 8 % growth rate, the Mahaweli program, and the deprivation of Mrs B’s civic rights, the great JR Jayewardene won only 52+% of the vote, in what is regarded as a great victory. Today in Uva the UPFA has registered only 1+% less than that performance of JRJ. Furthermore, the Opposition candidate Kobbekaduwa scored just under 40%. That is just 1+% less than the UNP got in Uva.
2. My point is that at a Presidential election Mahinda can win and Ranil will lose, even on the basis of the Uva result. As 1982 showed, it is the candidate that is crucial at a presidential election. Ranil would be the equivalent of Kobbekaduwe while MR would be the replay of JR in late 1982.
3. The Americans call it the beer test. Who would you rather have a beer with? That, it is said, is the crucial question at a presidential election. In Sri Lanka the equivalent would be a plain tea. Who would the voter rather have a plain tea with: Mahinda or Ranil?
4. Within the UNP’s ranks, who would the voter rather have a plain tea with– Ranil or Sajith? I think Darisha Bastian’s last report from the Uva campaign where she said the crowds went wild when ‘Punchi Premadasa’ arrived, answers that question. Even if Sajith sidesteps, who would the voter rather have a plain tea with: Ranil or Karu? I think the latter.
5. Remember that the decisive difference between Ranasinghe Premadasa and Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1988 was the two and half lakhs scored by Ossie Abeygoonesekera. Who would the JVP be willing to consider as a common candidate– Ranil or Karu? The latter, I think. Who would be the UNP candidate who could pull back the vote that has gone to the JVP? Probably Sajith. Ranil is the least capable of doing either.
6. Harin Fernando’s performance as well as the JVP’s doubling of its vote under AKD’s leadership shows that the UNP will do best under a new, dynamic, younger candidate. That cannot be anyone other than Sajith because of the nationwide name recognition factor he enjoys, mainly thanks to the people’s warm memories of his father.
7. What if Maithripala Senanayake or Vijaya Kumaratunga had been the candidate in December 1982, instead of Hector Kobbekaduwa? If the UNP sticks with Ranil as the candidate, it will “win the campaign and lose the election” as the American phrase goes. That happened to Hector Kobbekaduwa. The same may happen even if Sajith or Karu is the candidate but they will score more than Ranil, inflicting a moral defeat even if they lose the vote. That in turn may be translatable into an opposition victory at the parliamentary election. If Ranil loses as visibly as Kobbekaduwa did, the Govt will definitely win the parliamentary election.
8. The armed forces are a new social force, akin to one of the old ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’. Multiplied by five, the armed forces and their families amount to 1 ½ million votes. The UNP needs a candidate with a patriotic profile to win over the rank and file armed forces members and their families. How could that be Ranil? It is far likelier to be Sajith or Karu. Ranil vs. Mahinda will revive the old issues of the war as well as the dark side of the UNP years i.e. Batalanda to Athurigiriya. How can it be an intelligent strategy to present such a target and such an opportunity? Sajith or Karu will not carry such baggage and will not be so easy a target to hit.
9. The UNP needs a leader/candidate that can attract SLFP votes and even crossovers in parliament. The SLFP will cross over and UNP crossover voters will cross back to someone they can ideologically and socially identify with. Is that more likely to be Ranil or Karu?
10. The UNP needs a candidate who has the best chance of securing the second preference vote. Indeed it needs a candidate who has a better chance of securing a second preference vote than does Mahinda Rajapaksa. For instance who can secure the second preference vote of those who will vote for Anura Kumara? Is it Mahinda, Ranil, Sajith or Karu?