Colombo Telegraph

Is Karu J A Plausible Presidential Candidate?

By Vishwamithra

“A dark horse, which had never been thought of, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

In the last few columns I have tried, maybe in vain, to make a case for a plausible scenario in which a Presidential Candidate representing the same UNP-led coalition that brought current President Maithripala Sirisena to power could be successful again. Maithripala Sirisena, although did not seem to be formidable as a Presidential Candidate, eventually proved to be above average and an ideal mix which an unsuspecting electorate would accept. However, the coalition government that was formed after the electoral victories in January and August in 2015, though has managed to survive, the breakage of the relationship between the UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena who is barely holding on to the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), seems almost final and done. That is a very sad ending of a once-promising political partnership that was in the making. The ideological differences alone between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party are wide and vast enough and too disparate to survive in nasty and cruel political storms.

In the meanwhile, the Rajapaksas seem to have woken up from their defeat-ridden slumber that followed the immediate aftermath of the 2015 Presidential Elections. The sheer magnitude of power and access to the national coffers and the natural proximity to the luxuries of administrative power machinations has apparently awakened them to muster their forces for another game of national ransacking and corruption-ridden governance. The disqualifying elements of the Rajapaksas and their cohorts have been articulated not only at the last Presidential Elections, the parade of their kith and kin to and from the various investigative bodies has gone a long way to convince a curious electorate as to how and what these political hooligans of the Rajapaksa era corrupted a gullible civil service which ultimately became even more corrupt that their corruptors!

Nevertheless, the following changes and their inescapable cascade of consequential by-events have at times struggled to transform the political landscape of Sri Lanka.

1. Defeat of the Rajapaksa Presidency

2. Election of Maithripala Sirisena as President as a common candidate of a coalition of socio-political forces of Sri Lanka

3. Election of a UNP-led parliament

4. Evisceration of the 100 Day program

5. Bond-Scam scandal

6. Eruption of the fissures between President Sirisena and Premier Wickremasinghe

7. Non-event of the Rajapaksa prosecution to an end

8. Local Government Elections

9. Resultant meandering in the political woods          

Each of these aforementioned events and sub events have engendered another sequence of events which in turn have turned into a cause and thereby producing never-ending cycle of cause and effect dynamic. Whatever happens in the aftermath of each event or sub event, what one must bear in mind is the universal truth of facts and hard cold facts that definitively have had serious impact on the lives of all Sri Lankans. Political pundits and statisticians have gone back to their drawing boards. They ponder, more often than not, on the what-if phenomenon of life and in that maddeningly uncertain socio-political drama, they have repeatedly failed to understand one simple and crushingly ugly fact that facts do matter in the ultimate analysis of politics and its history.

In the context of such an unequivocal brutality of political life of a nation, the current impasse in today’s scenario looks natural and inconsequential. A reversal to a once-defeated power-cabal which is the Rajapaksa rule, seems, at least to their own political friends and supporters, a vindication of their deeds and thoughts. Sloganeering that consisted of electric chairs, selfless patriotism and sovereignty of the nation that ruled a frenzy world of delusion and cultivated deceit are looming ominously on the horizon again. It is going to be extremely difficult and practically impossible to confront an emotion-driven mob and convince them that what occurred in the recent past as corruption, nepotism and avaricious pursuit of power is no good for the greater good of the country. Sloganeering and political branding has its own niche and it has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt by Donald Trump in another part of the world- an advanced capitalist society such as the United States of America. Don’t ever forget that just before the Nazi takeover Germany was a well-educated, steeped in high cultural and social values. They were a steeply-read nation that enjoyed Wagner’s serene music and Van Gough’s sensitive lines of painting as their pastime. 

It is no secret that given the right social and political milieu, excessive expression of deeply held prejudices and partialities would be welcome as an open invitation for unrestricted assault on reason and justice. We in Sri Lanka experienced this obscenity of political propaganda under the Rajapaksa-cabal. Entrenched in a bubble of all-consuming power and greed, the Rajapaksas released within this bubble a force under the cover of patriotism and partisanship for the land, the race and the faith.

The same forces are threatening to raise their ugly profiles today and the unhindered participation of the mob variety of the average men and women in the country do not seem to care. Forthcoming Presidential Elections are being planned and scheduled against this backdrop. It is no easy task to challenge them. The UNP’s task looks even more desperate. The repeating mistakes and misjudgments are taking the Party of Ranil Wickremasinghe to the edges of extinction and sure death. 

Superficial operational adjustments introduced into the traditional structures of the Party do not seem to produce a fundamental change in its very outlook. The coalition and its operational arms that delivered the Presidency to Maithripala Sirisena need to be mustered and coalesced to a new Presidential candidate. Who could it be? That is the proverbial sixty four million dollar question. Here are some of the would-be contenders:

1. Ranil Wickremesinghe 2. Sajith Premadasa 3. Navin Dissanayake 4. Dark Horse candidate

Arguments for and against the current leader of the UNP and Prime Minister of the land, Ranil Wickremesinghe have been made almost to exhaustive lengths and breadths. In fact they seem to have been foreclosed. The overwhelming loyalty of the Northern and Upcountry Tamils and Eastern Muslims towards Wickremesinghe is beyond doubt. It is not conceivable that any other aforementioned candidate would enjoy such uncontested loyalty from the minorities, except perhaps Navin Dissanayake. The leadership of the Tamil communities, both Northern and Upcountry, has been quite vocal about their political grievances and their adherence to the fundamentals of reconciliation and Tamil homeland concepts. Political expediency and misplaced sense of patriotism might derail Sajith Premadasa on these fronts, yet he might be of the opinion that his popularity among Sinhalese Buddhists and especially amongst the Buddhist Clergy, cultivated over a decade or so by giving away ‘goodies’ of sorts to the temples around the countryside, would overcome the deficit that he has with the Northern Tamils. Yet one brutal fact that Sajith needs to confront is, despite all these efforts towards pacifying the Buddhist Clergy, he has not been able to translate that gesture into votes. 

Even in the recently held LG Elections, he did not win his electorate, nor could he secure the district. The argument that he is in the SLFP den- Rajapaksa-led Hambantota- cannot hold water as a leader is supposed to carry his own electorate when all other chips are down. Navin Dissanayake on the other hand, did manage to win not only his electorate; he managed to win his entire district, Nuwara Eliya which in the context of a Presidential Election is a microcosm of the country. Nuwara Eliya within its geographical boundaries has some ancient Sinhalese Buddhist villages. Both Kotmale and Hanguranketha from which Navin Dissanayake’s paternal grandmother and grandfather respectively hailed, are steeped in tradition and culture that is unmatched by some other such villages in the country. If the people of such tradition and culture could depart from the rest of the normal pattern of voting, it certainly speaks volumes for such an allegiance to a political leader in the district. Gamini Dissanayake, Navin’s father, enjoyed such unquestioned and unquestionable personal loyalty from his supporters. Navin, it looks like, has retained that loyalty.

Yet, both Sajith and Navin might not be able to gather around them the coalition forces that assembled around Maithripala Sirisena in 2015. That is not due to a special personal attraction of Sirisena; it is solely due to the fact that the coalition government that was formed after the 2015 elections failed to deliver on its election pledges. The UNP and its friends need a dark horse; a candidate whose baggage does not carry within itself dark secrets of corruption and nepotism; a fifth horseman, so to speak who will be seen as a deliverer beyond all expectations. Only Karu Jayasuriya, the current Speaker of the House of Parliament, fits into that module – a dark horse or the fifth horseman.

I will delve into this possible candidate in my next column, yet could not suppress the urge to throw this thought out for our readers to ponder upon. A fifth horsemen or a dark horse-candidate who could possibly mount a formidable challenge to any ‘Pohottuwa’ candidate, a Rajapaksa or any other, has more than an outside chance of victory in the next Presidential Elections. 

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