By Mohamed SR. Nisthar –
Once again the people of Sri Lanka are preparing to cast their vote to elect our 8th President. Out of 35 candidates only three are widely expected as forerunners, alphabetically, Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Mr. Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Mr. Sajith Premadasa. As to who has better chances of capturing the Presidential chair or losing it, is forecast by various social media soldiers, vigorously fighting for their candidate and against the opposition. Fighting for and against is the main thing in a competition, however, it is different for various reasons this time.
The October 5th hustling staged by the “May 13” organisation, which was the first ever hustling, showed some maturity in our electioneering behaviour compared to our usual stage speeches with full of unachievable, but attractive pledges. However, Mr. GR’s absence in that was an embarrassment for his supporters. It is also an advantage for the other candidates to pin down Mr. GP as a weak person with a negative personality. Despite the above, the 19th Amendment to our constitution has made the Executive Presidency a semi Executive one. Then why is there this great expectation and emerging expensive campaign, including unofficial media wars?
This question has different meanings for the three forerunners and their supporters. Mr. GR is placed in the race by the SLPP to regain the power lost from former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLPP believes that they can easily capture parliament by the necessary mandate in the general election, expected to be held during the first quarter of 2020, if Mr. GR wins the Presidency. As a result of this, the SLPP can make the 20th Amendment to the constitution, hence to reverse few of the provisions of the 19th Amendment, and re-reverse the semi Executive Presidency to a proper Executive Presidency with the possibility of reinstating the 18th Amendment.
It is politically possible, and constitutionally there is no blockade, but its sustainability raises a few questions. In a fully matured political situation it is possible for the holder of a top position to say, OK, I’m old now; any able fellow can take over my position in the interest of the nation. In a place like our country not even a member of a lower status of the local government establishments would not want to retire (please do not interpret this as them being power maniacs, they are simply service oriented people; you know).
Even in the case of the SLPP’s President and its would-be Prime Minster, both siblings, want to reinstate the Executive Presidency for their personal reasons. For Mr. GR it’s to hold the post for life, in order to avoid possible criminal and civil suits in the country and out of its jurisdiction, and, because his American-citizen son would not be interested in copying the American example of the Bush family. For the would-be Prime Minister, Mr. MR, it’s to make the place ready for his son Mr. Namal Rajapakse, the heir of the possible Kingdom of Sri Lanka, a local Buddhist version of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
How quickly the would-be Prime Minister can schedule everything without any hindrance is once again questionable. There is a saying which goes, “Blood is thicker than water”. However, in a possible family feud the above saying would get a new suffix: “…, but politics is thicker than blood”. We hope there won’t be any accidents, unexplained sudden deaths, foreign plots etc. and that the family will not fall apart for their “good intentions” of serving our motherland.
Inter-party fighting of the New Democratic (precisely UNP) Front, between current Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and their presidential candidate Mr. SP, still looks like hot lava. The Prime Minister Mr. RW seems to have been satisfied with the fact that even if his party colleague becomes the President, he (RW) has the upper hand, because of the power shifting nature of the 19th Amendment. Furthermore, for his own safety, Mr. RW wanted the Executive Presidency to be abrogated permanently, one of the election pledges of 2015. However, Mr. SP wanted to have a “Scientific Survey” before he agrees to any abrogation, meaning that there is no room for the abolition of the (semi) Executive Presidency for a considerable period of time.
Mr. SP also has it in his mind, regardless of the alleged agreement between Mr. RW and him as to the future arrangements of their government, to just evict Mr. RW from his Prime Ministerial position, and to possibly replace him with Mr. Mangala Samaraweera or someone else (but not Patali Champika Ranawaka as rumour gets hold) and his own clique in the cabinet.
Despite the two immature insurgencies of the JVP, the National Peoples Power’s candidate, Mr. AKD theoretically seems to be a “born again” leftist. His response to the question as to their general political stance at the Peoples Forum was “we have to go with the world” suggesting that he is pragmatic rather than an ideologist, ready to adjust and strive to replace the 70 year old political culture we have been experiencing since our independence. His hybrid sort of economic plan to get full advantage out of the nature of the globalised world and to satisfy the right and the left, if not the far right and the far left, is somehow worth experimenting with.
He offers the people a full package of solutions to our credit based economy, vastly unproductive education system, misuse and abuse of power, sometimes biased practise of the court (legal) system, a health care system in need of modernisation, control on bad products by the religious establishments (Islamic and Buddhist) and to properly address civil and minority rights under the concept of equality and diversity norms.
There is a German saying which goes, “A new broomstick cleans better, but the old one knows the nooks and crannies of the house”, applying this simple household theory to the candidates, none of the above have had a high position to prove their potential. Two out of three have had ministerial positions with proven track records and first-hand experience on how Parliament and their colleagues work, and when it comes to diplomacy how far to stand straight and when to bow. Still Mr. GP scores some credit for his administration in the Department of Defence and beautifying Colombo when he was in UDA, even though the project was launched some 35 years ago by senior Premadasa with the means and knowledge that were available in those days. However, it is alleged that Mr. GP was interested only in getting kickbacks for everything and on anything, regardless of any project failures.
Apart from the predictions of either Mr. GR’s or Mr. SP’s win, there is a strong feeling among youngsters within all ethnic communities that there is a dark horse in the course, Mr. AKD. Therefore if the first count does not put anyone above 50% plus one vote out of cast votes, (as is of today’s forecasting), then the 2nd preference vote would play a pivotal role to solve one of the three possibilities, namely, AKD vs. GR, SP vs. GR and AKD vs. SP.
There is a known secret that Mr. GR is the common (political) enemy of (our country and) Mr. SP and Mr. AKD, therefore Mr. GR has to be defeated at any cost. In the AKD vs. GR scenario at least half of Mr. SP’s ballot papers must have a 2nd preference for AKD and similarly if the 2nd round contest is between Mr. GR vs. Mr. SP then at least 25% of the 2nd preference of AKD should go to Mr. SP, then only Mr. GR is stoppable.
Whatever the outcome of the Presidential election on 16th November 2019 the current political pseudo calmness will prevail, or in the case of Mr. GR’s or Mr. SP’s win that will put them to behave extra cautiously not to upset citizens until the general election is concluded. Therefore the alleged white vans, the recklessness of some Buddhist monks and Mr. Wimal Weerawansa and Mr. Udaya Gammanpila in the “Bud Team” and Mr. Patali Champika Ranawaka in the “Swan Team” won’t be seen, this will allow concerned people enough time to schedule their outward flights saying goodbye to Sri Lanka or to decide on their next steps.
If the dark horse in the race gets elected (with remote possibility) or comes second or even ends up in third place, he will be the “kingmaker” with a considerable amount of votes (which seems to be their strategy). The “Team Compass” can get a big slice of the cake in the upcoming general election and will have a big say in a possible coalition government emphasising their vital election pledges to be accepted.
The “Team Compass” makes young, floating, new, frustrated and looking-for-change voters to be inclined towards them. That would be the positive side effect of the 70 years of messy politics of Sri Lanka. Hope the voters will cast their votes to create a new trend of an all-inclusive Sri Lanka, where the country’s safety, rule of law, stable economy, quality education, proper health care, reliable transport, true freedom of religion, and meaningful civil and political rights get prioritised. Good luck mother Lanka.