Colombo Telegraph

Is The Common Candidate Dead On Arrival?

By Vishnuguptha –

I’m not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.”   – Adlai E. Stevenson

In the wake of the Western and Southern Provincial Council elections, Ranil Wickremesinghe, National Leader of the United National Party (UNP) made an appeal to all opposition parties to forge a common front to topple the incumbent government. But then the  first ‘gunfire’ (wedi muraya) was fired by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Instead of issuing an unqualified or at least a qualified acceptance of the invitation, it came in the form of a ‘spoke in the wheel’, causing at least a temporary halt to the turning of the wheel. If it did not decelerate the momentum, it certainly brought to light the serious sense of incredulity in which the present leader of the UNP is held by his own colleagues in the so-called ‘common opposition’.

Twenty years of decomposing away in opposition benches has apparently has not taught these guys in the UNP anything, anything at all. They have deliberately chosen to listen to the noise instead of the message; mistaken the trees for the wood and in a very ironic sense, have been pursuing a receding mirage which they think is real and vibrant and alive. When gripped in such a suffocating frame of mindset, an election result showing a slight decline in the voting pattern for the Governing party at the Western and Southern provinces and despite the fact that that amount of erosion from the Government ranks did not correspond with their own Party’s performance, could influence the very ‘ordinary’ minds of a group into a fantasy of comfort and hope. That dismaying phenomenon of an artificial ‘high’ has taken hold of the heads of the United National Party. They must now be busy selecting their Cabinet and other candidates for the lucrative government jobs.

It is a lamentable state of affairs.

However, it’s evident from the facts and figures that emanate from many political events and platforms that no single party is able to topple the incumbent regime and come to power on its own and certainly not the JVP led by their new leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake or the Democratic Party (DP) led by General Sarath Fonseka. And most unfortunately, as revealed in the latest provincial council election results in the Western and Southern Provinces, the United National Party too has proven beyond any shadow of doubt now that it too has neither stamina nor the required elements to stand on its own.

Hence the need for a ‘Grand Coalition’, a coalition put together with all anti-United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) elements with one voice, one leader and one single issue or platform. Many an op-ed has been written by many a pundit and scholar on the need for one common platform in order to offer to the people, a viable alternative to the UPFA-led Government. But if Sri Lankan Opposition conforms to its regular DNA of divisiveness and disunity when all the chips are down, the hopes and aspirations of a great majority of reasonable men and women will be dashed for the umpteenth time and the most dangerous consequence of such a debacle would undoubtedly lead to a dissolution of democratic institutions, free speech (not that there is genuine free speech in existence now) and emergence of a semi-theocracy on the lines of a one-party rule.

The strong resemblance of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) activities to those executed mercilessly against the then minorities in Germany by the Brown-shirted SA is stark and overpowering. SA, abbreviation of Sturmabteilung (German: “Assault Division) and by name Storm Troopers or Brownshirts in the German Nazi Party, was a paramilitary organization whose methods of violent intimidation played a key role in Hitler’s rise to power. Furthermore, the style, methodology and venom of the local offenders are even more germane in comparison. The Brownshirts or SA of Hitler played a very pivotal role in establishing the supremacy of the nationalist character of the Nazi Party and the sheer brutal power, minus murder and violent assaulting, unleashed by the soldiers of the SA is very much akin to what the BBS is displaying so vulgarly on the streets and town halls in Sri Lanka.

Although the JVP of yesteryear would have had a more formidable response to these attacks on basic human values and even would have matched the ferocity and viciousness  with matching results, its conversion into parliamentary democracy has softened both its macro and micro-approach to politics in general and violence in particular. This has resulted in a most lamentable situation in which the BBS and its soldiers and leaders are resorting to an unmitigated offensive on traditional modes of protest and political discourse in virtually an empty field.

In such a sorrowful context, the case for a ‘united opposition’ is enunciated and even imperative and urgent. This is where the absence of strong and skilled leader or leaders is felt and suffered.

Let’s examine the so-called leaders who are on the field today:

  1. Ranil Wickremesinghe
  2. Karu Jayasuriya
  3. Sajith Premadasa
  4. General Sarath Fonseka
  5. Anura Kumara Dissanayake
  6. Chandrika Kumaranatunge

All of the abovementioned leaders, except Chandrika Kumaranatunge, are in active politics today and they are all laymen.

The criteria upon which the voter decides on who should be the most competitive candidate:

I. Trustworthiness

II. Mass Appeal

III. Novelty

IV. Boldness

V. Decisiveness

VI. Intangibles

Intangibles would certainly include, among others, experience, appeal to minority communities, charisma, public sensitivity, ability to get other parties of the coalition to toe the line, organizing a well-coordinated campaign and oratorical skills. It was shown over the last several election cycles that a criterion such as oratorical skills is not all that decisive when the voter decides on his choice. For instance, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike who could hardly put a sentence together in the sixties and even in 1970, was chosen over and above Dudley Senanayake who was an extremely skilled public speaker. Nor was Chandrika Kumaranatunge a public orator of any mentionable standards.

Trustworthiness, in the writer’s view, is the most significant criterion in that the candidate should be able to show a sufficient amount of credibility and trustworthiness with regard to the pledges he or she had given in the past and the fact whether he or she had abided by those pledges. It is of decisive importance as the abolition of the present Executive Presidency system would most likely be the ‘single issue’ that a common candidate would be pitched against. To date who has openly spoken against the Executive Presidency system? From amongst those who have spoken, who is the most trustworthy candidate?

Now let’s condense these two segments in one spreadsheet and see how each Leader fares. Score each candidate out of ten, ten being the highest and zero being the lowest:

More often than not, most voters vote based on their emotions. Rationality hardly plays a role with such voters. In a sense, the upcoming Presidential Elections may well be the most significant in the sixty five-year history of Sri Lanka’s electoral politics. The stakes are a way too high for any person to just cast it away as another election. Never in the post-independent Sri Lanka has political power been so concentrated in one family. Never in our recent history, have narrow nationalist feelings and emotions been inflamed by the Maha Sangha and never in that span of time has Sri Lanka prevailed over an armed enemy such as the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam.

*The writer can be contacted at

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