By Hema Senanayake –
The opposition wants to win the presidential election. Fielding a common candidate definitely would increase the chances of winning. It is common sense now. But any common candidate is not a good candidate. Therefore, it seems that the selection of common candidate is not that easy. In my view the best nominee is Karu. Let me explain why? Firstly, the UNP being the largest party in the opposition must be invited to nominate the common candidate. If anybody in the UNP, including Ranil thinks that CBK or any breakaway SLFP minister would be a better candidate than a nominee from UNP, for whatever reason, it is a great illusion, because, UNP is not a party like JVP. The JVP members to a great extent right or wrong, is bounded together by its policies. They put party politics before themselves. Unlike JVP, most of the top UNP members put themselves before the party or the country. Latest example is the narrowly avoided recent defection of Mangala Samaraweera. This is not an ad-hoc event. In general most of UNP leaders are like that. They lack integrity and steadfastness. Yet, UNP is the largest party in the opposition. Without UNP’s support no common candidate can win.
Therefore, keeping the UNP team together is the most important thing in the coming presidential election. The UNP as at now has increased its voter percentage to around 40%. Any breakaway group from SLFP would not bring that much of votes to the opposition. But in my view if the UNP allowed the SLFP breakaway group to nominate the common candidate, at least significant number if not the majority of the UNP from top to bottom would be disillusioned. Their simple disappointment would be great enough for Mahinda to do his rounds of visit to each and everybody of them requesting to join with him. If Mangala Samaraweera was about to do it just a couple of weeks ago, I strongly believe that there can be many more UNPiers who would join with Mahinda if they are disappointed on the nomination of common candidate. In such an eventuality, even Mahinda- John Amaratunga ticket or even Mahinda-Thissa Attanayake ticket might be possible. For Mahinda nothing is impossible. Rajapaksa family has determined to win. Nobody can argue or prove that the rank and file of the UNP would equally accept the nomination of a UNP common candidate and a non UNP common candidate. They want their party’s candidate to be the next Executive President even if the executive presidency is abolished in 6 months. They want their Executive President to appoint the next cabinet even if it limits to a fewer members. They want to negotiate with their Executive President about the Ministerial positions and other portfolios of the administration. For those UNPiers who cannot get into the administration at least want to feel that the president is one of theirs. All these sentiments would be gone with the appointment of Maithripala Siresena or any other senior Minister from the possible breakaway group of SLFP as the common candidate. Nominating a senior Minister from the possible breakaway group of SLFP as common candidate is not the same as nominating a UNP common candidate for a fairly large number of UNP party supporters. If that impossible happened there could be grieving members in the UNP. This is where Mahinda begins to send his emissaries. Let us understand what Mahinda would do in such an eventuality. D.B.S. Jeyaraj had explained it nicely in the case of Mangala: “…it was Namal who first visited Samaraweera’s two stoeyed house overlooking the Bolgoda Lake at Galkanuwa Road in Gorakana, a part of Moratuwa. He was to convey President Rajapaksa’s remorse over what happened to Samaraweera when he served under his Government. He told the former Foreign Minister that his father was sorry to learn of his plight in the United National Party (UNP) where he was being cornered and had invited him to return to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) fold. That conversation was to pave the way for the entry of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, now Campaign Manager for the presidential poll. Lengthy discussions ensued at the Samaraweera residence. Some of the issues resolved were for Samaraweera to get the portfolio of Minister of External Affairs and Constitutional Reforms. Another was the ‘restoration’ of his ‘seniority’ in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and re-appointment as a Vice President…” The same approach would sure to be applied repeatedly for any UNP leader if he or she was disillusioned by UNP agreeing to nominate non-UNP candidate as the common candidate. Therefore, for those who want to win the election should not seek a common candidate outside the UNP. The common candidate must be nominated from the UNP. Ranil should not offer it to Maithripala, no matter he comes with 20 or 40 SLFP parliamentarians. Also, any SLFP breakaway group must not demand for it if they want to defeat Mahinda. Therefore, in view of above, we have been left with only two candidates namely Ranil and Karu. For a moment if we forget about the other political parties and political forces in the opposition which seeks to nominate a common candidate, both Ranil and Karu are capable of keeping the UNP intact. Not only that, once nominated, both of them can energize the party putting more activists in the field and to gain more votes. Now, let us bring other political forces into this discussion. I guess CBK is okay with both gentlemen. Hence, most of the prospective SLFP breakaway group would support any one of them provided that a member of the breakaway group gets the Prime Ministerial position. Now, what about JVP? It seems that JVP is not strongly opposed to the UNP. We saw Lalkantha in the same platform with UNP leaders recently. But it is in records that the JVP leadership has insisted that they would not support Ranil. The JVP’s support for the common candidate is a must. Therefore, on this point Karu runs ahead of Ranil. So is the situation with JHU. Let us assume that Venerable Sobitha is equally support both of them even though he is more inclined to Karu according to media reports. Most of other intellectuals and opposition activists who work with Sobitha Thera think that Ranil’s name has been established with some negativity of the consciousness of wider population. Accordingly, they would prefer Karu than Ranil if Ven. Sobitha does not get a chance. TNA has nothing against both gentlemen. Sarath Fonseka’s factor is important but not as much as JVP’s. Anyway he would support Ranil or Karu equally. Therefore, in the final analysis most of the things are in Karu’s favor. Everybody in the opposition wants to win. But Ranil’s decision is the most crucial one because Karu will never fight with Ranil or play dirty tricks to be elected as the UNP nominee. Perhaps he is a better gentleman. He would be a better president too.