20 June, 2019

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Local Polls: What’s Next? 

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Mahinda Rajapaksa is back. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly formed party stunned the observers with a landslide victory. The party won 45 percent of the total votes nationwide, collecting majority votes in almost all the districts, 16 to be precise, in the Sinhala majority areas. Given the political realities of the country, using the term landslide to describe Rajapaksa’s victory was an understatement. I believe that Mahinda magic combined with Sinhala nationalism produced the outcome. The results, although local, have the potential to completely alter the current direction of the Sri Lankan politics and polity. If the current trends continue, perhaps, we will travel back in time.

In a recent article on the local polls, I stated that one “could feel widespread dissatisfaction about the government in the South. General complaints revolve around, for example, exorbitant cost of living (symbolized often by the price of coconut), lack of development activities, and alleged corruption.”  These were essentially the factors that cost the ruling coalition the victory in this election. Summing up the results in a personal communication, a high-ranking government official stated that “what was promised was not delivered.”

An additional factor that influenced the vote could be the inaction of the government on alleged corruption of the former president and his family. In the last presidential election, which unseated Rajapaksa, corruption charges were effectively used against the ruling party. Ranil-Maithri coalition claimed that President Rajapaksa and his family swindled large amounts of the national wealth. This public outcry played a major role in Rajapaksa’s downfall in the 2015 elections. Nevertheless, the new government failed to successfully prosecute a single member of the Rajapaksa family significantly weakening the severity of the corruption charges. It is safe to argue that through its inaction, the government effectively exonerated the former regime from corruption chargers. This, certainly aided Rajapaksa’s cause in the local government election.

Rajapaksa Agenda

Noticeably, Rajapaksa and members of his alliance have become reenergized and are stepping up the pressure on the ruling coalition. Initially, some of his supporters demanded that he be appointed the prime minister arguing that people have expressed unreserved confidence in Rajapaksa. The former president however, is not interested in taking over the government as there is only two more years till the next general election. Taking over the responsibility now could become a problem as he has to deliver within the next two years. Therefore, staking a claim for premiership is not in Rajapaksa’s immediate agenda.    

Rajapaksa is instead focusing on alternative factors. The immediate wishes of Rajapaksa and his allies are as follows: (1) they want the position of the opposition leader in the national legislature, (2) they want the parliament dissolved and a fresh general election, and (3) Rajapaksa also wants the chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

First, the demand for the position of the opposition leader is strategic. With the official title, Rajapaksa can keep hammering the government more effectively and use parliament for propaganda purposes. This position could be handy in getting his party ready for the 2020 elections. The TNA, which currently serves as the main opposition party, has only 16 seats. However, the TNA’s opposition role amounts to a farce due to the fact that the TNA is actually an ally of the government. At present, with the local government poll results, one may expect more SLFP members to cross over to the Rajapaksa faction, resulting in Rajapaksa having a reasonable claim for the position of the opposition leader.

Second, Rajapaksa is not interested in forming a new government. Even if he tries, he would most likely fail because numbers are in favor of the UNP. The UNP won the last general election with 106 seats, only seven short of a simple majority. The TNA is ideologically opposed to Rajapaksa’s return and would, in all likelihood, use its parliamentary seats to buttress a UNP government. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) may stay neutral. What this means is that Rajapaksa will not be able to muster enough seats to form his own government.  This is another reason as to why Rajapaksa is currently not interested in the premiership. Nonetheless, the local government election proved that Rajapaksa’s newly formed party (SLPP) can win more than a simple majority if the general election is conducted sooner rather than later.

There are indications that a motion will be presented demanding the dissolution of parliament. The UNP and TNA combined could prevent such a dissolution. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Sri Lanka is heading for a regular election in 2020. However, this is not a setback for Rajapaksa as he can demand the dissolution of parliament to boost the morale of his supporters and use the remaining two years to prepare for a much bigger victory in 2020. In fact, Rajapaksa will prefer a two thirds majority in 2020, so that the constitution can be altered to accommodate his ambitions or to abolish the presidential system of government. 

Third, reports indicate that Rajapaksa wants SLFP’s chairmanship back. Is Rajapaksa really interested in taking control of the SLFP? I am not sure. The SLFP used to be an effective vehicle for electoral politics, and there was a time when Rajakapsa could not be effective without the SLFP. Now, with the electoral victory in the local polls, Rajapaksa’s own party, the SLPP has proved that it could face national elections successfully. If the present trends continue unhindered, the SLPP could be a force to reckon with in 2020. History and legacy are very important for Mahinda Rajapaksa. Therefore, he is likely to consolidate the SLPP, while wooing the traditional SLFP voters with claims for SLFP leadership.

Biggest Loser

The biggest loser in this election was president Sirisena. His party could not win a single district and only managed to garner about 12 percent of the votes. The president lost his own district, Polonnaruwa. He will be under tremendous pressure from both the UNP and the SLPP in the future and will find it extremely difficult to govern smoothly. In a recent article, I argued that the president will be politically isolated in 2020 and will have no chance of winning the upcoming presidential election. The results of the local polls further concur with this assumption.

The president has already declared that he will make major changes in the near future. However, he does not have too many options except for allowing the UNP to form its own government. Dissolving parliament unilaterally is impossible. According to the 19th Amendment to the constitution, the president cannot dissolve parliament before four and half years of its first meeting. Therefore, this parliament cannot be dissolved by the president until early 2020. Karu Jauasuriya cannot muster 113 seats. He does not have the ability to break the UNP into two and about 50 percent of the UPFA members are with Rajapaksa. These Rajapaksa loyalists will not support Jayasuriya. Many UPFA ministers might join the Rajapaksa faction or abandon the government because the government is not popular. 

It seems only person who could prove majority in parliament right now is Ranil Wickremesinghe. This perhaps is what the SLPP wants because Rajapaksa loyalists believe that Wickremesinghe is a liability. If the Unity Government is abandoned, the president has a responsibility to call upon Wickremesinghe to form the government because the UNP won majority of the seats in the general election. Doing otherwise could be undemocratic. If Wickremesinghe cannot prove the majority, then another person could be invited or parliament dissolved.             

Sirisena’s other option would be to merge with the SLPP and accept the hegemony of Rajapaksa. The problem is that the leading members of the SLPP would not hesitate to humiliate the president for contesting the 2015 presidential election, which Rajapaksa and his loyalist believe was a betrayal. At this point in time, merging with the SLPP seems like an extremely remote possibility. Therefore, with the local government polls Sri Lankan certainly sailing into political uncertainty and perhaps, tension.        

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    it is hobsons choice for sira
    he will have to allow the unp to form a govt whether under ranil or anyone else
    neither will be seen after 2020 unless the rajapaksas are incarcerated particularly basil because without him the rajapaksas cannot win an election

  • 4
    5

    By remaining with the govt TNA MPs got tax free car permits and two million each. This is good enough for three years servitude in addition to the monthly pay allowances perks etc. Don’t you think so Mr Keethaponkalan?

  • 4
    1

    Dame lunatic Ranil and his UNP, his style of western democracy wouldn’t work in a country like Sri Lanka,. It should be the governing style of Lee Kwan You and Mahathir Mohamed, should be ideal, and could bring ressults, and good lives to the people. Both of them were hard and ruthless in their governing style, it brought results and the people of those countries are enjoying the fruits of it. They surround themselves with good caliber people, who did all they could to get the best for their countries. They drove hard themselves, and all those who worked for them to achieve the best. They never shamed in making decisions and put all their might at it to get the highest achiwvable out come of them. They never tolerated negativity but immesilly positive in their quest to get the best for their countries. They were with the people, kept them well informed of what they did for them. These two years are absolutely critical for Ranil, UNP and the country, and all got to work double time to achieve the best for all. The odds are tremendous, MR & cabals would be at the throats all the time, day and night, couldn’t help it but they got to work at it with huge resolve and grit determination.

  • 2
    1

    Mahinda is not back………………….. Its the people who are upfront now who has spoken.
    Yahapalanaya has miserably failed.

    TNA must be unhappy…………. All parlimentarians has had their good times n perks at the expense of the masses.

    lets see how they deal with the situation. Crunch time. Wrath of the masses weighing heavily on the rulers. No escape or bluffing.
    We can not do anything other than being passive observers.
    Yahapalanaya has dragged the Country from the frying pan to the fire.

  • 2
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    Dr. Keethaponcalan: Your article “Local Polls. What’s Next” is dealing with the “Political Face” of the coin. But the “Other Side” of that coin is completely DIFFERENT and of much VALUE to the SLPP led by MR. As we all know, and appropriately mentioned by you, the January 8th, 2015 “Turnaround” was centered on “Corruption”, “Waste”, “Robbery”, “Mismanagement” etc. of MR’s Regime,. and although the Government that came into power did not act with expected determination, to address the issues; those “Alleged” misdeeds remain well documented (e.g. the 24 Presidential Commission Reports) together with the on going court cases already filed and awaiting hearings. Who are the MAIN ALLEGED parties to those “CRIMES”? They are mainly “Rajapakse Family” consisting of Wife, Sons, Brothers, Brother-in-Law, Cousins and a host of other Cohorts. This MR’s “HIDDEN AGENDA” to “DESTROY” all those alleged “CRIMES” is all centered around one STRATEGY and that is none other than REGAIN POWER at the APEX LEVEL of Parliament by HIMSELF and the COHORTS. He (MR) will allow this Government to fall a PREY during the next two years, at the end of which he will REGAIN complete control and this winning at Local Poll is only a “Stepping Stone”. Yesterday, it is reported that MR made an out burst by saying: “I will not spare anyone who tried to arrest my sons” and that was referring to son Yoshitha. With that and the results of this Local Polls, MR and his cohorts have sent a CLEAR MESSAGE to the Law Enforcement Agencies, what would be in stock for them. Please take note: This “Rose Bud” of SLPP has sent a “Shock Wave” to all Governmental Internal Machinery indicating what to EXPECT once it “BLOOMS” full. Do we see this HIDDEN side of the “COIN”? Unfortunately, we all talk of the POLITICAL SIDE and remain until it TURNS the other face.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Maya,
    Ponkalan essays are always, worthless broken Mudkalan. One reason is his bias of anti-TNA. The author yet to show his political punditry in any essay, instead of the self-proclamations like “I said” in Thero De Silva Style. All of his essays are duds. Particularly, this essay based on selected, outdated Colombo media’s materials, a shadow plagiarism, if not direct and specific. Author is simply showing his inability to grasp the nature of “every second changing” Colombo politics. We cannot write comments to denounce an essay, which is wrong in its every word. We will try to quote just deny serious blunders.
    1). ”Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly formed party” Wrong. Old King is only in SLFP not in any new party. He is not trading parties-Period. He has no intention of forming party at this time.
    2).”I believe that Mahinda magic combined with Sinhala nationalism produced the outcome. “ Partly wrong. Anti-government votes 50%, magnetic magic votes 50%.
    3).”I stated that one “could feel widespread dissatisfaction about the government in the South. General complaints revolve around, for example, exorbitant cost of living (symbolized often by the price of coconut), lack of development activities, and alleged corruption.”. Partly wrong. Further, contradicting statements. He fails to mention “why and how Sinhalese are supporting Old King’s Sinhala Nationalism- Racism. The slogan won the election was “Want a unified country or divided country”.
    4).”Nevertheless, the new government failed to successfully prosecute a single member of the Rajapaksa” Author is not enplaning this theory. He is just trying to copy from media, but not overt on this. Why the people who brought down their war hero because of his corruption is voting form him again? Are people are convinced Yahapalanaya corruption is higher, and not fixable, but Old Royals’ corruption is fixable, so to bring in back the lessor devil?

  • 1
    0

    What is the current opinion of public is on the Old Royals’ crimes? People excused them? If not are still (after overwhelmingly voting for Slap Party) waiting for the Yahapalanaya to arrest Old Royals’ and prosecute them? Or is public thinking now that they were wrong in 2015 to accuse Old Royals.
    5).” ”Noticeably, Rajapaksa and members of his alliance have become reenergized and are stepping up the pressure on the ruling coalition.” My observation is that they are very cautious. They are not standing on the river bank and celebrating the arrival of the new winter flood. They fear that flood may sweep them also away.
    6). ”The former president however, is not interested in taking over the government as there is only two more years till the next general election. “” This notion is right, but the explanation behind it is wrong. He is in SLFP. He is in the government. Further, he wants SLFP(Nimal) to take over PM position. Old King’s strategy of not accepting PM position has nothing to do the remaining years of the government. We can come back to this.
    7).”they want the position of the opposition leader in the national legislature, “ This notion is right, but the explanation behind it is wrong. He is asking for the opposition job in a way so that giving it to him will violate the constitution. Ruling party cannot be the opposition party also. He knows that the government will not do it. Further, he accepts that he will not get His explanation to that is dubious. He will not resign from SLFP and take over the Slap party leadership and ask for Opposition Leadership. He knows then he will be stuck on the Opposition Chair. Ponkalan just showing here his anti-TNA stand. But is he completely hiding the Old Royals’ tricks in the way them asking for in an undeliverable manner.

  • 1
    0

    8). ”Rajapaksa is not interested in forming a new government. ……What this means is that Rajapaksa will not be able to muster enough seats to form his own government. This is another reason as to why Rajapaksa is currently not interested in the premiership.” Ponkalan miserably failing to show his intellectuality in the rush of amass thing unnecessary. Old King a man took not “one or two”, “not ten or fifteen”, but 75 JVP, UNP MPs from opposition in one shot. Ponkalan is not success in hiding that history here because, without leading Slap Party, he had made the public to vote for that party. If he can cheat like that the public who are looking to improve their welfare, it will not take him any effort for bring all the 122 hyenas from UNP and JVP in 24 hours. Ponkalan explanation has nothing to do with the reality. After Temple Tree House experience on the morning of Jan,8th, 2015, he is cautious to take any government position. Ponkalan has to know his interest is only in SLFP, but it is going be the ruling party and will have to face the next election with bags and baggage of that record.
    9).”There are indications that a motion will be presented demanding the dissolution of parliament. Absolutely a false statement, if not some other News reports are being wrongly interpreted here. There is nowhere any indication from Joint Comedy Club to bring a “no confidence motion” immediately after LG election in the light of LG election. In contrast there is news report that Old King has expressed an opinion that as Ranil had very good majority in the 2015 election, so he needs not to resign from premiership.

  • 2
    0

    10). ”Third, reports indicate that Rajapaksa wants SLFP’s chairmanship back.” Ponkalan keep circling in that ring. We have already explained the reality on that. Slap party can be consolidated with SLFP by two people. One is New King, who was against the formation of Slap Party and the current leader of SLFP. But he has no power to do that at this time. The other one is Old King, who though no the leader of Slap party, but controlling it. He is in the SLFP. But he is not fighting for the SLFP leadership within SLFP because it would amount as against the party constitution. A simple majority he can win within the party may not good enough to change the party constitution. In any case, he is very dubious in asking for the SLFP leadership.
    Let us say something without we contradict what all what we have said. ” Old King did not intent to form a political party, run in election, and defeats those who defeated him in 2015 as revenge. An average person will easily fall in trap and confuse the current circumstances with SWRD’s challenge that he took against UNP of that time, in 1956. The learned culprits like Ponkalan and Thero De Silva blow the air to the fire and mislead the innocent imbeciles mass. Old King wants SLFP to leave the Yahapalanaya. He likes to make them to rise up against UNP to form a single party government and fall down on that endeavor. That will make to pull off SLFP willingly from Yahapalanaya. Then he will forge a partnership with them in LC governments. When the EP election is declared he will capture the party leadership. Then will have the party constitution amended to let him have the chairmanship. One of his family members will stand for EP, but will not win. “

  • 1
    0

    Thondamany

    “Its the people who are upfront now who has spoken. Yahapalanaya has miserably failed.”

    People always speak if they are not muffled by white vans or by the thugs of the ruling party. They spoke on 8 Jan 2015 and again on 17 August 2015, will speak again and again and again. However it all fell in the deaf years. Sirisena and Ranil spent their entire post January 2015 time saving Clan’s bums by stopping all credible investigation into its financial regularities and war crimes.

    The business is as usual.
    I do not think anyone else could have so skillfully assuaged the UN prob into war crimes as Mangala had done it. Clan should be eternally grateful to him. Clan also should be eternally grateful to Ranil for preventing all investigations busting Dr Mahinda bum and reaching his cronies.

  • 1
    1

    The big loss is for MR and GR. The winner is Basil. Now think will MR be able to go back to SLFP unless he accepts MS as the leader and follow his directions in the nex elections and accept him as the next Presidential candidate in 2020. What won is not MR it is SLPP. SLPP has formed a sound grass root base now, do you really think Basil will give up on this. Why was the new party called SLFP (MR) following Indian example? Why was GR and Namal completely out of the picture in SLPP campaign? are we to believe that all this was unplanned? difficult to believe. This is a master plan executed with precision.

  • 1
    0

    ” Why was the new party called SLFP (MR) following Indian example?

    How could one do that?
    Old King is not a member of the Slap Party. If you like you can call it SLFP (GLP). Rather than getting into unwanted acronyms, you can shorten it as GLP. Isn’t that sound better party name than SLFP (GLP)

    The problem with that is, you don’t know if GLP in UNP or TNA or EPRLF or JVP….. or even in the original SLFP(, because there is where his leash holder is)

    If one, at these days start to call a party as SLFP (MR) that should mean only the original SLFP.

    Slap party may have to go eventually (I don’t know the date) of theater screen. But Younger Old Brother Prince had very high ambitions to bring the SLFP under his control. Let me go back and correct me on that. He wanted to call a party as his own party and wanted to control that party.

    So far I did not come to know if he has any interest in SLFP, after forming Slap Party. In reality his souls was not attached to soul of SLFP like Old king is. So will he just let it go when the big brother tell him to close it down and return back to SLFP.

  • 1
    1

    Why don’t you write about the illegal Gerrymandering in your Country the USA? You have left Ceylon. You get a “NOVA” PhD and now you are an expert? You left Colombo Uni.

    Write about mad Christian Pence. Write about Trump and assaults on all institutions of government and his raving tweets and rants and lies. Not a Single Sri Lankan President has behaved the way Trump behaves. And corruption and nepotism are in full sway.

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