It seems that somebody has organized an essay writing competition on the topic of ‘common candidate’. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka has proposed Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the JVP as the best common candidate while Mr. Kusal Perera , a journalist, proposed Mr. Wigneswaran, the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. A few months ago Dr. Kumar David said Venarable Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera was the best common candidate. In the mean time quite a large number of Colombo Telegraph readers, in their comments, had proposed Ms. Chnadrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga as the most suitable person to challenge Mahinda and a few had proposed Mr. Ranil Wicremesinghe, the Leader of the Opposition . I too wish to join this competition though I do not hope to win a prize.
Nobody knows whether the Presidential election will be held at the end of his tenure or before that. In case the President and his close advisers feel that waiting till the end of the tenure will be disadvantageous it will probably be held on an auspicious day for the President within the next 18 months. It is safer to expect it in 2015 .
There is no doubt that Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is looking forward to the victory of the incumbent President at the next election. What his many articles reveals is that he appreciates the way the President rules the country. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is probably not much worried about militarization, erosion of democracy, deterioration of rule of law and incessant violations of human rights. As such, I am compelled to believe that there is no significant difference on how both of them look at many a issue. So who says ‘No’ if I say that his wish is nothing but to see the incumbent President at Temple Trees for the third time.
Why do I say so?
He knows very well that Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake whom he proposed as the common candidate is a lame horse in a Presidential election race. But he proposes him not because he loves him or the JVP but because he wants to bloat the ego of A.K.D. and the JVP and through it to prevent the possible support of the JVP for the common candidate that has the ability to defeat the incumbent President at the next election. My view is he wants the JVP to contest alone at the presidential election if it fails to get support from other parties for its candidate. It is not illogical if some believe that Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka plays the role of an agent provocateur whose objective is to sow seeds of confusion, suspicion, divisions and infightings in the Opposition camp .
Now let us turn to Mr. Kusal Perera who made an attempt to promote Mr. Wigneswaran, the Chief Minister of the NPC as the common Presidential candidate. He had written so many things why ‘Wiggie’ should be the ‘’national common candidate’, but Mr. Wigneswaran knows better. He is matured enough to understand the hidden scheme behind the proposal. Hence he immediately rejected the proposal knowing that his candidature would guarantee the victory of Mahinda.
A former National Organizing Secretary of Ceylon Teachers Union once said to me that Kusal had served as a member of MP Mahinda Rajapaksa’s staff when he was the MP for the Beliatta electorate in 70s and 80s. While he seems to be some sort of leftist and a friend of the Tamil community, apparently he still has a soft spot for the President. He knows in the event that Mr. Wigneswaran comes to the stage as the common candidate it will be a cake walk back to the Presidential House for the incumbent President.
Now let us turn to Dr. kumar David who wrote a number of articles why Venerable Sobhitha Thera was the best bet to defeat Mahinda. It is apparent that he honestly believes that the Thera can defeat the incumbent President at the forthcoming presidential election. I wonder why he cannot see that Rev. Thera’s candidature will be a free ticket to Mahinda to the President’s House (or Temple Trees) as the Thera will not be able to win the votes of the Tamils let alone the Muslims. In a contest between the Thera and the President, it is very doubtful that the Thera will be able to get more Sinhala votes than the President will. It is quite obvious that the common candidate has to be a personality who can garner the votes of the Tamils and the Muslims in addition to the votes of the Sinhalese as the President’s campaign will mainly focus on the Sinhalese votes. Weerawansa, JHU, and all the Sinhala extremist groups such as the BBS will campaign for the President to the hilt and will not hesitate to tell the Sinhalese that Wigneswaran will form an Eelam government in the North in case the Venerable Thera wins.
I am further bewildered why he believes in One Issue Campaign. Though executive presidential system is an elephantine issue to the politically enlightened people it is not such a big issue for the common voter. Their biggest concern is how to find the next meal. That is why Dudley who promised a free measure of rice to every person was able to come to power in 1965. That is why Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike who promised people two measures of rice was able to come to power in 1970. And that is why JR who promised 8 pounds of grains won comfortably in 1977. At the elections that followed it was not food but the war that decided the victory or the defeat at national elections. Now again the major concern of the people is food as there is no war. Perhaps Venerable Sobhitha Thera and Dr. Kumar David are unable to fathom the struggle people wage daily to find some food for them and their children. One who is surrounded by delicacies is ignorant of the fangs of hunger of the person in the street.
As such it is naïve to believe that the President can be defeated on the sole pledge of abolishing the executive presidency. At the next election the President would not hesitate to promise voters food at subsidized rates ,new welfare measures, and many more things as he knows more than anybody else that the way to the heart begins from the stomach.
If the Opposition wants to defeat the incumbent President, first of all ,it has to find a candidate who can garner votes from all the ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. Second, the common candidate has to be a person who can attract one million votes from the SLFP bank. The votes of the SLFPers are decisive and indispensable for the victory of the common candidate because one vote for the common candidate is one vote less for the incumbent President. The third condition is, the opposition and the common candidate should say how they expect to attend to voters’ burning issues such as food , shelter and security within a brief period. The forth condition is a road map to restore democracy, rule of law, ethnic reconciliation human rights and media freedom by means of new constitution prepared by a national provisional government together with the newly elected President who will go home once the new constitution is adopted.
Therefore my strong conviction is that only Ms.Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga possesses qualifications that are necessary to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksha. She is the only candidate who can open the SLFP vote bank and empty at least one quarter of it into her bag. The Tamils and the Muslims as well as non Buddhists in the country would be happier to vote her into power as she is neither a chauvinist nor a person who tolerates religious extremism.
Will she accept the challenge if the Opposition extends an invitation to her to contest as the common candidate against Mahinda who represents the political party which was founded by her father and Mahinda’s father?
And she knows that the President is a resolute personality who will fight to the bitter or sweet end no matter whatever the challenges.
It may well be the most difficult decision for madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga.
But I am positive of one thing. If she sees no guarantee of her victory she will be happier to remain at home rather than spend the rest of her life as a defeated candidate.
*P. Bertie Ranaweerage – Former president of Ceylon Teachers’ Union