By Sarath Wijesinghe –
Election is due
Elections are due. It appears that it will not take place soon. Wickremesinghe is on the volcano of the no confidence motion signed by over 112 opposition MPs which is unprecedential in the Westminster Modal. If the motion is won by the opposition it is a moral victory for them in the eve of a general election. Sirisena is operating a campaign to get the motion withdrawn exercising his power as the President of the country and the SLFP with wide powers. Wickremesinghe is using the technicalities of the Parliamentary procedure to drag it on and on simultaneously demanding for the dissolution of the Parliament under the existing system. The Power for dissolution of the existing Parliament is with the President of Sri Lanka who is also the President of the SLFP elected for Presidency mainly by the UNP electorate with the promise that Wickremesinghe would be appointed the Prime Minister. Appointment of Wickreesinghe as the Prime Minister, whilst the previous Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne was still in office and the removal of the former Chief Justice Mohan Pieris by merely sending a letter from the President’s office are controversial and unconstitutional issues. As a tactical move and to get round the Rajapaksa supporters Sirisena appointed Jayaratne and Wickramanayaka – both ex-Prime Ministers as advisors to the President and by enlarging the Cabinet to over 80, breaking the promise that the Ministers will be restricted to 25. Sirisena fulfilled the initial promise of appointing Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister and now disclaims any agreement with UNP any longer to pacify the SLFP for the impending general election. Is he free to use the discretion to dissolve the Parliament soon is a million dollar question and the most decisive decision of the hour.
The speculation is that Parliament will be dissolved soon, which is a demand of the UNP as well as the JVP. SLFP is adamant that 20A should be passed and no confidence motion should be taken up, before the dissolution and whether it is possible to put 20 A into practice at the next election is on doubt due to technical issues. It appears that the Cabinet has decided to conduct the next election on the same proportional system to enable rich and powerful to enter parliament with ferocious infighting among contestants on preferential system of electing MPs. UNP is linked has 20th Amendment to the no confidence motion against Wickremesinghe threatening to jeopardize the 20th Amendment which appeared to have been settled.
The Current political chemistry has unusually and unpredictably changed for uncertainty. UNP has decided to fight alone with the elephant symbol. Apparently JVP, Tamil Muslim parties too will go alone. JHU may align with either Sirisena fraction or the UNP as they have lost the vote base. If there is no settlement on the main issues Rajapaksa fraction will go alone with lot of confidence being the main contender for UNP. It seems that the happenings are full of errors, broken promises and comedies of the first order. People voted Rajapaksa out believing the allegations against his regime and the clan. They really did not want to oust him- they need to teach him a lesson by reduced votes. It has been an unexpected and a sudden decision taken by the people due to internal and external factors. Some say even those who voted out Rajapaksa are now repenting and he has become a crowd puller from the day he walked out graciously from Temple Trees in the morning he was defeated. Strong Rajapaksa government was replaced by Sirisena’s loose coalition of different ideologies of minority parties, UNP, and a fraction of the SLFP. Is the Government in a position to sustain this? UNP minority government is eager to form a new government after two decades without power in isolation, with the minority parties and a fraction of the SLFP in which Sirisena is the President. UNP is enjoying power given by Sirisena on a plate to unelectable Wickremesinghe, after twenty years of isolation. UNP is enjoying power to the maximum as a minority government giving SLFP only few portfolios and positions that have discouraged any future National government mooted by Sirisena thereby the National Government of UNP and SLFP proposed by Sirisena hangs on the balance. His position will be uncertain under a SLFP regime though he is technically the President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, though he can be in power for five years, a hostile Parliament can make life difficult for him and vote him out. He will be more comfortable with a UNP government headed by Wickramasinghe as Rajapaksa is gaining grounds on SLFP power bases day by day. He will feel unsafe with SLFP under Rajapaksa. Sirisena has the power to veto Rajapaksa for nominations on SLFP. He is taking all steps to keep Rajapaksa out of SLFP and political arena. Sirisena claimed no uncertain terms that Rajapaksa will not be given nominations from SLFP. Sirisena may not be trusted by the SLFP as he has made it clear that he wishes Wickremesinghe to be the Prime Minister to please the West and for his survival. On the other hand Sirisena is forcing the SLFP to be a partner is a proposed “National Government” with SLFP UNP and the minority parties for which SLFP is vehemently against. Rajapaksa never left SLFP though Sirisena and Chandirka Kumaratunga left the party and re-joined. Parties and leaders need elections early or later for reasons depending on their political agendas in this uncertain and confused state. Rajapaksa must be repenting every second for having called for premature elections when his popularity and the power were in the peak. Agony he and the family going through may be unimaginable. Rajapaksa government powerful as a giant rock is shattered for reasons everybody is looking for. Is it for a “Change” or due to fearful and forceful propaganda locally and internationally against Rajapaksa, family and the clan? The main changes taken place is the hunt of Rajapaksa relations and the clan on charges by the newly set up Unit directed directly by a Political Body which Rajapaksa group claim illegally established. The accusations of “Lambogani” cars, horses from USA charges of corruption and other allegations have not been proved yet. Now it appears that Rajapaksa group is on the offensive and no longer in the defensive. No new developments have started except for the dis- continuations of small mega and projects in the rural ares started by Rajapaksa Government. On the other hand it is difficult for Sirisena to satisfy both UNP and SLFP traditionally arch emeries. Will Sirisena be able to satisfy all the parties concerned to unite politically who are against each other traditionally politically and personally in the bitterpolitical war in Sri Lanka? Is it practicable for SLFP, UNP and other parties for a National Government for a one party system which is contrary to Parliamentary democracy based on party system? Did people vote for Sirisena or voted against Rajapaksa to teach him a lesson to correct himself is a theory by another school of thoughts put forward. It appears that Sirisena-Wickremesinghe union will not be able to sale through a smooth voyage when Rajapaksa in power backed by the ordinary masses and his committed followers. Cracks have already started among the three power based namely Sirisena Wickremesinghe and Chandrika. Chandrika said to have sent the last letter to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe and the UNP has their own way. SLFPers have already converted to second class. Minority parties are better off as their majority vote base is positive for the UNP at the impending election in the north and East.
Sirisena’s behaviour is understandable. He was voted to be the President by the strength and network of UNP, when the majority of the SLFP was backing Rajapaksa. He is morally and in reality obliged to Wickremesinghe and the UNP for his own future and survival. In Politics,individuals or even a Nations are selfish- “Me first” and rest secondary. Foreign Policy of any Nation is based on selfishness towards the Nation. Sirisena’s theory is that Wickremesinghe should be the Prime Minister to please the “West” and to be grateful to the UNP for his victory. He is mooting a National Government with UNP and SLFP for which SLFP is vehemently against. Will Sirisena be able to hold on to his previous vote base consisting mainly of UNP votes for the general election for the victory of SLFP in which he is the President are matters to be decided by the electorate to be decided in the near future. Will SLFP vote for him or consider him as a traitor to the party, who has left and contested on Sworn Symbol against the Party candidates.
Sirisena should be credited for working hard to pass the 19th Amendment and ferociously pushing 20A after voluntarily trying to shed the Presidential Powers and limiting the term. It may be a genuine act or decision on realising the inability to govern to meet the demands and limitless promises given during the elections. Sirisena as well as Wickremesinge are in difficulties with a minority government and a hostile majority opposition. It is the country that suffers due to the confusion and un stability of the political stream. To his credit Sirisena is a good and convincing speaker who fought the television campaign with propaganda on Horses and Lambogani which they are not in a position to prove. Will the people believe the same stories at the next general election are a matter to be decided by the electorate in the near future.
Events are changing dramatically to make matters worse. Sirisena headed the Cabinet that approved 20A for presentation to the Parliament and courts subsequently. UNP agreed to 20A with lot of reluctance after having tried a deal to pressurise the SLFP to withdraw the noconfidence motion. People are eagerly awaiting for the outcome of the steps taken by the members of the Parliament on the No confidence motion. Sirisena works hard to pass 20A through which Is an arduous task with groups with conflicting commitments and views with different agendas.
Who is likely to win the next election?
This Election is the most difficult to predict due to the complexity and the unpredictable and uncertain circumstances. The current regime was voted in with short notice and has become the most unpopular government within such a short period of time. Sirisena lavishly promised sun and moon when Rajapaksa was cautious on giving promises expecting to win and manage the economy on the programs already in action. The two main parties enjoyed power from 1956 to date with charismatic and powerful leaders leading the parties and the Nation to victory from time to time. Now things have changed after the unexpected and sudden turn of events on the victory of Sirisena with a comparatively a short election campaign. UNP backed Sirisena to power to make their leader the Prime Minister and happy about the outcome though the regime is a minority. It is most likely the average UNPer will come forward at an election to vote the Party to victory. Whoever wins it is unlikely it to be a landslide victory. UNP will increase the vote base as a single party expecting to be in power after two decades of struggle and isolation. All signs are for a hung Parliament and the government to be formed with the help of the minority parties who are bound to join the future government with their traditional demands and powerful portfolios which has now increased to over 70 though promised to limit to 30. JVP and other small parties such as JHU are trying to eat into the SLFP votes are disgruntle and divided. It appears it is Rajapaksa is the uniting factor but the only obstruction is the differences between Sirisena and Rajapaksa. Minority votes in the South are intact and likely to vote with the UNP who scored over the SLFP led coalition while North and East will vote on racial basis to the raciest parties.Floating and young votes are the most unpredictable. Whether Sirisena Regime has delivered goods with 100 days and the performances are to be tested at the next general elections. It is unlikely Sirisena, Rajapaksa and Chandrika will unite to save the SLFP though it is the best option for the victory of the SLFP as the differences among them are so wide. Which group will develop the country is a matter left to the people to be decided at the next general elections. All love themselves and not the party or the country. It appears that Rajapaksa is extremely popular among the people and the party where as Sirisena is tightening his grip on power day by day. Ideally Sirisena, Rajapaksa and Chandrika should be united to vote SLFP to power again which is very unlikely scenario. Sirisena is tightening the screw gradually and Wickremesinghe is trying to transform to be a street fighter and speaks loud at the Parliament to the common man. Nobody knows what happens in the next two hours and it is difficult to ascertain and speculate the winner of the future elections today due to extreme complex nature and uncertainty in all areas. Is the electorate enjoying the benefits of Yahapalanaya – good governance and changes are yet to be decided. Maintenance of law and order cleanliness of the country and the continuity of the development projects are some major issues faced by the electorate voted for good governance and changes. Sirisena won on TV campaign whereas Rajapaksa went through a long drawn organized campaign for months. People believed the allegations against Rajapaksa family and the clan. In the present context will people believe Sirisena-Wickremesinghe clan again is a complicated issue to be left for the future?
What would be the future voting pattern?
Voters as well as all the politicians are confused except the politicians in the North and East. They are happy about their positions and the solid vote base in the North East and the Estate sector. At a general election TNA, the Muslim parties, and the Estate Sector will get their share of MPs at any confused state on ethnic basis as they are used to vote on ethnic considerations. Then UNP, Sirisena and Rajapaksa are left with the voters in the rest of Sri Lanka who will vote on political considerations. Will real SLFP trust Sirisena who has sympathies for Wickremesinghe and a National Government with UNP? Sirisena is threatening to clean up the SLFP by removing the Secretary, UPFA secretary and Rajapaksa supporters in a similar way W Dahanayaka cleaned up SLFP after the death of Hon SWRD. Rajapaksa is gaining the popularity among the village based SLFP and diehards. UNP will easily increase the vote base after long isolation and the how the floating and young and undecided will behave is left of the future. In the circumstances the voting pattern is as complicated as the rest of the events and happenings in the country. JVP is likely to increase the vote base as the young generation is now award of the mass murders of then JVP who the current JVP considers their leaders including Wijayaweera, who was supposed to have bee brutally killed and burnt to death at Borella Cemetery during the UNP regime. Sri Lankans have short memories and ungrateful .They have conveniently forgotten that Nation is free and enjoying freedom and new live after 30 years of war and uncertainty of life by the commitment and strategy of Rajapaksa supported by Gotabaya. Ironically JVP supported Sirisena to defeat Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election and continue to attack him.
Rajapaksa the Common Enemy
Traditionally UNP has been the common enemy of the progressive and nationalist parties whereas LTTE was considered to be the common enemy of most of the parties in the Sri Lankan democratic stream. According to leaders of JVP who made a yeoman service to vote Sirisena and Ranil to power is now partnered with UNP against Rajapaksa who is struggling to win the SLFP over. JHU -extremely Sinhala raciest party has made a 360 turn and partnering with UNP, and the governing group with TNA and Muslim Congress and other minor raciest parties Sirisena fraction of the SLFP, and Tamil raciest minority parties including Muslim and Tamil groups ganged together against Rajapaksa with the “Tamil Diaspora”. Fractions and remnants of local and international LTTE has grouped against their common enemy Rajapaksa with the rest of colleagues locally and internationally. Sobitha-Ratana group – one time extreme Sinhala groups have now come to terms with the rest of the raciest minor parties as against the common enemy Rajapaksa to sustain the power and the perks enjoyed by them. Rajapaksa is the common enemy of most of the parties and the local and International NGOs who are now free to operate when India has strong reservations on INGO and NGOs. In such a situation it is interesting to watch the behaviour of the Sinhala, Polite the Villagers traditional SLFPers and five traditional forces (five forces that brought Bandaranaike to power in 1956) such as Sanga, Ayurveda and other Physicians Farmers, Teachers and Professionals, and the Woking class. Young, educated and women are new forces to be considered. Despite all odds the growing popularity of Rajapaksa and the attraction of the masses following him are unprecedented in any world standard after five months of losing power. Will Rajapaksa sustain the popularity to be used at the next election?
Who rules the Country?
It is difficult to ascertain who rules the country due to the complexity of the system and the political influences of three major players namely Chandrika, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Chandrika is the main architect of the coup to oust Rajapaksa and other two partners are ever grateful to her. Sirisena’s powers are pruned by the 19th Amendment and perform duties more or less as a ceremonial head of the State. Sirisena is expected to implement his decisions via the machinery headed by the Executive Prime Minister under whom the seven MPs defected with Sirisena is holding positions. Implementation of the 19th amendment is slow and the appointments of the independent bodies and delayed due to high technical nature of events that confronted even under the abolished 17th amendment. There are conflicting reports and statements on many issues and this are only the start in a long drawn complex journey. Different statements and interpretations are received from all three sources. It appears that Sirisena is losing the grip especially in the North and East on the Law and order front. Due to losing the grip, the agitators are misusing Yapalanaya with agitations and processions for the slightest issue in all parts of the country. One feels whether we are walking towards for a rule by the mob. Agitators and Mob generally get what they want. Rajapaksa with Gota had the grip of the situation and iron fist on the law and order and implementation of policies, which is a need in an Asian System. Singapore, Malayasia, Indunisia, China, and even USA had iron fist rule on implementation of policies which has led them into prosperity and development. We wish and pray the situation will not be aggravated after the implementation of the 19A.
What is Rajapaksa and Sirisena up to?
Rajapaksa is confronted with the uphill task of regaining the power without the government and the party machinery. The option available for him is aim to be the Prime Minister with substantial Executive Powers under 19A. He is backed by a group of powerful and dedicated politicians and a vote base mainly from the rural sector. Sirisena yields power as the Head of the State and the party as the ultimate authority under constitution and it is likely some SLFPers will be with Sirisens except dedicated and committed Rajaaksa followers and ardent SLFPers who opposes Sirisena supporting UNP and Ranil for a National Government. SLFP graves they are harassed by UNP and vehemently against a national government. If a national Government of Majority UNP and SLFP is formed it will be the end of SLFP as traditionally and historically it takes a long period for SLFP to recover from defeat. Sirisena is backed by the UNP, Tamil and Muslim minority parties including the extreme ethnic parties such as JHU and TNA and a part of SLFP. Today UNP appears to be intact and the grassroots united after two decades of isolation. They may not lose this rare opportunity to taste power. Obviously Rajapaksa may be repenting for calling early election and mistakes made by not bringing the culprits to books during his tenure of office. Whether Sirisena is doing better without corruption is a matter of the future. There are corrupt politicians and corruptions haunting in the hew system. Rajapaksa is pressurized to contest as the Prime Ministerial candidate by the diehard and traditional SLFP members who rally round the leader who stood by SLFP when all other leaders left the party and re-joined later.
Future of the Nation and the Political Pickle
Future of the Nation appears to be uncertain and bleak unless some miracles take place with the emergence of a new vision with the help of all players in the political game, which is very unlikely. Today no developments appear to take place and there is no political stability and peace in the country. Uncertainty is haunting everywhere and nobody knows what happens in the next few hours including rulers who do not appear to have a clue on what they do and what happens around. Ministers and the leaders are sending different signals and contradictory statements. No economic boom or investor confidence due to the uncertain nature of the politics with different and conflicting signals and statements from all three players. Government is shifting towards West expecting the support of the Western Economic Block. Historically Sri Lanka was assisted and liberated economically an industrially by the Non alignment and pro left Nations during the historical voyage of last number of decades.When the West is going after China for assistance on technology and business and finance we are drifting away from them. The government do not appear to use the goodwill created by the previous government on economic, political and areas of stability and international politics with China, USSR and the nonaligned bloc. Whether somebody likes or not definitely there is going to be a hung Parliament and a government formed with the union of many political parties with strong strings for the small and raciest parties. Therefore it is time for Sirisena to extend the Olive leaf towards Rajapaksa to work together as combination of Sirisena Rajapaksa will be a panacea for prosperity and development of the Nation vis SLFP with Mahinda-Mithri leadership. Other scenario is Sirisena-Wickremesinghe union with UNP and Mithri Fraction with the small and raciest parties. Ironically and unfortunately Mahinda-Maithri will be a most remote scenario to take place due to bitter differences. But miracles take place on the decision of the ordinary masses and at the next general election the electorate who are far more intelligent than the Sri Lankan politicians will take sensible decisions with unexpected good results as our Nation is not that unfortunate.
*The writer is former Sri Lankan envoy in Israel and UAE