Fielding Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate of the 2015 presidential election can be considered as a serious mistake committed against the democracy and the democratic practices of the country. Because it forced majority voters to elect a person with a political minority representation and the elected person was not able to deliver the mandate given by the majority. The people who supported Sirisena became political refugees as he finally implemented the agenda of the defeated candidate. Further, Sirisena nullified the manifesto put forward by his own camp and because of that many who supported the Sirisena camp later believed that they have been deceived at the 2015 presidential election. The non-adherence to the election manifesto by the Yahapalana government made people to bring the defeated camp back to the power in 2019. This political experience remains as a guiding example for major political parties in making decisions on common candidacy in a presidential election.
Though the next presidential election is looming only in 2024 and a discussion on who will contest it is immature, the movements in various fractions of the opposition and also the government pass hints on potential leaders and so, candidates. Given that the government-side will field the same or another Rajapaksa to contest in 2024, it is quite interesting to discuss the movements in the opposition ranks and the viability and credibility of such trends.
As the main opposition party, the SJB is certain on fielding its leader Sajith Premadasa as the next presidential candidate. Having 50+ parliamentary seats, holding the leader of opposition post and securing the support of main minority parties, it is reasonable for the SJB to be firm on their choice. With the revival of its membership, consistent progress made in terms of capacity development of the party and the growing experience and the maturity of the leadership, there is a high chance for Sajith Premadasa to do a better job in the next presidential election. Further, the fast dropping popularity of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime would also make Sajith’s race to the office easier, but there is a challenge for him and the party enticing floating votes and making the party vote base bigger.
The SLFP is a part of the present government with an extremely unhappy mood at present over the treatment received from the Rajapaksas after the 2020 general election. The growing concern over the ill-treatment is reflected in views express by the leaders of the SLFP. Given the present contexts and some strongmen of the party are much closely aligned with Rajapaksas, the SLFP is not in a position to apply pressure on or challenge the government. Further, as the report of the Easter Sunday attack has been clearly fenced its leadership, the SLFP is seemingly not in a position to free its arms and consequently they would not be thinking of contesting separately and would remain as supporters of the present government.
Jathika Jana Balavegaya, predominantly the JVP, will field its own candidate for the next presidential election as well. The NPP in the parliament and also the outside political discourse makes a significant influence at present by picking up policy hiccups and misdeeds of the present government. Especially, the JVP leader Anura Dissanayake spends most of his time and energy uncovering misdeeds of the government. However, their limited vote base and the perceived voter rigidity in accepting them as a viable alternative in a major election will make their chances very narrow in upcoming elections as well. If the NPP is convinced to support their candidate or at least if NPP be made indifferent at the next presidential election, then the main opposition candidate would have a better chance to win the election.
The UNP, though they face the most difficult time in politics since inception, has not yet given up its interests in fielding a candidate for the next presidential election. The UNP hopes that their candidate, most probably Ranil Wickramasinghe, has a chance to win the next presidential election as they think that they would be able to receive the support of the minority parties. However, the mere reduction to about 2% of votes and one bonus parliamentary seat has made it impossible for the party to make a comeback unless they cement an agreement with the SJB. Further, close ties between the minority parties and the SJB make it clear that the UNP has only a tiny likelihood to secure the support of minority parties.
However, the UNP’s jingles to mark Ranil Wickramasinghe’s political comeback, which is also against the fundamentals of democratic rights as a candidate massively rejected by the voters brought back to represent them in the parliament, signal its intension to play a political spoiler’s role. Few remaining UNPers believe that appointing Ranil Wickramasinghe to the parliament through the national list, even one year after the general election, will give them an edge in the political course of the country. The isolated and dejected party secretary went on to say that Ranil Wickramasinghe was able to form a government with only 40 seats in the parliament in an attempt to erect Ranil Wickramasinghe as a political magician. One should understand that Ranil Wickramasinghe formed a government with 40 MPs in a situation where SLFP MPs clustered around President Maithripala Sirisena leaving the defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was a political conspiracy and game hatched by Sirisena and Wickramasinghe at the time by manipulating the mandate given in the 2015 presidential election. A government with 40 MPs was formed not because of intelligence of Ranil Wickramasinghe but because of invisible cross-overs from the SLFP to the President’s side.
Ranil Wickramasinghe and his miserable clang think that all SJB MPs will rally round him and with the support of minority parties he may grab the post of opposition leader. That’s why Ranil and the clang started with “I am back” Sirikotha cutout and “country needs you” wall posters. This clang is making a futile attempt to nurture Ranil Wickremesinghe as the panacea for the health-socio-economic-political turmoil the country is facing at present. But people of the country did not forget the fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe was in the parliament for about 43 consecutive years, before his recent entry, during which his brains drained to a state of anarchy which made him receptive to the wills and fancies of the party, people and the country. Some attempt to highlight Ranil Wickremesinghe as a political superhero by reckoning him as the only politician to become the prime minister of the country for five times. But they deliberately forget the fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only politician who failed to complete the tenure of the premier-ship in any of those five appointments. It is interesting to say that though Ranil Wickramasinghe was appointed to the post of premier for 5 times his total duration in office was only 8 years and 2 months. His intelligence was too diminutive be smart enough in retaining power given by the people through hard work and lot of sacrifice without leading to crises within the government and within the party. He was the only party leader who witnessed massive and continuous drain of party leaders and supporters during the long-standing tenure.
Further, Ranil Wickramasinghe was not interested in coming back to the parliament until the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to grab more powers to the Executive, the Port City Act and related regulations to sell and reward lands and properties of the country to foreigners, and many other bills and procedures that work against democracy and interests of general public and the country. Though some want to buzz his comeback to the parliament as a political triumph, it will be a real disaster to democratic practices and non-deal political affairs of the opposition as his real masters are none other than Rajapaksas. With all support and blessings from the Rajapaksa camp, his intension was to weaken the SJB and infiltrate into it to ouster the new leadership hope of the country, Sajith Premadasa, to whom Ranil Wickramasinghe was fallen miserably in his political career. But in my view, Ranil Wickramasinghe’s day-dreaming to ouster Sajith Premadasa will become a nightmare for him and the clang as Sajith Premadasa is not only a leader supported and protected by his own party MPs and minority party representatives but also thousands and millions of people of the country.
There are certain movements under the rug within and between parties to find a person who is none of above party leaders to be elevated to the post of the common candidate. Some corrupt and thus wealthy politicians who are currently at logger head with Ranil Wickramasinghe are making a deal with the former speaker Karu Jayasuriya to form him as the common candidate in the next presidential election. For this purpose, this group is using the National Movement for Social Justice founded by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero. However, this attempt seems to be a misery failure because of several reasons. I presume that Karu Jayasuriya, known as a gentleman and who stood one time as the most opted person for the UNP leadership, is now too late to make a political comeback with his own interests for the betterment of the country. If he tries to make a comeback at this stage it is simply because he be made interested by the interests of corrupt and wealthy politicians who were rejected by the people. Further, I am wondering how Karu Jayasuriya could make a Just Society by working with politicians who branded as day-light robbers of the central bank, gifted with luxury houses and properties in Colombo for such deeds, engaged in illegal money making through whatever responsibility assigned as parliamentarians and ministers. In fact, what we see now is those who worked for Karu Jayasuriya tirelessly are moving away as his interests have been turned from gentleman politics to conspiracy and corrupt politics in which the interests of the country are of secondary objectives. Ostensibly very marginal vote base behind this group makes it really unlikely that the group produces a solid common candidate.
There is another conspiracy theory going on to promote Champika Ranawaka as another political supremacy targeting the next presidential election. The most shocking and unethical practice of this attempt is that the person is making this attempt while remaining as a SJB member of parliament. His course for the next presidential election would have been much more interested and ethical if he makes the attempt by resigning or denouncing his membership of the SJB.
Champika Ranawaka was a part of Sihala Urumaya headed by S.L. Gunasekara and in 2000 general election, the party obtained 1.48% of total votes and secured a national list MP post. However, the party split within few hours after election, as a rebel group led by Champika Ranawaka demanded nominating his name to the national list MP post against the candidacy of Gunasekara. Though this rebellion made Champika Ranawaka able to secure the parliamentary seat, that division made the party politically so dismal which was soon evidenced in another snap poll held in 2001 as the vote percentage of the party reduced to 0.57%. Latter he joined with some politically influenced monks to form Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) which was grounded on the rising nationalism among Sinhalese during the high time of the country’s civil war. Initially, the JHU was successful as it was able to secure 9 parliamentary seats in 2004 general election. Later because of growing individualism, race for ministerial posts, race for national list MP posts and conspiracy hatched against each other in the leadership contest, the JHU was fallen apart quickly. Champika Ranawaka lost his leaders, mentors, advisors, deputies and thousands of supporters over these fights and divisions. Though JHU has become dismal in the political arena, Champika Ranawaka was and is able to remain in politics and power with the support of Mahinda Rajapaksha, Ranil Wickramasinghe and now Sajith Premadasa. If SLFP, UNP and SJB did not give him the support in 2007, 2015 and 2020, the political career of Champika Ranawaka would have been much different from what we see now.
As was done through-out his career, he recently resigned from the ranks of JHU and started a new movement called “43 Senankaya”, which I named as a fake brigade with an intension to deceive and misguide people of this country. The very name of this movement senankaya is used to mislead and deceive people by signalling a military like brigade emerging to promote Sinhala nationalism and protect the country. If the intension of this group is to grab power by wooing and fascinating nationalists and chauvinists that would be a sheer mistake as Rajapaksas are much better than this group in talking to the hearts of people and wooing nationalists and chauvinists as was evident in the past. Therefore, the chauvinistic approach laid down by this group will not be a viable option for the target population. Since the political movement and agenda created by Sihala Urumaya and JHU is now spilt into so many fractions, the extremely slim vote base behind Champika Ranawaka and his senankaya would be a far less requirement than the numbers required to make a good deal with main political parties. Further, I observed that the grassroot level supporters of the SJB do not want its leaders to make them voting for a person who is not in their aspiration as they were asked by the UNP to do so in 2015.
*Ananda Jayawickrama is a Professor in Economics at the University of Peradeniya. Currently, he serves as the President of the Intellectual Forum for People (Janathavadi Buddhi Mandapaya), a forum of university academics, researchers and experts. He is available for any clarification at firstname.lastname@example.org.