By Malinda Seneviratne –
Tilvin Silva of the JVP made an interesting point at the commemoration of comrades slain in 1988-89: ‘Mahinda has already run half the race.’ The constitution favors incumbent. Authorities turn a blind eye on the abuse of state resources and indeed the institutional arrangement is so poor in terms of checks and balances that this is a ‘given’. Citizens have, sadly, resolved to shoulder-shrug in a ‘par for the course’ sense. And then there’s the Opposition: broken, confused and running around in circles. So yes, Tilvin has a point.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has been running for re-election since January 2010. He had the J R Jayewardene and Chandrika Kumaratunga presidencies to figure out the fate of a lame duck incumbent. His decline would begin on Day 1. He must have started plotting the 18th Amendment the moment he was re-elected. He had the numbers in Parliament. He got it passed.
There was of course what appeared to be a hiccup in the form of the former Chief Justice, Sarath N Silva raising the issue of ineligibility. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake referring to this as well as the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the objection, claims that even a schoolboy would know that the President was ineligible. This means that for four years, Anura as well as the JVP had the political maturity of toddlers. After the SC determination, Silva says ‘nothing can be done now except defeat him’. It is almost as though he brought the issue up to ensure that Rajapaksa would not be stumped on nomination day.
Sections of the Opposition briefly flirted with the idea of a Chandrika come-back. Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to have supported the idea. If this is true it only indicates that he doesn’t believe he can defeat Rajapaksa. Dayan Jayatilleka got it right when he said that if anyone can do worse than Ranil it is Chandrika. She was President for 11 years and has nothing to show for it. She played hide and seek with the LTTE and came off second best. She has nothing concrete to show compared to what Rajapaksa can brag about. Rajapaksa, moreover, presided over a comprehensive victory over terrorism. Track records will be compared. In any case, Silva’s antics have effectively dumped the Chandrika Candidacy idea in the bin. She can keep out of things or she can support an Opposition candidate. She would be a liability more than an asset in the latter case.
Mahinda has things to show. That counts. It counts more than things that begin with ‘If I am elected…’ He has his liabilities and handicaps but to make these count the Opposition has to start running, to take from Tilvin’s observation. Right now, though, while Mahinda has got off the blocks and is half way towards the finishing line, all the running that the Opposition seems to be doing is ‘in circles’.
Mahinda has the show-tell advantage. He has the regime-fatigue handicap. He has the incumbency edge, but has to deal with the fallout of non-deliverability on several issues. Abolishing the executive presidency is a non-issue for the average voter, but law and order is an in-your-face matter. He has failed there and he can thank the thugs and crooks he has indulged or cultivated for this. His coalition has not seemed as solid as it used to be. There has been audible grumbling about the ‘Clan mentality of the Rajapaksas’. These haven’t resulted in major cracks. The Opposition, with its own confusion and fractures, is a hardly attractive place for dissenting voices to relocate. As of now, only the JHU seems uncertain or supporting him for the third time. There is no guarantee that a possible JHU exit would precipitate an exodus that is significant.
The weight of the ‘JHU factor’ will depend on whether they support someone put forward by the UNP or whether they decide to contest separately. A JHU candidate would be a spoiler but it is hard to say who gets spoiled. If Ranil is contesting, the Ranil-Mahinda gap could be so wide that the JHU would be a non-factor. Such a candidate might get a few disgruntled votes from both sides. A Karu Jayasuriya candidacy might succeed in obtaining JHU support. Whether this would translate into victory is left to be seen.
The Opposition right now appears hell bent on making most of the above irrelevant. What the voter is seeing is a bunch of self-serving politicians under-cutting one another. Sajith Premadasa is playing spoiler. He knows he can’t defeat Rajapaksa and therefore he doesn’t want anyone else, particularly Karu Jayasuriya to have a shot the presidency. He backs Ranil because he is banking on turning Ranil’s probably defeat into an edge in ousting the man as Party Leader. He is balking from supporting Karu, perhaps thinking that he has an outside chance. Ranil holds the cards: he decides who will contest. If he feels he can’t win then he would want to put forward a loser. Karu doesn’t know who to trust. The Opposition’s self-appointed spin-doctors are not helping by throwing other names into the hat: Arjuna Ranatunga, Chandrika, Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero and even Maithripala Sirisena of the SLFP (he has since ‘opted out,’ clearly signaling that the rank and file of the ruling party doesn’t want to gamble on an iffy Opposition candidate).
The JVP ran with Silva’s objection and is now left without a slogan. ‘Boycott’ seems to be the face-saving option, but this might result in further erosion of vote base in a possible General Election following the probable Presidential Election in early January.
Tilvin, then, is describing only part of the unfolding political. Mahinda is not only half way there, the Opposition is running in the opposite direction.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com