14 April, 2024


State Of The Race 

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Sri Lankans will face a presidential election in about four months. However, no major political party was in a hurry to announce its candidate for the race. Now, the first name is out. On August 11, 2019, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) announced that it is fielding Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its presidential candidate. Although it was apparent that Gotabaya will be the party’s nominee, unnecessary suspense was built up until the party’s national convention. At the convention Mahinda Rajapaksa, while accepting the leadership of the party, formally announced Gotabaya’s name.


First, the announcement was a setback to President Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena was adopted by the United National Party (UNP) and fielded as the presidential candidate in 2015. He won. The president was striving to repeat the same model in 2020. This time around, he targeted the SLPP for endorsement and support as the UNP would not support him again. His party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), does not have the capacity to win the presidential election in 2020. He initiated negotiations with the SLPP to get its endorsement for his reelection bid. 

From the inception, the SLPP was not going to back Sirisena because the party was confident that its candidate could win without Sirisena. The SLPP, however, continued the “negotiations” because Sirisena could spoil the chances of the SLPP candidate if he decides to contest the election on behalf of the SLFP. When the parties started negotiations, in an article entitled, Presidential Election and the President’s Spoiler Power, we pointed out that the best option available for the SLPP is to “talk but not concede.” That is precisely what the SLPP did, and it seems to be interested in continuing the “negotiations” even after officially declaring that it will not back Sirisena for reelection. This was the first blow.  

The president took a double blow this week. The second blow was delivered when Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that he would be the prime ministerial candidate of the SLPP in the general election that will follow the presidential poll. Most likely, Sri Lanka will go for the general election in mid-2020. If Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins the election, he will be able to dissolve Parliament in February. 

Although President Sirisena was aiming for SLPP’s endorsement for his reelection bid, he seemed open to the idea of accepting the prime minister’s office in return for his support for the SLPP candidate. Now, even that option is gone. Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the SLPP prime ministerial candidate. Therefore, this was a bad week for President Sirisena. 

Nevertheless, SLPP cannot completely ignore the president. As the leader of one of the premier political parties in Sri Lanka, he still has control over about 10 percent of the total votes. These votes are crucial for the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In order to win, the SLPP will and should be able to accommodate Sirisena in some way, shape or form. The SLPP should not have problems in accommodating him at the ministerial level. 

Hence, as of today, President Sirisena has two options: (1) endorse Gotabaya’s candidacy and settle for a ministerial portfolio in an SLPP administration, and (2) contest the election from the SLPP and hurt Gotabaya’s victory. Which option will he choose? In the last four years, Sirisena has proved that he is extremely unpredictable and inconsistent. So, he could go with either one of these options. One has to wait for his reaction. 

UNP Candidate

The equally significant question is, who will be the UNP candidate. Although the UNP has not officially declared its presidential candidate, party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had already started the campaign. For example, he has been going around unveiling development programs, some of which are electorally motivated. Hence, the assumption was that Wickremesinghe’s name would be announced soon. He is also in the process of forming a new alliance called the Democratic National Front (DNF) by bringing friendly, especially minority parties together.  

Nevertheless, an internal challenge has emerged. The party’s deputy leader Sajith Premadasa and his loyalists are claiming that Premadasa should be nominated to contest the election. They argue that he is the only person who can win in 2020. The implication being that Wickremesinghe cannot win a presidential election. A crisis has been brewing. 

However, if one goes by the experience, Wickremesinghe will prevail if he is serious about contesting the presidential election. Premadasa is unlikely to break the party over this issue. He has time. Hence, the issue is likely to be resolved amicably. 

Premadasa Power

An initial assessment undertaken after the SLPP announcement indicates that Premadasa could pose a considerable challenge to Gotabaya. Premadasa fully backed by Wickremesinghe could win. 

Given the dissatisfaction that prevails in the country against the incumbent government, anyone nominated by Mahinda Rajapaksa could easily win the presidential election. However, Gotabaya’s selection reflects the overconfidence of the Rajapaksa family. Gotabaya has been known as a tough man who finished off the LTTE. This history could alienate three specific groups: Tamils, Muslims, and liberal-minded pro-democracy Sinhalese. 

An overwhelming majority of the Tamils would not vote for him. They would not have forgotten the fact that Gotabaya provided leadership to the last phase of the war that was proven catastrophic to the community in term of humanitarian consequences. A majority of the Muslims would also hesitate to vote for him due to his association with anti-Muslim nationalist groups, especially militant monks. For example, it is believed that Bodu Bala Sena, a Sinhala nationalist entity that spearheaded several campaigns against the Muslims, worked with Gotabaya. There will be a mobilization of pro-democracy Sinhalese who mostly reside in urban areas, against Gotabaya. 

A sense of fear will be ignited within these three groups, which could undermine Gotabaya’s victory. The SLPP is aware of this challenge. In a recent interview, Basil Rajapaksa, the chief strategist of the SLPP, stated that “people need not fear former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and he would not become a strict leader” (Daily Mirror, August 13, 2019). Therefore, Gotabaya has been fielded, knowing well that he will have a relatively narrow field.    

Nevertheless, what these facts suggest is that Gotabaya’s electoral strength is in the Sinhala rural heartland. To be effective, the UNP candidate should be able to break the SLPP’s grip over this segment of the voters. Sajith Premadasa has a Sinhala nationalist outlook and has influence among rural Sinhala voters. He will be able to fetch adequate votes from rural Sinhala constituencies. In the absence of minority votes, losing rural Sinhala votes will be costly for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The electoral arithmetic indicates that Gotabaya cannot win without overwhelming support from Sinhala voters.    

Premadasa’s problem is that he does not have adequate appeal among minority groups, especially the Tamils community. On the other hand, Wickremesinghe has a considerable following among the Tamil and Muslim communities. He could also appeal to liberal-minded pro-democracy groups within the Sinhala community. Therefore, Sajith Premadasa fully endorsed and sincerely supported by Wickremesinghe could win the forthcoming presidential election.     

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Latest comments

  • 9

    SP is younger but not intelligent to develop the country. He has no positive qualities to be a leader of a country. May be adventurer to villagers. He is sponsored by businessmen who will definitly ruin the economy. Even if SP win, those around him are also useless members. Must not forget the character of SP’s father also. So SP is out.

    Gota is backed by foreign interests. He is a mass murderer and has no respect for law or human values. So many cases pending. Poor financial discipline. All the Rajapakshe’s have swindled the tax money of the poor people. Mangala has said enough. Namal is good for racing. MR is a big swindler and responsible for mass murders. His charm and lies are good for villagers. Hence Gota is out

    RW, RK or SF is also unsuitable for they have not made any contribution for past 4 years and they will not do anymore and involved in so many scams.

    MS is a total write off.

    Nagananda is signaling some positive signs. If he can change the constitution and correct the existing infrastructure, then educated elites can get involved and rebuild the country once again. This is the only opening the people of Sri Lanka has.

    RP is a business man. Business men are not suitable for doing politics. They are only good at robbing.

  • 2

    The horse trading has begun !! Politics is a dirty game.

  • 2

    SI .Keetha!
    ……”.Wickremasinghe has a considerable following among the Tamil and Muslim communities”‘ ???. it was so, immediately after 2015 elections, due to the support given by the TNA. But not anymore after his continued betrayal of the Tamils with the support of the TNA. Tamils have no option but to vote for a Sinhala candidate for the presidency. Gotha is a known enemy, unlike Ranil who is considered a snake under the grass. Not that Sajit is going to do anything to the Tamils politically, but he may be considered better of the two evils. The support of the Muslims to Ranil too has been eroded after 21/4, due to his activities thereafter.

    • 1

      Dear K.Anaga,
      If you think as you do, vote first for Nagananda (it is necessary to haul him into second place at least on the first count if he is to be elected). Next, if there is a Tamil candidate vote for him/her.
      Lastly, since neither of us is really optimistic, and you have expressed a preference for Sajith, give him your THIRD Preference.

      • 1

        Sinhala Man.
        I have no special preference for Sajith, but I do not wish Gotha to win under any circumstances’
        Nagananda yes! He has been fearless, but I do not want my vote to get wasted and give Gotha a chance.
        None of the candidates will be of any use to The Tamils. Their combined crocodile tears will not even fill the smallest pond in KILINOCHCHI.

  • 1

    MS and RW are Dead Ducks. Both of them should retire completely from politics and go and meditate somewhere. Neither of them can ever hope to become president of this country in the forthcoming elections. However, both of them still wield some clout by possessing the capacity to spoil some other person’s chances of victory in the presidential stakes. MS can contest and steal Gota’s votes and RW can obstruct or undermine SP’s chances. These two failed ‘leaders’ can never do anything constructive or accomplish anything useful and will henceforth play only negative roles.

  • 1

    I have a feeling that sirisena will wait to see who is the presidential candidate before he does anything.If sajit is the candidate he will support sajit,If ranil is the candidate i think sirisena will throw his hat in the ring to spoil gota’s chances and for gota and ranil to get less than 50%.

    ps.Anyway i think that is the best thing for him to do.He might do something else and blunder.

    • 2


      Please explain:

      Why is Gota desperate to contest presidential election?
      Will Gota run trains on time?

      Why is Sajith desperate to contest forthcoming presidential election?
      Will he put his short stay at LSE to good use if and when he wins?

      The English writing Navin Nayakka son of Dutta Gamani believes he has become the president to fulfill his father’s dream, hopefully to ruin rest of the country.

      Why do the political prats believe it is their entitlement to be elected to highest political office in this island (South ASia)?

      At this ripe young age how do you manage to get up in the morning to type here?

      Which of the following politician would you agree if you are asked to serve say Sajith, Wimal, Champika, Udhaya, Gota, MR, Navin Nayakka, Sambandan, Mavai, AKD, …..?

      • 1


  • 3

    Corrupt politicians, corrupt media and the International community are destroying the country.

  • 3

    Even though Rajapaksa party SLPP named Gota as their candidate but his chance of getting elected is very slim and nil for Tamils, Muslims, and other minorities would never ever vote for him because of their past anti minority activists. The deciding factor is minorities votes, and sure, it wouldn’t be for him.

  • 0

    If Gora win the presidential election, 2020 will mark a critical turning point of SL politics. As far as all the constitutional & judicial achievements won via 19 A are concerned, the public will have to be very disappointed to see them all be replaced by something similar to or worse than 18 A. One might ask how such a thing could be possible without a 2/3 majority which certainly will be very unlikely for any party. But, for a president like GoRa with proven arrogant attitudes & behaviors while he was as the Def Sec and even now as a candidate, having been able to keep key ministries such as defense & police, 2/3 majority may not going to be a real barrier. At this moment, it is important to refresh the memories of what was going on at the temple trees in the wee hours of Jan 9, 2015!

    And again, reflecting on deaths of 44 and a few more kidnapped for torture of journalist and then ordering to shoot at Halawatha, Kattunayake & Rathupaswala for the offense of protesting, the danger of SL becoming something very close to, if not full, military dictatorship is more real.

    I think that Gen SF pointed out small but another important point that highlights the same arrogance: Accepting the party nomination dressed in casual evening clothes which reminds NaRa’s arrogance by visiting FCID in shorts. Will this be his dress for cabinet meetings, if any going to be at all, under GoRa?

    With such a potential danger, if MY 3 or anybody else going to believe GoRa’s pre-election promises, it would be a grave mistake, I think. If anybody needs further proof, just think how Anura Bandarayke & the JVP was treated after 2005 election.

  • 0

    Elections do not help any one except the politicians who are waiting to import luxury cars, offer new contracts to their supporters who will give them large amounts of political donations and to hire their families and electoral district voters. The other group is the International community, particularly the west for whom they want Sri lanka to follow their system. Other than that, Elections do not help the country or the voters.
    Other than, None of these presidential contenders do not need to be the experts in every thing, to offer every freebie they can give and they never talk about most important thing. Those are corrupt parliament and nepotism, Ministry secretaries are not experts in their respective fields but the brother or the friend who is working as the ministry secretary as well as the ministry accountant. Minister has lot of powers including the ability to get foreign loans and to import. So, the system is broken.
    We need to see how Gotabhaya Rajapakse becomes another one of them and working without any policies for the country or any plans
    right now, they begin thousands of projects whether they finish those or not .

  • 2

    Ha, Ha, Ha,

    From Where are you writing this article?

    Come down to earth and make an assessment. At least read the 2015 Presidential Election results and compare your observation with those numbers.

    My “Appuhamy” level analysis informs me that you can not evaluate the ground situation.

    “Nevertheless, what these facts suggest is that Gotabaya’s electoral strength is in the Sinhala rural heartland. To be effective, the UNP candidate should be able to break the SLPP’s grip over this segment of the voters. Sajith Premadasa has a Sinhala nationalist outlook and has influence among rural Sinhala voters. He will be able to fetch adequate votes from rural Sinhala constituencies. In the absence of minority votes, losing rural Sinhala votes will be costly for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The electoral arithmetic indicates that Gotabaya cannot win without overwhelming support from Sinhala voters. “

    • 0

      good analysis sunil.at least 5% of SLPP vote has to be taken by sajit .That will make it 35% for him and 35% for gota.Then the SLFP votes gets added to either one.If sirisena supports sajit then 45% to sajit.If he supports gota 45% to gota.Still not enough for either to cross the line.What will the jvp do?Will they do a spoiler by putting their own candidate?I think they might because they seem a disgruntled with both the UNP SLFP .Then what about the tamils ,will they just stay at home?They might just be fed up.What about the muslims.Will they put out their own candidate.I think they will.If both gota and sajit can’t get over the line they feel it is better for horse tading in the second round.Even sirisena might do that and throw his hat into the ring.Without knowing what they are going to do can’t predict.

  • 5

    State Of The Race

    It is hopless. If Gotha is the best Sri Lanka cant ger to run for President god help Sri Lanka. If he is elected let alone stand it will spell disaster for Sri Lanka If anyone needed reminders as to why just remember what hapened in Jaffna yesterdy. Outside of India the only country in which there were Independance day clebrations was in the Northern Province. India has totla control of the North and also the South. India recently annexed Kashmir under Modi. If Gotha is elected it will bring annexation of Sri Lanka closer. Make no mistake.

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