By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The message that came out – loud and clear – from the Nugegoda rally is unambiguous : a new political man has risen with a new consciousness to change the political landscape. He is also bent on changing the mistake he made in the last presidential election. Like the Balangoda Man, our prehistoric ancestor, the Nugegoda Man represents a type, a pathfinder. He can be counted as the new force of the nation. The Nugegoda Man represents the critical mass that will impact in the coming electoral contests. He is the future.
Second, it means that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. Nugegoda represent a clear shift of power from CBK–Ranil–Sirisena bloc to that of Mahinda Rajapaksa. What the “My3” did secretly, behind the back of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Nugegoda Man did it openly on February 18 : undercut the power of the CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena combination. The Nugegoda wave is now unstoppable. Only three kinds of maneuvers can stop Mahinda Rajapaksa: 1.the legal maneuvers of the blundering government to debar him from contesting can hold him back, temporarily though; 2. Sirisena-CBK-Nimal Siripala de Silva get together to do a cut-throat kuth-thu and 3. CIA-style operation to harm him physically.
Third, the birth of the Nugegoda Man will have significant consequences. The Nugegoda Man represents the majority coming together in a formidable formation. Its force will be felt in the coming general election where the majority will have a decisive impact in determining the composition of the next Parliament. .
Fourth, the CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena combination has nothing new to give the electorate in the coming election. They have exhausted all their promises in the Presidential election and the electorate now knows that their promises had not contributed substantially to their existential condition. In fact, they are beginning to feel that the presence of the pro-West, pro-Indian “My-3 Pala-naya” poses an existential threat to their future.
Fifth, the role of the minorities will not have an over-determining impact in the parliamentary election as they did in the presidential election. Electoral demographics do not add up like the way it did in the presidential election. In parliamentary elections the Nugegoda Man will play a dominant role reducing the minorities to the margins.
Sixth, the spontaneous flow of the people to Nugegoda confirms that Mahinda Rajapaksa has had only a brief set back. It represents a resurgence that I have never seen before in electoral politics – and I’ve been in the thick of politics from the time I joined Lake House as a cub reporter in 1954. I’ve seen leaders going up and down like dizzy riders in a rollercoaster. But no one in living memory has done the miracle of bouncing back within such a short span of time.
The miracle is not in bouncing back but in the speed with which he had shot into a formidable position. As far as I can recollect no other defeated candidate ever rose to political heights of popularity, on a massive wave of grass root energy, within 40 days as Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is only the beginning. It is possible to visualize this trend turning into a tsunami by the time the general election takes place in July.
Leaders discarded at elections do come back but always after a considerable lapse of time when the incumbent government has tired the voters with incompetence, corruption and failures to deliver. No one has come up within days of being defeated. The show of strength at Nugegoda questions whether Rajapaksa was ever defeated. Technically, yes, in a psephological sense. But not as a political force. He is still out there, with enough clout, to whack the Ranil-led government for a six.
Wickremesinghe has never been a match to him and never will be. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s charisma/nationalist fervor is etched indelibly in the psyche of the nation. It is overpowering enough to overcome his short-comings. He has only to give the word and then a whole new political wave will burst out from the restrained shores to sweep the nation.
Mark you, the Mahinda Rajapaksa wave has risen at the height of a massive media and government propaganda campaign hitting him and his family with the kind of accusations that would have crushed any other lesser figure. The flood of masses that submerged Nugegoda indicate that the anti- Mahinda Rajapaksa propaganda has flowed over the electorate like water on a duck’s back. What is more, the resurgent Mahinda wave leapt to new heights without the backing of the SLFP. Though some dissident SLFPers broke rank and joined the Nugegoda rally the SLFP did not throw its full weight behind the pioneering Dinesh-Wimal-Vasu leadership.
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka heightened the drama of the day by pausing repeatedly to let the groundswells of thunderous applause subside as he read Mahinda Rajapaksa’s message. It was, indeed, in line with the best of political theatre. It is the only time I’ve seen a great political drama of Shakespeare’s Hamletian magnitude succeed without the Prince on the stage. In other words, the voters have dismissed the accusations against Mahinda Rajapaksa as some irrelevant muck that has no bearing on their political judgment.
The rise of the Nugegoda Man means that there are deeper and bigger issues than the details of personal lives of the Rajapaksa family. Overnight the electoral dynamics have changed. It means that Mahinda Rajapaksa is identified with the most deep-rooted forces that make or break leaders of the nation. This explains why it took a combination of 47 diverse parties to defeat him. If you throw in the Indian RAW, the American CIA and the Western NGOs it adds up 50. And even then he lost only a by a slender margin.
These unfolding events took me back to the second election campaign in April 1960, after the fall of Dudley Senanayake’s Short Parliament that lasted only for 33 days. He recommended dissolution and Sir. Oliver Goonetilleke, the Governor-General called for a new election. I was embedded with Dudley Senanayake as the Lake House correspondent to cover his entire election campaign. He set out for the first election campaign from “Woodlands”, Borella in January and formed a minority government. The second one was launched from the Mirigama residence of his close confidant and friend, Arthur Amaratunga.
Before setting out on the first day of electioneering he was pacing up and down the front verandah of the house after breakfast. He was somewhat apprehensive and nervous. After what seemed like a long silence he turned to me and said: “I can fight a living woman but not a dead man!” With his experience of winning the election on the emotional wave of his father’s death in the fifties he was referring to the similar emotional wave on which Mrs. Bandaranaike was riding high in the second election campaign. He was, however, banking on the report of the commission on corruption which had named leading SLFPers like C. A. S. Marikkar and Moonekulame among others. He hammered the theme of corruption exhaustively in his campaign but it didn’t cut any ice. The mood of the nation was preoccupied with the magic of the Bandaranaike legacy. He lost in July and Mrs. Bandaranaike became the first women prime minister of the world.
The parallel between 1960 July election and the coming July election is obvious. Though there will be many parties in the fray it will be essentially a contest between Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa in the south, if he decides to come forward, that is. Oddly enough, both will be fighting on two different narratives of the legacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Nugegogda rally has already given the answer to the narrative that has won.
The mood and the issues of the forthcoming election will be entirely different from that of the presidential election. The new Rajapaksa vs. Wickremesinghe contest is going to be a whole new ball game with a whole new set of issues. Besides, by the time the voters go to the polls in July, the 100-day regime of Wickremesinghe would have lost its fizz. Already the fizz of the of the mini-budget has evaporated and the voters can’t be baited by another package of goodies which they know now will not impact on their hip pocket nerve.
Besides, there are no signs of the promised “Yaha-pala-naya” dawning at the end of 100-days. The goal of creating the “ideal country” (Manifesto) is receding every day. The failures of the 100-days will be a sitting duck for the Nugegoda Man to turn away from CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena combination. Their bungling, incompetence, internal fratricide, corruption, nepotism and the anti-national polices to reverse history will, most likely, bring the votes back to Mahinda Rajapaksa. The massive gathering at Nugegoda represents an exodus of Biblical proportions running away from the promised land of CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena. .
Furthermore, all the ha-ho about overthrowing the Mahinda legacy – from the Colombo Port City to other major infrastructure development programmes – has proved to be nothing but hot air. The ballyhoo about corruption charges – the main plank – is no longer a winning card for the CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena camp. The ad-men behind the Presidential campaign focused, in a timely move, on the theme of CHANGE ( when-a-suck ). The “change” has come and gone without yielding the expected impact. The people are still living in essence in the Mahinda era with a few minor changes in the political ambience.
Of course, it was possible, under the prevailing political conditions, to hold out promises of a new world on January 8, 2015. But that mood has changed rapidly. The “My-3” of CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena now has to go before the voters to defend the record that promised a “Yaha-pala-naya”. Other than muck-raking nothing substantial has been achieved, nor are they likely to achieve in the remaining days to make a dramatic impact on the electorate.
The”My-3” tactic so far has been to demonize the Rajapaksas. Has it created a sympathy wave for the Rajapaksas? Was the Nugegoda wave to get back Rajapaksa an act of public guilt? The failure of the “Yaha-pala-naya” to deliver its promises will be the biggest liability in the coming election. Besides, the Nugegoda Man has experienced the promised when-a-suck and he feels that he is still running on the highways and byways built by Mahinda Rajapaksa.
As for the promised new world nothing tangible has changed. It is the same old same old. The President has appointed his close relatives to key posts. Wickremesinghe has made similar appointment with his cronies. Even the holier-than-thou Wijedasa Rajapaksa has appointed one of his kind to his ministry. A man facing charges of money laundering (Rs. 300 million) is the Finance Minister. Sirisena who promised never to abuse his powers committed the worst offence by exercising arbitrarily Presidential powers that he didn’t have to remove the Chief Justice. He did that knowing that he was breaking the law – the law which he upheld when he acted to remove the former Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake..
Worst of all, the Paskaralingams, and Mahendrans have returned, from their exile, to fiddle with the economy under Wickremesinghe’s patronage. Why? Aren’t there enough qualified Sri Lankans to manage the economy? As these exiles did the last time when Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister, they will fly out on the eve of the next election leaving the economy in a mess.
Anyway, nothing that has happened so far has strengthened Wickremesinghe’s political base. The prevailing political scenario is somewhat bizarre. The average man and the SLFPers are in quandary : they elected a SLFP President in a SLFP Parliament which – hang on! – has been hijacked by an unelected prime minister of the UNP who has no mandate/majority to occupy the eighth seat in the front row of the government benches which is reserved for the president. This topsy-turvy situation is not only farcical but thrown the political equilibrium into a dysfunctional bullock cart.
The administration Wickremesinghe runs is no better. For instance, in the critical area of education Wickremesinghe has appointed Kabir as Minster of Higher Education over the more competent and experienced academic, Prof. Rajiva Wijesingha. Kabir is poking his fingers in an area about which he knows nothing. His only qualification seems to be his excellent ability to follow instructions given by Wickremesinghe. Result : Higher Education is running like a cart drawn by three-headed donkeys, all running in different directions.
The corruption, favouritism, incompetence and the reign of mediocrities ruining tertiary education has been exposed by Alahan K. Alaharatna in The Colombo Telegraph (February 17, 2015). It is a shocking expose of Jaffna University Vice-Chancellor, a fake with fraudulent credentials, running a lawless University with her favourites recruited not on merit but on personal loyalty.
All signs indicate that Wickremesinghe is out of his depth. He wants to a run a one-man show, according to his own ministers. Wickremesinghe’s shenanigans have not won the hearts and minds of Nugegoda Man. This is not surprising, According to Prof. Rajiva Wijesingha the President has told him that he had handed over the making of appointments and the running of the administration to his two favourites : Chandrika Bandaranaike, an unelected political apparatchik who is behind the Sirisena throne and Ranil Wickremesinghe – two peas that failed to sprout in the same rotten pod. Their solutions to the problems they face so far have been to recall all the discards who had failed when they were president or prime minister earlier.
With every passing day it looks as if the nation is veering away from its historical roots into an alien path which is bound to have a serious consequences. Wickremesinghe’s obsession to micro-manage every detail in all the ministries is due partly his paranoia and partly his ambition to consolidate his position by keeping his rivals out of the prime ministerial chair. He thinks he has found an escape route to stay in power without a majority in the parliament. His formula is to turn the parliament into a national government. But he has been a failure because he could never manage his own party. How is he going to manage all parties in parliament to agree with him on his hare-brained schemes?
But, of course, there is a method in his madness. His idea of forming a national government is to secure his position as prime minister, He is aiming to be the prime minister without a mandate from the people. Since he has no viable formula to rise onhis own steam he has come up with his self-serving idea of hanging on to the premiership by preserving the status quo which he describes as “national government”. His national government is not intended to put any other elected leader with a legitimate majority in parliament as the prime minister. His idea is to manipulate the President Sirisena and CBK and keep the SLFP contenders as far away as possible from his seat.
SLFPers are shrewd enough to see through the sneaky ways of Wickremesinghe. Both Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa are committed SLFPers capable of rising over their personal rivalries and sink their differences for the sake of the party. Their rivalry will only ensure the victory of their traditional opponents. It’s time that SLFPers heeded Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice and agree to go along with known devil than the failed Wickremesinghe — the devil in angel’s clothing.