By Hilmy Ahamed –
With the nominations filed by 19 Presidential candidates and President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Common Opposition candidate Mr Maithripala Sirisena, the two main contenders, vying for the various segments of block votes, the religious, civil and political leadership of minority communities is under pressure to guide their communities. This unfortunately has become the trend amongst minority voters since the introduction of the constitutional reforms by the late Junius Richard Jayewardene in 1978, which is now claimed as the cause for all things evil. J R Jayewardene’s notorious referendum in 1982 to retain his 2/3rd majority would probably be repeated should there be a Rajapaksa victory. This would be the carrot held-out at the minority representatives, most of whom have lost the confidence of their constituencies.
Amidst contrary claims, the minority vote is bound to make the difference in the up-coming presidential elections. The plantation vote king, Arumugam Thondaman has pledged to continue his lot’s support to the president. Will this drive away his hold on the plantation voters to the new and more dynamic entrants to plantation politics with United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Nuwara Eliya District parliamentarian Perumal Rajathurai joining the United National Party (UNP). There are also formidable challenges posed to Arumugam Thondaman by Digamabaram and Sri Ranga who could hijack the hold the CWC has on the plantation voters.
The continued emphasis on the war victory by the Rajapaksa campaign is expected to drive away even the few northern Tamil votes that could have been harvested by the government with the priority development activities undertaken after the war victory. On the other hand, this is probably the trump card that the incumbent has to display to gain the Buddhist votes, so it is going to be the Hobson’s choice.
With the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) pledging to continue its support to His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, the majority of the Muslims probably have decided how they would vote in this election, irrespective of any decision by their political leadership. Maithripala Sirisena played his cards very well by refusing even to meet with the Bodu Bala Sena. Any engagement by Maithripala Sirisena would have driven away any support that he would have received from the Muslims. The government’s engagement with the BBS is probably the worst blunder that the current administration has made in the recent past. Could this be because they have decided that the minority votes are a lost option for the incumbent and that BBS could bring in the hardline Buddhist votes? If the attendance at the recent BBS meeting in Hyde Park is any indication, it is doubtful that they could bring the votes in the expected numbers. It is also alleged that the CEO of the Bodu Bala Sena is part of the key strategy team of the president at Basil Rajapaksa’s Gregory’s road office, which has upset even those Muslims who are close to the current administration. If proven correct, this would be an additional blow to the president.
Can the Muslim political leadership change this by waving their magic wand and convince their community to have a change heart by revealing the list of demands presented to the president and the number of it accepted that would please the community. Will the extremists Buddhist parties accept any concessions offered to minority communities at this stage? It would be a formidable challenge for the incumbent to steer through this complicated negotiations.
The progress made in multiple areas of development by the current administration is unprecedented, despite the charges of corruption and nepotism. The biggest fear is that all these would come to a standstill if the incumbent were not reelected. It is often claimed that the beautification of Colombo and Gampaha, the mega projects of the port city development and the number of highway projects initiated would be shelved, should there be an opposition victory. Will this hold water? As Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera claims, “they have plundered enough and that if re-elected, they do not need more”. Does this mean that if the opposition were elected, they would go through the whole process of kickbacks again for the same projects that has taken off? Will the contractors have the resources to pay kickbacks twice and still deliver an acceptable output?
Today’s meeting of Maithripala Sirisena and the common opposition is anticipated to set the tone of their campaign. Will they be able to spring some surprises by getting some more crossovers from the government? Social media is carrying numbers of voters that have shifted from the government with the crossovers. The number of voters who voted for Sarath Fonseka is the only number to the credit of the current administration. Could this number be counted as the votes for Sarath Fonseka and or Jayantha Ketagoda. Tissa Attanayake, who could not even retain his Kundasale seat, will not be able to bring in substantial votes. So, the president needs to ensure that he could catch some big fish that translates in to votes. On the other hand, if there is some high profile cross overs from the government, that wave would demoralize a large section of the die hard supporters of the president.