By Palitha Elkaduwa –
This is the critical question that needs to be answered in the coming two weeks in Sri Lankan politics. The answer will have major implications for Sri Lanka’s future for the next several decades.
The Rajapaksa administration has been one of the most confident administrations in post-independence Sri Lanka after the LTTE was defeated in 2009. In 2010 Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidential election with 58% of the all island vote, polling about 67% of the Sinhalese Buddhist vote. The government’s confidence was shaken in September 2014 when it won the UVA PC with just 51% of the vote. In the 2009 Uva PC election it polled 72% and in the 2010 presidential election in the same province Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 73%.
In contrast, in recent months the confidence of the opposition has increased for several reasons. First, the UNP did well in Uva. Second, the campaign of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) led by Rev. Maduluwawe Sobhitha has gained traction. Third, cracks have appeared in the UPFA with JHU demanding the abolition of the executive presidency. Fourth, and most importantly, a broad opposition coalition is forming around the demand for the abolition of the executive presidency. TNA that dominates electoral politics in the north also subscribes to this view. The main Muslim poltical party is still with the government. But the Muslim community in general has lost confidence in Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government. This provides a credible opening for a united opposition to put forward a common candidate and defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa in the next presidential election.
A candidate with credibility and the broadest possible support of all anti-Rajapaksa parties and groups has a real chance to defeat Rajapaksa in what will be a “do or die’ battle for Rajapaksa, as he (and those in his inner circle) has too much to lose. There is little doubt that the election will be fraught with violence, intimidation, threats, bribery, corrupt practices, manipulations and dirty tricks. The win of the common opposition candidate cannot be marginal but so emphatic as to make impossible any post election manipulations.
Table – I below summarizes the electoral challenge that the opposition has to face. The Table is constructed on the assumption that there would be a free and fair vote. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the conduct of a free and fair election. It is likely that about 11.0 million voters will cast valid votes. Of these around 7.9 million (72%) will be Sinhalese Buddhist and the balance 3.1 million will be from the ethnic and religious minority groups. Given the general loss of faith of the minorities in President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his administration it is certain that a majority of the 3.1 minority vote will go to the opposition. It could vary from about 54% to as much as 68% or even higher. It will largely depend on the unity of the opposition and the acceptability of the Common Candidate.
President Rajapaksa’s strategy appears to be to rely largely on the Sinhelase Buddhist vote to win the election. However, there are clear signs that the Sinhalese Buddhist voters are increasingly getting frustrated with the corrupt and wasteful Rajapaksa administration and the high cost of living and other economic woes. The Uva election was a clear wake up call. Rev Maduluwawe Sobhitha’s campaign for the abolition of the executive presidency has also gained traction among Sinhelase Buddhist voters. JHU parliamentarian Rev. Rathana’s Pivithuru Hetak Movement also has made the abolition of the executive presidency the centre piece of its campaign. The JVP has unequivocally stated its opposition to the government and its support for the abolition of the executive presidency. Former presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka and his Democratic Front are also of the same view. Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga has thrown her very considerable poltical weight behind the opposition campaign.
Recent election results suggest that the UNP commands a minimum of 25% of the Sinhelase Buddhist voters and possibly as much as 35%. However, as figures in Annex Table 1 show even 35% of the Sinhalese Buddhist vote and 68% of the minority vote will not be sufficient to get a common opposition candidate elected. Keeping the minority share for the opposition candidate unchanged at 68%, the Common Opposition Candidate needs an additional 727,000 votes or about 43.1% of the total Sinhalese Buddhist vote to win the election with an overall poll of 51%. To make this happen two conditions must be fulfilled. First all opposition parties must come together and work towards the common goal of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa. This means UNP, JVP, JHU, DF, minority parties, other smaller parties, and Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga and the SLFP faction that is loyal to her have to work together. Second, a truly Common Candidate who can command the respect and confidence of ALL the Opposition parties including the minority parties must contest the election.
Three credible candidates may be currently available although none makes a claim that s/he is coming forward. The first is the former President Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga. She has the advantage of being the former boss of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ability to attract SLFP support for the opposition. However, she appears to have a legal impediment. Even if the Elections Commissioner does not rule upon an objection to her candidature, the real possibility that the Supreme Court may rule her ineligible under the current system of Sri Lankan (In)justice is very real and could deter voters from supporting her at the poll. This is a risk that the opposition cannot afford to take. That leaves two others as possible candidates. One is the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the other is UNP senior parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya. Table 2 is a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the two prospective candidates.
A comparison of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya for common opposition candidate
Points: one is the minimum and three is the maximum number of points that can be allocated in any one category. Maximum total score for the ten categories, is 30 points
Ranil Wickremesinghe: 15 points and Karu Jayasuriya: 21 points
The above analysis suggests that Mahinda Rajapaksa is vulnerable in the next election. Events in the past few months in the country suggest that a ground swell of support for the opposition is growing in all parts of the country. People are increasingly tired of a regime that is known to be corrupt, inefficient, flouts the rule of law and disregards justice, and is rapidly moving towards a family-centered authoritarian regime. The public expects the opposition to be totally united abandoning the usual party rivalries and intra-party squabbles. Mahinda Rajapaksa knows that a united opposition that brings the UNP, the SLFP faction to which Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga is able to give leadership, JVP, JHU, Rev Sobhitha’s NMSJ, General Fonseka’s DF, other smaller parties in the South plus the minority parties are a formidable poltical force that is virtually unstoppable. All the leaders of these parties have a bounden duty to the people of Sri Lanka and for generations yet to be born to work together to save the country from disaster and destruction at the hands of the Rajapaksa family. They have to begin that noble battle by choosing the best possible candidate available to fight for them as the Common Candidate in the forthcoming election.