By Hilmy Ahamed –
With the announcement that parliament would be dissolved effective midnight, June 26th 2015, the political debate will move on to the next stage of building coalitions. The rebel group from the UPFA who have stood by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa may end up as political orphans, unless Mahinda Rajapaksa comes forward to provide leadership to their election campaign. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) which probably will go it alone and is likely to emerge as the bigger winner at the next general election, may not succeed in getting the magic 113 number as a single party. So, they have to look for wheeler-dealers to form the next government. Will it be the minority parties or will it be Sirisena’s lot from the SLFP/UPFA? Sri Lanka needs a stable government and we pray that President Sirisena would be able to steer the next elected parliamentarians to work together with the national government concept.
The passage of the watered down 19A is a landmark achievement, yet it falls short of the many promises made by the common opposition in the run up to the January 2015 elections. The dilution of it is seen as a strategic move by vested interests to climb to the presidential seat after Maithripala Sirisena relinquishes office after his first term. Would president Sirisena quit after his first term or would he want the second term? He has renegaded on many of his election promises, and this may not be an exception.
The much talked about 20th Amendment will be put in to cold storage with parliament being dissolved without its passage. The minority parties strongly believe that Champika Ranawaka and some groups of Buddhist extremists are behind the attempt to deprive the minor and minority parties, the political influence they have had with successive governments. They believe that with the possible exit of Maithripala Sirisena after his first presidential term, Champika Ranawaka could stake a claim to the throne as the UPFA presidential candidate, and if minorities have no major say, it would be easier to convince the majority community that they need a nationalistic leader. His desperate ambition to lead the country is no secret and the fact that Champika and his lot opposed the total abolition of the executive presidential system gives credibility to this theory. Is President Maithripala aware of this possible conspiracy or has he become a victim of his own self-confidence.
Sri Lanka has just emerged from an ultra nationalist period of governance with the regime change in January 2015. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s downfall was the rejection of him by the anti racist majority of Sri Lankans. With that knowledge, will Champika follow in the footsteps of Mahinda Rajapaksa and attempt another ultra nationalist government? Would the majority Buddhists reject the racist policies espoused by extremists again?
The minorities’ main grievance was their fear that the 20th Amendment would reduce their numbers in parliament and eliminate them from the decision making process of government. Hakeem’s comment in parliament that his community is in a worse situation than during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure is indeed laughable. He has forgotten the hate, intimidation and threats his community faced from Buddhist extremists under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, with the Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist groups allowed to cause violence against minorities with impunity. In the last three years, the Secretariat For Muslims (SFM) has recorded over 540 incidents against the Muslims. The evangelical Christian community too has recorded a similar number against them.
Over 6.2 Million voted for President Maithripala Sirisena against the 5.8 million for Mahinda Rajapaksa. ZL Mohamed in his detailed analysis (Colombo Telegraph-June 6th 2015) of voter registrations show that there were 15,044,490 voters registered on the electoral rolls but the number of citizens who were of legal voting age was only 14,449,000 as per the official Census data. That would be at least 600,000 ghost voters, who would have been registered probably illegally to change the election results in favour of the then incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa. ZL Mohamed’s assumption is probably based on the belief that there were large numbers of ghost voters registered prior to the last presidential elections in connivance with the Grama Niladari’s, who not only helped to include them in the voters registry, but also helped in issuing fake identity cards. If this allegation is true, it is important that an immediate investigation is undertaken and all such ghost votes cancelled prior to the next elections and criminal proceeding should be brought on all who conspired.. Failure would mean that these ghost votes could tip the balance of 15 to 30 parliamentary seats in the next elections, as per Mohamed’s analysis.
With the current flux in the governance mechanism, the Presidents resolve to dissolve parliament and hold a general election is probably the most appropriate decision made by President Maithripala since his election.
The possible entry of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Prime Ministerial stakes would bring in much flavor to the election process. It would be interesting to see if Mahinda Rajapaksa will walk the talk or abandon his followers. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Sirisena cannot be seen as dividing the SLFP, thereby diminishing the chances of the SLFP’s victory. On the other hand, President Sirisena cannot forget the sacrifices made by the UNP in forwarding him as the common presidential candidate. Hence, he has a moral obligation to honour his commitments to the UNP.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa clan in parliament was aware that parliament would be dissolved. They played every delaying tactic possible to postpone the next general elections, as delays would be a distinct advantage to them. Many wanted to pull the rug under President Sirisena’s feet, but he seems to maneuver well along slipper floors.
The best option now would be to campaign for a national government led by the UNP where a new constitution would be formulated that includes the abolition of the Executive Presidency, preferential voting and accommodate fair representation of all communities and ensure that rule of law prevails. This will augur well for the country. A stable government could take Sri Lanka to unprecedented heights.