By Vishwamithra –
Maithripala Sirisena did his job. His job was not to win the Presidential Elections in January 2015. His was to leave his Party and its leader and the Executive President of the country at the time and challenge him at the Elections. That decision was a momentous one. It was a daring only either the most stupid or the most courageous would take, whichever way one looks at it. The scorn that was hurled at him and the vituperative verbiage that was aimed at him recognized no boundaries. Maithripala Sirisena’s decision was momentous because his decision entailed, among others, bidding adieu to a long-winded political life in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). By deserting his Party and challenging the ‘pseudo war-hero’ Mahinda Rajapaksa, withstanding the contempt of the Rajapaksas as a traitor to the cause of the common man and succeeding at the last Presidential Elections, ‘Maithri’, as he is fondly called by his friends and foes, made an enormously decisive move which is rarely embark on by politicians.
How the nomination of Maithripala Sirisena as a common candidate of the then Opposition came about, the writer is not privy to discuss. But in the shadows of Maithripala’s desertion of his SLFP, lurked another ‘strategic sacrifice’. That was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Leader of the Opposition; he was the undisputed leader of his Party, United National Party (UNP); his party had been at the losing end at the electoral level for a span of twenty plus grueling years. The ‘starvation of political power’ on the part of the UNP stalwarts and its lower level supporters had reached insufferable dimensions. The Eighteenth Amendment had buttressed the Rajapaksas well beyond all expectations; it lent a delusional satisfaction to its authors and framers that their power was forever. But that was to anticipate events to come.
In order to accommodate the nomination of a common candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil, the leader of the UNP, had to make a specific sacrifice. The prevailing belief at the time was that Ranil Wickremesinghe was never destined to be the President of the country. Yet the elections held just prior to the declaration of the Presidential Elections for the Uva Provincial Council signaled a strong indication that the UNP was on an upward swing. The United People’s Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA) domination of Sri Lankan elections continued as expected. It retained control of Uva Provincial Council. However, the UPFA recorded a loss of votes in the province, after the Presidential Election in 2015 a number of UPFA councilors crossed over to UNP to back Harin Fernando which enabled him to secure the position of Chief Minister and toppling the UPFA rule in Uva Province.
Here is a comparative analysis of the election results:
A sizeable erosion of the Sinhalese-Buddhist voting bloc from the Rajapaksa-led UPFA at the Provincial Council elections to the anti-Mahinda Rajapaksa candidate (Maithripala Sirisena) is very much close to the swing that was visible in the 2014 PC elections. In other words, even if the candidate was Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader would have had more than a fighting chance in securing a victory at the Presidential Elections. The point I’m trying to make is that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP made a huge sacrifice in conceding the nomination to Maithripala Sirisena. It was the UNP, Tamils and Muslims who placed Sirisena at the seat of power, not the SLFP-led UPFA voters.
There is a nagging constant in Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka. It is that no candidate can secure a victory at the elections if he or she cannot ensure the majority of the Tamil and Muslim votes. The only exception was in 2009 and it was due to the prevailing conditions in the country in the immediate aftermath of the ‘war-victory’. In 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to win because the Tamils in the North were prevented from voting at the behest of Velupullai Prabhakaran. Who was primarily responsible for Prabhakaran’s decision is no secret anymore.
Maithripala Sirisena did his ‘job’ by deserting his party, SLFP and consenting to run as the anti-Rajapaksa candidate. Ranil Wickremesinghe did his job by securing 100% of the UNP voting bloc for Sirisena. It is utterly futile to debate as to which job was greater or which one smaller. Later, the SLFP Ministers and other parliamentarians were accommodated in the present government because it was provided for in an agreement between the two leaders, Ranil and Maithri. Even after the General elections later in 2015, the UNP could have formed a government without the aid of the SLFP had the UNP decided to form one with the help of the TNA and the Muslim Congress.
A corrupt set of political vultures who flourished under the Rajapaksa regime managed to secure some Cabinet portfolios and are now trying to steer the ship as if it was they who elected Maithripala Sirisena to power.
During the last couple of weeks I had the occasion to speak to some UNP Cabinet members as well as a number of MPs on the current ‘crisis’ which the Joint Opposition’ is wanting to make real. An intimation of being let down was audible and being at the receiving end of woeful ‘ungratefulness’ was the greatly felt sentiment. It is not good. For the sustenance of the current administration, a solid and firm understanding and empathetic dynamic between the two leaders, Ranil and Maithri as well as the second and third-tier leaders of the two parties, UNP and SLFP, is a prerequisite. Without that mutual understanding, the breakdown of the anti-Rajapaksa forces is inevitable.
It is not rocket-science. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s hands must be strengthened and it must be done now, not tomorrow or the day after. Those who delivered the elections to Maithripala Sirisena cannot be discarded like ‘karapincha’. That was the treatment that was meted out to the Rajapaksa loyalists. The strength of the current government is nothing but the strength of the UNP, no more, no less. Criticism of either party by any leader, whatever layer he or she comes from, must stop forthwith. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s personal commitment is visible but he must ask his party members to do so too. Chasing newspaper headlines is childish and would not serve any short, mid or long-term interests of the country. Maithripala Sirisena has an enormous responsibility to get his party people to do the same. Ingratitude is no worthy badge to wear.
Both Ranil and Maithri must be now realizing the fundamental error that they committed at the very outset of forming the new government in 2015. The absence of a comprehensive code of conduct for members of parliament of both parties is a grave omission. Lack of discipline could kill a political alliance in no time, whether the alliance did look solid and unbreakable at the beginning. The worst part of the new coalition between Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe must in every nook and cranny look better than the best part of the Rajapaksa regime. That is a very tall order. Then only the people at large would accept the current administration. Good Governance is not a slogan. It is not an illusion and nor is it a utopian dream. Good Governance or Yahapalanaya is a real, dynamic and living organism. Its survival is very much dependent upon the commitment on the part of the partners of the coalition.
Supporters of both parties, UNP and SLFP, might well be advised to grasp the wisdom of the following quotation by Sun Tzu who wrote thus: ‘Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not on your enemy’s terms’. If mutual defeat is to be avoided, it is not only the party leaders of the coalition, the lower-level supporters too need to be disciplined and well-guarded against the vagaries of political winds. Don’t let the victories of January 2015 go waste; don’t let your elongated egos override the simple logic of survival and sustenance. In the current and immediate context, safeguarding and protecting Ranil Wickremesinghe is of utmost validity; its significance cannot be overstated. Even a hint of a Rajapaksa-return is not an option. That is why Ranil could be the last hope for Sri Lanka’s failing good governance.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org