Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Diminishing prospects for a third Rajapakse term

Posted by harimpeiris on January 6, 2015

Diminishing prospects for a third Rajapakse term

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island of 6th Jan 2015)

 

President Mahinda Rajapakse has in the past been a master of the Machiavellian political art of divide and rule. There was not a political party represented in Parliament, which he was either unable to woo over to his side or breakaway at least one member. Even the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members was not immune to Rajapakse charms or lures, its only Sinhala MP, Piyasena from the Ampara District crossing over to support the President in his own reverse Magna Carta, of the 18th Amendment, which consolidated all state power in the Presidency, removed independent governance institutions and eliminated term limits on the presidency. For such a political leader it is quite a unique feature that he has succeeded in once again almost uniting every other political force in the country except this time, they are all against him, led by his own general secretary and a significant swath from his own party, including his predecessor as president. From the main opposition UNP to the JVP, from the JHU to the SLMC and the TNA, from the Democratic Party of General Fonseka to the tiny Liberal Party of Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe, from professional groups and civil society including artistes (who get assaulted by goons), lawyers and university academics are all united against a Rajapakse third term.  The common message of a united opposition, which is fielding a common candidate, is that enough is enough. Two terms is enough. Even Mahinda has no real rationale for explaining either the early election or the unprecedented attempt at a third term, except that he feels it is his duty. Taking this claim with a more than a pinch of salt, challenger Maithripala Sirisena and the united opposition has clearly stated that Rajapakse Administration mostly benefits the Rajapakse family and an attendant coterie and not really the country.

A Sinhala only game plan

 

A close analysis of both the 2005 and 2010 presidential election demonstrates that Mahinda Rajapakse was elected on a preponderance of the Sinhala vote. The razor thin 2005 victory grew by leaps and bounds following the war victory over the LTTE in 2009. However, as any marketing specialist would say, it is impossible to defend a monopoly in a competitive environment. Accordingly Mahinda Rajapakse was always going to be vulnerable in a challenge to his Sinhala base. That challenge has come and come with a vengeance. It was not really possible in 2009 right after the end of the war. But in 2015, five years down the road, the primary issues are not security but non corrupt governance and economic well being. On these counts, the Rajapakse Administration was vulnerable and demonstrated its vulnerability in the Uva provincial polls and it has been downhill from there. The opposition united, his party split, the allegations against the president and his family are made openly and his campaign is reduced to a state machinery run façade with diminishing public support.  The latest to break away from the Rajapakse’s is the young deputy minister for investment promotion, lawyer Faizer Mustapha, who pledged his support to the common opposition challenger Maithripala Sirisena.

Rajapakse Governance benefiting the Rajapakse’s’

 

The presidential election campaign has created the political space for unprecedented attacks and assaults on President Rajapakse and his governance. Now this would be normal in a democracy, but Sri Lanka has been one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists and free speech during the Rajapakse years, from the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga to the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, leading to strict self censorship, especially on criticism of the Rajapakse’s in the Sinhala media. The lid though is partially off, given a presidential election and the basic allegation against President Rajapakse is that he has done a de facto transformation of a multi party democracy into a near absolute monarchy complete with a ruling family, a dynastic project and a designated natural heir apparent. This is being challenged within the Sinhala constituency and Mahinda Rajapakse needs to only lose some support among the Sinhala electorate to be vulnerable to an electoral loss in a straight forward two person contest and Sinhala support seems to slipping away sufficiently to indicate that Mahinda verses the rest may be a losing proposition for the incumbent.

A Chinese conspiracy verses a Western conspiracy

 

The Rajapakse camp likes to allege a western conspiracy in the opposition campaign. However, as the old English saying goes, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Rajapakse’s western conspiracy theory has no evidence and has hence not had traction with the public. On the contrary the Rajapakse Administration can be faulted for turning Sri Lanka into a Chinese dependency by mortgaging our futures and national assets at loan shark interest rates in opaque mega deals to the Chinese, dispensing with all tender procedures, resulting in the most expensive high ways in the world.  Clearly the Rajapakse campaign does not seem short of money. Leaving aside the abuse of state resources, the “Nil Balakaya” besides alleged goon squads, seems to have endless supply of money. The voters will give their verdict on January 8th, where the real conspiracies seemly exist.

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