Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Does Sri Lanka need a Prime Minister hostile to President Sirisena

Posted by harimpeiris on July 30, 2015

Does Sri Lanka need a Prime Minister hostile to President Sirisena

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News and Island of 30th July 2015)

The general election campaign is in full swing and the UPFA campaign which hit a major road block at its inception, is slowly sputtering to life. The overall low key campaign, sans posters etc, through a tough enforcement of the election laws, by both the Commissioner of Elections and the Inspector General of Police, masks the fact that the UPFA campaign has none of the glamour of state patronage with which the UPFA is used to running its campaigns.

The most significant political development of the post nominations period (when the election campaign is deemed to have really begun) was President Sirisena’s landmark address to the nation in which he (i) declared his neutrality in the election (ii) Made public his political hostility to defeated President Mahinda Rajapakse  and (iii) reiterated his own commitment to his manifesto and requested voters to elect a government which would work towards and partner in the fulfillment of his mandate. The obvious question which arose from that statement has been, how would the UPFA respond to this challenge?

A divided and directionless UPFA

 

The UPFA response to President Sirisena’s challenge has been compounded confusion. They waffled between taking on a popularly elected President, who is leader of their own party and alliance no less and in trying to side step the issue, merely seem incoherent, divided and confused. Despite a clear message by President Maithripala Sirisena, both within party hierarchies and to the country that Mahinda Rajapakse would be unsuitable, unreliable and unacceptable as a prime ministerial candidate, the UPFA gang of four and their SLFP stooges running the UPFA campaign has been clearly projecting defeated president and Kurunegala District candidate Mahinda Rajapakse, as its prime ministerial nominee.

A Prime Minister hostile to President Sirisena?

 

The current Sri Lankan election scenario raises, the rather unlikely but nonetheless possible outcome of a Prime Minister Rajapakse hostile to a President Sirisena. The real question as to can Sri Lanka afford and frankly do our people require or deserve, a prime minister and a government hostile to the recently and popularly elected president of the republic? The Sirisena Presidency, the “Maithri Yugaya” that was promised in the January election and the consequent victory of the National Democratic Front (NDF) is much more than the political persona or politics of Maithripala Sirisena. It was a complete repudiation of the policies and governance of the Rajapakse Administration. In no other Sri Lankan election, in recent times, was the election issues centered and based on the governance of the incumbent administration which then historically and unexpectedly lost. The criticism of the Rajapakse Administration was severe and focused on the then ruling Rajapakse family. Accordingly the defeat in January was a people’s mandate for change. During the presidential campaign Mahinda Rajapakse and his allies alleged every manner of evil upon Maithripala Sirisena, there has been no public repudiation of the same by Rajapakse, even if we concede that the UPFA invitation to Maithri to take over the leadership was a concession by the party that they were wrong in January.

 

A UPFA promise of more of the same

 

Listening to Kurunegala District candidate Mahinda Rajapakse and his cheer leaders, there is a total absence of anything new in their thinking or their policy programs. It is the same old rhetoric, the same tired slogans and basically promises of more of the same. The biggest problem is that Mahinda Rajapakse and the UPFA make little or no concession that they were wrong at any point in their governance. The cronyism, the kleptocratic corruption, the family bandyism, the assault on independent governance institutions, the unsolicited proposals, the disregard of tender procedures, the disappearance of government vehicles, floating private armories, among a long and non exhaustive list is what was wrong with Rajapakse rule, is what the UPFA promises to the country. Just more of the same.

The myth of retaining the 5.8m losing vote bank

 

The UPFA in its January defeat was emboldened by its winning more districts outside the North and East, than the NDF and basically counts on two factors. Namely that the NDF alliance will separate for the general election and hence if the UPFA stays together that it will retain the five point eight (5.8 m) million votes it secured in its loosing campaign in the general elections.

Firstly by no stretch of the imagination, does the UPFA believe that they will secure more than the 5.8m it polled in January. Can there be any conceivable reason, why someone who did not vote for more of Mahinda Rajapakse in January 2015, will do so in August 2015? On the contrary there are plenty of reasons why people who might have voted for the UPFA in January, will not do so in August. In January, the UPFA used and abused state resources, including law enforcement and the state media for its own political advantage, that is not a luxury it enjoys at this election. More importantly the rural voter, on whom the UPFA is banking on heavily, is often intimidated to vote for the winner on the pain of losing their Samurdhi benefits to fertilizer subsidies if they are identified as opposition sympathizers. This is not the case in this election. Moreover the UPFA is clearly and publicly politically divided between those advocating a national government and cooperating with the “Maithri vision” and those advocating “Bring back Rajapakse (rule)”. Basically you cannot have a “Maithri Yuagaya” and “Rajapakse rule”, confused SLFPers may vote UNP or JVP or just stay away.

Moreover the winning,  rainbow coalition of the NDF has largely remained intact as the UNP led UNFGG, with only the TNA choosing to contest separately. Correspondingly the EPDP, the UPFA ally in the North has also opted to go it alone. Further the UNFGG has a stated policy of going for a national government which is an inclusive and attractive proposition for the country at large, while a discredited and defeated UPFA is trying hard to turn back the clock and convince voters, that their decision of January 8th was a big mistake. A tough  and unlikely sell indeed.

(The write is the Chairman of the Resettlement Authority. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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