It’s official, there is no support to either the UPFA or its former leader and the country’s immediately preceding President by the island’s incumbent President.
President Maithripala Sirisena who’s also the present Leader of the UPFA coalition and its main constituent party the SLFP, addressing the nation on Tuesday said that he was against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the immediately preceding leader of the UPFA and SLFP, from contesting the 17 August 2015 general election. He however, had ultimately wilted under pressure exerted by a section of his coalition members to accommodate Rajapaksa. (See yesterday’s Ceylon Today)
It was only six months ago, in a “home and home” battle, somewhat akin to the “Guttila-Musila Jathaka Katha” in Buddhist scriptures, Sirisena, with the support of the UNP and minority parties, defeated his ‘mentor’ and former leader, the then incumbent President Rajapaksa at the 8 January 2015 presidential poll.
Sirisena at his Tuesday’s address adduced reasons why he didn’t want Rajapaksa, who once more has prime ministerial aspirations, from contesting the 17 August poll. Among those were that Rajapaksa has alienated the minority vote, coupled with corruption charges which would not go down well in a plebiscite.
Nevertheless, the die has been cast, with Rajapaksa, at least being the de facto leader of the UPFA’s electoral campaign. However, Sirisena warned, that even if the UPFA won the election, he wouldn’t appoint Rajapaksa as his Premier.
Sirisena further said that the reason why he dissolved the government on 26 June 2015 was because of the ‘No Confidence’ motion against UNP Leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe submitted by his party in a move to get Rajapaksa in to Parliament via the National List, and finally to the Premiership post as well.
Wickremesinghe was appointed Premier by Sirisena after his election on 8 January. Wickremesinghe however, headed a minority government. Nevertheless, it’s the UPFA Leader who’s generally supposed to make appointments to the National List from his party, unless that too would have had been another case of succumbing to pressure, similar to the way Rajapaksa got nominated to contest the 17 August Poll?
Sirisena has the velvet glove, but it’s the iron fist when it comes to controlling his party that’s missing.
This is the first time in Sri Lanka’s short history of the Executive Presidency, that an incumbent President isn’t supporting his party at a key election. The then outgoing President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 2005 wasn’t happy with Rajapaksa’s candidature for the Presidency at the November 2005 presidential election. This was noticeable when the two were at the same election stage then, campaigning for Rajapaksa’s election!
Now there is neither the Prabhakaran nor the LTTE threat either to throw a bogey at the Sinhala Buddhist vote comprising 70% of the total franchise. It was that bogey, i.e. that the UNP has plans to give the North and East to Prabhakaran/LTTE, which played a pivotal role in swinging that majoritarian vote to the UPFA’s favour at the general elections held in April 2004.
The JVP was an integral partner of the UPFA coalition then. They successfully sold the LTTE bogey to the Sinhala masses. They also canvassed for Rajapaksa’s election bid at the November 2005 presidential poll.
But since 2005 much water has flowed under the bridge. JVP is now no more with Rajapaksa, contesting the 17 August poll as a standalone party, devoid of electoral pacts at least for the time being. They are also vehemently opposed to Rajapaksa’s election bid.
This delivers another blow to that segment of the Sinhala vote which the UPFA may have had been banking upon. The Sinhala majoritarian vote is further divided to the UNP’s advantage with Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party (DP) too, contesting the poll.
Fonseka’s and the JVP’s vote bases may well have “gone” to Sirisena whom they supported at the 8 January poll. It may therefore be argued that it’s the UNP’s vote base, as Sirisena was their proxy candidate, that would be eroded, and not that of the UPFA’s, because the DP and the JVP are contesting separately.
But there is no gain for the UPFA either. UPFA’s Rajapaksa got under 50% of the vote to Sirisena’s 51.28% on 8 January. And it’s unlikely that either the JVP or the DP would “go” into a coalition with the UPFA to form a government, with chances of forming an alliance with the UNP-led coalition the United National Front for Good Governance, being greater. That also holds true in regard to the minority parties.