For the UPFA candidates this election is about their political future

Of that stinker

The UPFA lost power in Parliament last January because Mahinda Rajapaksa had refused to appoint Maithripala Sirisena Prime Minister. Sirisena’s all-out effort to shatter Rajapaksa’s prime ministerial dream in retaliation is likely to ruin the UPFA’s prospects of making a comeback. They have been settling their personal scores at the expense of the party.

President Sirisena’s stinker to Rajapaksa on Thursday came as no surprise. He drew heavy flak over his last ‘address to the nation’ which was, in effect, a diatribe against Rajapaksa and, therefore, he opted for a letter and leaked it to the media. He stands accused of having thrown a monkey wrench into the UPFA’s campaign again!

The President seems to be trying to consolidate his power. He has four and a half years of his term left and it is no fun to work with a hostile Cabinet as former President Kumaratunga, who had that unpleasant experience from 2001 to 2004, is aware. He is not so naïve as to think the spirit of camaraderie during the last seven months will survive next Monday’s general election. His position will greatly be undermined if the UNP or the UPFA forms a strong government. His declaration that he will not seek a second term has reduced him to a lame duck president!

The biggest flaw in the current Constitution is that though we are said to have a presidential system the Prime Minister becomes the de facto head of state in a situation where the President and the party in control of Parliament happen to be at loggerheads. This, we saw from 2001 to 2004. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe even signed a CFA with the LTTE without the then beleaguered President Kumaratunga’s concurrence. She suffered humiliation at the hands of some ministers at Cabinet meetings. And, in the end, she dissolved Parliament in 2004. But, President Sirisena is without such executive powers to deal with the PM in that manner thanks to the 19th Amendment. Similarly, the enmity between President Sirisena and Rajapaksa is such that the former will be in a difficult situation if the UPFA forms a strong government with the latter as the Prime Minister.

maithiri1The manner in which the UPFA election campaign was carried out has not been to the liking of President Sirisena. Usually, the candidates of the party led by the incumbent President have his or her pictures in their election posters and advertisements. But, President Sirisena’s picture was conspicuous by its absence at the just concluded UPFA campaign. All UPFA propaganda material carried only Rajapaksa’s pictures. The President, apparently sensing that he was being marginalised, launched a separate advertising campaign as if to remind the UPFA that he was the boss!

The President’s letter has unsettled the UPFA to some extent. But, a careful reading thereof reveals that it is not favourable to the UNP either in that it gives the impression that the President thinks there is the possibility of the UPFA winning and he has to move fast to prevent Rajapaksa becoming Prime Minister. Else, why should he seek Rajapaksa’s help to select the next PM from among a group of senior SLFPers?

It is doubtful whether President Sirisena will be able to prevent Rajapaksa becoming PM if the UPFA manages to obtain a working majority in the next Parliament. After winning the presidency he vowed that Rajapaksa would not be allowed to make a comeback. He went all out to deny Rajapaksa nominations to contest the general election, but buckled under pressure. Thereafter, he declared in his ‘address to the nation’ that Rajapaksa would not be appointed PM under any circumstances. But, today, he is requesting the Rajapaksa’s co-operation to choose a PM from the SLFP!

For the UPFA candidates this election is about their political future and they are all out to win it whether they are Rajapaksa fans or not. How they, especially the SLFPers, will react to President Sirisena’s recent controversial political moves detrimental to their interests will be seen after next Monday’s polls.