COLOMBO: The future of Sri Lanka’s top most leaders, namely, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe; former President Mahinda Rajapaksa; and incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena; will be on the line on Monday as 15 million Lankans elect a 225-member parliament.
If the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) wins, as predicted by most opinion polls, its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political future is secure for the next five years. But if the UNFGG loses, powerful factions in his United National Party (UNP) will demand his scalp. Already 66, this is his last chance to bid for a top job.
For Rajapaksa too, this is the last chance to occupy a top office. He is already 69. And Premiership is all that he can aspire for, because by law, he cannot contest for the Lankan Presidency again. Having lost the January 8 Presidential election, he cannot afford to lose a second time if he is to retain his following in the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
Based on his performance in the Presidential election, in which he had a slight edge over Sirisena among the majority Sinhalese community, Rajapaksa predicts that the UPFA will win the coming elections. But most surveys give the UPFA only 80 to 95 seats. This is because it had split into the Rajapaksa and Sirisena factions after Sirisena was readmitted to the party and made its Chairman. Chairman Sirisena is now purging the party of Rajapaksa loyalists and has said that, as Lankan President, he will not appoint Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. The UPFA under Rajapaksa is also harping on issues like threats from the West, India and the LTTE, which are not current.
Sirisena is secure in his position as Lankan President, but he needs a political party in order to be a force to reckon with. Hence the bid to fully take over the UPFA from Rajapaksa. Sirisena knows that if the UPFA wins, Rajapaksa will make his life as President miserable. But if it is defeated, the party will abandon Rajapaksa and rally round him.