by Upul Joseph fernando
Political analysts are intrigued by what Mahinda is studying with much interest these days. It is, without a doubt, reports submitted to him by his political intelligence sources, in particular about the political leaders who attended Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera’s latest and much publicized meetings. He must be wondering who, among them will come to challenge him for the Presidency. A close study of his probable thought process on this matter will yield interesting results.
Chandrika – A dangerous customer, she will try to rope in as many ministers as possible. After all, most of them held cabinet portfolios because of her. Maithri, Susil, Nimal Siripala and the lot; they are unreliable and could easily gang up with Chandrika. They could rest assured of ministerial posts under Chandrika also. With Chandrika in the fray it will be a home and home contest, not a government and opposition battle. SLFP electoral organizers will remain neutral marking time. Under me, Sirisena and Nimal have less power than under Chandrika, because Gota, Basil and Namal are above them in the power structure. A look at Chandrika’s disadvantages shows, JVP will never support her. UNP’s old wounds inflicted by her are still festering. They would surely not support her. Wimal’s allegiance is not dependable. JHU though will not support Chandrika. Tamil, Muslim and Catholic votes will be hers when it comes to an election.
Ranil – It will be not easy for him to contest. JVP, JHU, Wimal and the lot will shun him like the plague. Our ministers will not switch allegiance even if Chandrika promised anything to them because they know Ranil is a born loser. Even SLMC will not want to be on a sinking ship. In that scenario if Ranil comes forward to contest me, it will be easy going for me.
Fonseka – Irrespective of who does and does not support him, one sure thing is that neither JVP nor Ranil will back him. Even if he is chosen as the common candidate, I have nothing to worry. Perhaps JHU, some of our ministers, even Wimal and SLMC could help him. But his civil rights issue hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles. So there is no threat.
Shirani – She is apolitical, no truck with any political party. No Political enemies also. She is a professor and a former Chief Justice. If she wins the contest with me UNP, JVP and even SLFP could all claim she is their candidate. With Chandrika’s backing she is the best possible candidate to turn the ministers and other supporters to her side. She is a Sinhala, Buddhist ‘osari’-clad lady in the image of Mrs. Bandaranaike. A sure vote-puller.
She is like a village lass with fitting speech competency. She could gather all those who opposed the unjust impeachment to her side. Her critics, though not many, point out that she gave a judgement in favour of the 18th Amendment. Even Neville Samarakone, JR appointed CJ, faced the same criticism when he approved some amendments to the 1978 Constitution, as required by him; but people regarded him a hero when he came out hard on JR later, even giving public speeches against him.
More importantly, JVP’s Common candidate nominee at the 1988 Presidential Election was Neville Samarakone. Above all other common candidate aspirants, Shirani has the best credentials for drawing crucial international support to her side. Her highly significant sacrifice of the highest legal office of the country without being cowed down by a rushed impeachment motion against her, roundly criticized by international legal authorities, or by subjecting her to an unending long series of legal action. She is the only new woman candidate in the field who could give me a fight. If she comes she would be like Chandrika in 1994. A new leader as I was in 1995. People generally like new leaders in politics. As she is apolitical even JHU, Wimal’s party and TNA will support her. She poses a threat to me.
This is how Mahinda will analyze the situation at ground level. Above all of them, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera stands as a colossus challenging him. Mahinda knows he is the one and only person among all who could cut loose his Sinhala, Buddhist anchor, setting his political ship adrift in a sea of turbulence. Moreover, even if Chandrika, Shirani or Fonseka enter the Presidential race, he knows very well that Ranil will also make his own pitch. But, if Ven. Sobhitha Thera enters the race Ranil will lose the wind in his sail. Even Wimal, Champika and others of that ilk will join the Ven. Monk’s bandwagon.
In this scenario, what will Mahinda do? Mahinda is undoubtedly smitten with fear of the political developments yet to show up. A clear pointer to his anxiety is a statement made to the media by his trusted lieutenant Minister Dulles Alahapperuma. He had said that “enemy forces are working together to undermine the freedom we have won at great cost.” In the beginning, before Ven. Sobhitha Thera entered the fray, Mahinda was calm and collected when he said he was ready to give a Presidential Election if the Opposition wanted it. But later he changed his tune and asked his party hierarchy whether they wanted a Presidential Election or a Parliamentary Election as Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s movement started gathering momentum.
If Ven. Sobhitha Thera remained aloof from active politics, Mahinda could have had an easy romp to his goal. But, even in spite of Ranil, if Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s movement fields a candidate with JVP support, he has a good chance of defeating Mahinda. Even if he loses with a small margin, Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s movement and the challenger will be the effective Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition challenging the government at the next Parliamentary Election. Delving into the political history of the country one could easily find many instances when candidates sponsored by movements born out of people’s sincere commitments have been singularly successful. In 1956 Bandaranaike was sponsored by a Buddhist movement which promoted the Buddhist Commission report.
Chandrika, in 1994, followed the same pattern to come to power sponsored by the Free Media movement and NGOs. In the first part of ’90’s the Free Media Movement brought together all forces to defeat Premadasa. This is the third time a window of opportunity has opened up for a future leader to shine bright. If it is not taken at the high tide, which is now, and whoever misses the chance to do so will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
by Upul Joseph fernando