JHU strategy for presidential election

CHAMBIKAThere is a common belief that the Jathika Hela Urumaya’s (JHU) days with the UPFA have now been numbered. People think that the JHU would quit the UPFA soon after announcement of the presidential election. However, they are confused about options available for the JHU after quitting the UPFA. Hence, let us explore the options available for the JHU.

The presidential election held in 2005 was extremely crucial for Sri Lanka since it marked a paradigm shift in its national policies adopted hitherto as Mahinda Rajapaksa who being elected President, decided to militarily defeat Tamil terrorism instead of reaching a negotiated settlement. Despite the widely accepted belief that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily, the UPFA government was able to eliminate it within a span of three years. Previous governments were of the view that Tamil separatism cannot be defeated without offering a federal solution. Fortunately, President Rajapaksa’s government was of the view that Tamil separatism would further be strengthened if a federal setup was established. Hence, the UPFA protected the unitary character of the State despite pressures from powerful foreign forces such as USA and India.

Excise duty on liquor and tobacco formed a significant slice of government revenue. Government leaders gifted liquor licenses to politicians to reward their loyalty and dedication. President Rajapaksa’s government heavily restricted promotion and sale of tobacco and alcohol after terminating the tradition of gifting liquor licenses to government politicians. New laws were introduced to prohibit sports sponsorships, advertisements, promotion, and consumption at public places of tobacco and alcohol. Further, the government stopped privatization of profit making public enterprises.

The foundation for the above-mentioned achievements was the agreement entered by the JHU with President Rajapaksa when he was a presidential candidate. Conservation of unitary character, abolition of tsunami joint mechanism and stopping privatization of profit making public enterprises were fundamental conditions in that agreement. Although President Rajapaksa was reluctant to include a condition about defeating the LTTE militarily because of the atmosphere prevailing at that time, he verbally agreed to commence military action against the LTTE at its provocation. That is why the JHU commenced a march towards Mavil Aru sluice gate forcing the government to commence military operations when the LTTE closed it violating the ceasefire agreement. The historical march of the JHU marked the beginning of the end of the LTTE.

The JHU not only included anti-alcohol Mathata Thitha policy in Mahinda Chinthana election manifesto, but made it a reality by introducing required laws to parliament. As a result of the programme implemented under Mathata Thitha, the sale of tobacco has come down by 30% within the last eight (8) years. Sri Lanka still ranks as the 131st nation in terms of per capita alcohol consumption thanks to this project despite per capita income and tourist arrival increasing by three fold during the last eight years.

The JHU was able to bring several significant victories for the motherland because of its conditions set for supporting President Rajapaksa at the election held in 2005. After considering the progress achieved during the first term, the JHU decided to support him for his bid for a second term in 2010 without introducing a new set of conditions. Nevertheless, the JHU’s aspirations were included in Mahinda Chinthana – Idiri Dekma, election manifesto. That agreement will end when a presidential election is declared in the near future. Hence, the JHU is now duty bound to negotiate a new agreement with President Rajapaksa in order to bring another set of victories for the motherland as it did in 2005.

Set of proposals
The JHU has been discussing a new set of proposals in different fora in the recent past. Introducing checks and balances to the presidential system, strengthening anti-corruption institutes and introduction of an election method which contains good features of both proportional representation and electorate based first-past-the-post method are among the JHU’s proposals. These proposals have been prepared aiming President Rajapaksa because he is the solitary person who can do this with his executive powers and the two-thirds majority in Parliament. If another candidate accepts these proposals, he cannot do anything beyond including these in his manifesto. Even if such a candidate wins the presidential election, he will never get the two-thirds majority in Parliament to implement the proposals. In fact, no government will be able to enjoy this super majority in the foreseeable future. Hence, only pragmatic option is getting these proposals implemented by President Rajapaksa.

The JHU is insisting President Rajapaksa to implement its proposals before the presidential election. It is a rational request. It is customary that the President would dissolve Parliament soon after the election. As explained before, it is near impossible to get the two-thirds majority at a future election. Hence, if the JHU agrees to implement its proposals after the election, the UPFA will not possess the required majority to do it. At least the President should implement several proposals of the JHU before the election as a confidence building measure for both the JHU and general public.

A lot of people pose the same question in varying ways. What can the JHU do, if President Rajapaksa refuses to accept its proposals? If the President refuses to implement a single proposal, does that me the JHU has exhausted all its options? Although the JHU roars like a lion, does it possess alternatives other than supporting President Rajapaksa at the presidential election? Can the JHU support Ranil Wickremesinghe directly or indirectly? As a leader of the JHU, I am duty bound to answer these questions.

Supporting Ranil is not the only available option for the JHU, in the event of President Rajapaksa refusing to accept the JHU’s proposals. The JHU can support a common third candidate. However, presidential election is a bipolar contest forcing voters to choose one of the two leading candidates. Hence, minor parties prefer to support one of the leading candidates as happened in both 2005 and 2010. However, minor parties from communalist to communist are reluctant to support Ranil for various reasons. Most of the political parties along with professional bodies and trade unions are interested in fielding an apolitical common candidate with an agenda for introducing measures for good governance. That is why there was high morale among them when Ven Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera announced his ambition to be the common presidential candidate. However, the UNP disappointed all of them by announcing Ranil’s candidature. The JVP and DP have decided to boycott the election because they are not in a position to support any of the leading candidates.

As repeatedly mentioned in this column, the middle class has grown by five fold during the last nine years. They are the voters who have been frustrated with both the UNP and the UPFA. This is the crowd who gave as high as 14% of votes to the JVP and DP at the last election for Western Provincial Council. The JHU can field a common candidate with the support of the JVP and DP aiming the middle class. The JHU is reputed for its capacity and dedication in the fields of eco-friendliness, good governance, righteousness, and public administration. Therefore, there is potential for tapping this vote bank.
Let us assume for a moment that the JVP and DP reject the concept of fielding a third common candidate. The JHU has another card in its hand. That is fielding a common candidate for the silent majority of the nation with the support of Buddhist organizations such as Bodu Bala Sena and Sihala Rawaya. The JHU was able to obtain 6% of votes exploiting the Buddhist revival that prevailed in 2004. It is noteworthy that Buddhist consciousness in the country has been increased by several folds now thanks to networking in the internet. Hence, we can be very optimistic about such a candidate.

Some people express fear of Ranil’s victory, as a result of fielding a third candidate. In fact, if the third candidate can secure 500,000 votes which is a mere 3.5% of the votes, the winner of the presidential election is immaterial. If the third candidate can obtain 500,000 votes at the polarized presidential election, it will increase to at least 800,000 at the forthcoming parliamentary elections. In other words, the third force will secure at least 15 members and will be the remote control of the next government. In this backdrop, they will be de-facto rulers, whoever has won the presidential election becomes de-jure ruler.
The JHU will have to explore the alternatives mentioned above, only if President Rajapaksa does not accept its proposals. Getting the agreement of President Rajapaksa who possesses both executive presidency and the two-thirds majority in parliament is the best approach to bring historical victories for the motherland. We are still optimistic about receiving a positive response from President Rajapaksa.