Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa after having been given nomination to contest the 17 August, 2015 General Election under the UPFA ticket on Friday, in probably his first interview to the media, reproduced by this newspaper on its yesterday’s edition, revealed his prime ministerial ambitions.
In a 10 questionnaire interview with rediff.com, an Indian website, he sidestepped the first question as to whether he would be the SLFP led UPFA’s premier candidate, despite that being one of the key issues revolving round Rajapaksa’s re-entry into politics.
Nonetheless he let the cat out of the bag when responding to the 4th question which was, “If you win and become Prime Minister (PM), wouldn’t it be odd for you to work under a man who was a minister under you when you were President?”
This was with reference to President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Rajapaksa at the 8 January, 2015 Presidential Poll.
Rajapaksa’s reply was, “The position of PM is now different to what it was before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The PM has a defined role to play. I don’t see any problem in working with Sirisena in that capacity.”
Nevertheless, it’s the President who would decide who the premier candidate would be, by nominating an MP, whom he thinks commands the majority confidence in Parliament, to that post. And there is a powerful section within the SLFP-UPFA coalition who are backing Rajapaksa for that position.
The last major election was the 8 January, 2015 Poll, a two horse race between Sirisena, the current SLFP-UPFA Leader and Rajapaksa, also from the same party.The noticeable difference being that Sirisena was also backed by the UNP and key minority parties, with the JVP and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s DNA too throwing in their lot.
Sirisena, whose votes also included votes from the breakaway faction from the SLFP-UPFA coalition, garnered 6.22 million or 51.28% of the vote and the latter 5.77 million or 44.58% of the vote, giving Sirisena a 449,072 majority to be elected as the country’s new President.
The UNP after the SLFP-UPFA coalition, has the country’s second largest vote base. Sri Lanka’s 75% Sinhala vote is largely split between the UNP and the SLFP-UPFA coalition.
The difference between the January 2015 Presidential Election and the August 2015 General Election is that key minority and minor parties such as the TNA, SLMC and the JVP, whose supporters voted with the UNP to elect Sirisena, are, this time likely to go it alone to the UNP’s disadvantage, whereas the SLFP-UPFA coalition appears to be largely intact, except perhaps for the defection of the JHU and the All Ceylon Muslim Congress, two parties, the strength of whose vote base however may be in doubt.
With the SLFP-UPFA coalition’s vote presumably being intact if not consolidated after Sirisena’s approval of Rajapaksa’s candidacy as a prospective MP for the forthcoming 15th Parliament, chances are for that 44.58% vote base to grow, despite some of those votes won may have been votes won over by Rajapaksa’s election handouts.
Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that either of the country’s two major parties, i.e. the SLFP-UPFA coalition or the UNP would be able to obtain a simple majority at the next Parliament by obtaining 113 seats in the 225-Member House.
They will have to “go” with the smaller parties to get those 113 seats to form a government. In the six general elections held since the proportional representation system (PRS) was introduced to elect politicians to office, in only two of those have the two major parties obtained an absolute majority, either contesting on their own, or in a coalition formed prior to those elections.
In the 1989 poll, i.e. the 9th Parliamentary Election, the first election held under the PRS, the UNP won 125 of the 225 seats. The other was at the last general election, i.e. elections to the 14th Parliament held in April 2010, where the SLFP-UPFA coalition then headed by Rajapaksa, garnered 144 seats.
With the TNA and the JVP going it alone and possibly the SLMC also following suit at the Election due on 17 August and the likelihood of the disenchanted SLFP-UPFA votes cast in favour of Sirisena on 8 January returning once more to the SLFP-UPFA, then that 51.28% vote won by Sirisena, as the proxy UNP candidate would be steadily eroded due to the loss of those votes.
The core UNP vote would then fall under 50%, insufficient for the UNP to garner the required 113 seats in Parliament. There is also a likelihood that it may play second fiddle to the SLFP-UPFA coalition, due to the possibility that the latter may win more seats than the UNP in Sri Lanka’s 15th Parliament.
Though Rajapaksa lost the 8 January poll, he won more seats than Sirisena, winning 94 of the 160 electorates, with Sirisena winning the balance 66. Therein lies the rub…