WINSTON DE VALLIERE Political analyst
Mahinda Rajapaksa has been circumspect and said nothing about the formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Front. But it could be worrying for President Sirisena if only because it contains within itself the potential to make SLFP pro-Sirisena hardliners guessing at medium and long-term [ read: general elections] developments. Sirisena’s strengths were essentially ensconced in the UNP and Tamil and Muslim Parties which were obviously, from the very inception, part of the cumulative strategy hatched abroad to oust Rajapaksa. Though, records show that Rajapaksa, as well as the SLFP under his leadership, were beginning to lose ground as was evidenced in the Uva Provincial Council election.
The province is home to agricultural and plantation Districts of Moneragala and Badulla, both rated as being among the poorer and underdeveloped regions of the country. Predominantly comprising a Sinhala-Buddhist population, the district has for decades or more been at the mercy of serious drought conditions. Learning quickly from mistakes, Rajapaksa’s faction made an attempt to woo the Uva voter once again with an eye on the forthcoming Local Government elections.
The initial mistake made by the government in trying to do away with the fertilizer subsidy was quickly pounced upon by the Rajapaksa faction and anti-Ranil-Sirisena lobby to quickly bring down to Colombo scores of amude clad men, supposedly farmers, to denounce the retrograde proposal. The alternate offer of cash for fertilizer was a stupid move considering that farmers are heavily in debt and unable to even get together the necessities to prepare for cultivation seasons, owing to lack of water in some districts and drought in others. This was not considered in preparing the proposals on agriculture, nor did the Finance Minister’s advisors apparently remind him that the proposal was handing the enemy a powerful weapon. As I said in a previous essay, Sirisena has to walk carefully to ensure he loses no support within Sinhala Buddhist ranks if he is to have any logical hope of ensuring that Rajapaksa does not make a successful come back. It’s significant that the amude brigade was brought to Colombo after the Second Reading and not the first. Obviously it took over a fortnight to hurriedly arrange it after the First Reading! That proves the amude swarm was not of its own volition but politically stage-managed.
Rajapaksa is on the ball alright.
What can be worrying for Sirisena is how many of his Ministers and Deputy Ministers will campaign for Rajapaksa if only for the objective of weakening Sirisena’s ability to influence the SLFP at grassroots Local Government level. The LG elections will hence prove to be an advance dry run to test the electoral waters providing Sirisena ample time before the next general election to make course corrections, win the general election and go on to contest the next Presidential Election. No matter what others say, Sirisena’s options should he contest with an eye to becoming Premier is fraught with danger to his own survival because the scenario could see Rajapaksa mounting a well calculated campaign to go for the presidential stakes as a candidate of the newly formed SLFF. And he just could win depending on what transpires between now and the next Presidential Election.
The compulsions are immense. But one also wonders whether the President can show tangible results when the general and presidential results come around. I’m afraid that he would rue the day that he stepped in to change those budgetary proposals. His intervention will also concretize sentiment in the UNP that the working relationship between it and the Sirisena-led SLFP faction could prove too brittle to be sustained until general election time…UNLESS he becomes the first man to VOTE FOR HIS OWN GOVERNMENT’S BUDGET.
What the President in effect did was that he voted with Rajapaksa against the Budget!!!
Caving into pressure is never a good thing, especially when it’s not based on a sound economic rationale.