The most poignant scene in final episode of Game of Thrones was the discourse of Westeros leaders on future leaders of seven kingdoms. With Cersei, Jamie and Daenerys gone and Jon Snow jailed, it would not be an easy task. Probably as the former hand of previous queen, Tyrion is given his say. Still a prisoner and with his hands in chains he raises the critical question.
What unites people? Armies? NO. Gold? NO. Flags? NO. What unites people is a story. A good narrative. And who has a better narrative than the boy crippled but then travel across the wall to become the three eyed raven? With that Bran, the most unexpected, is elected (for the first time in a representative democracy) to rule seven
(a minute later, six) kingdoms.
Presidential elections in Sri Lanka were no fun like GoT. Still speculation is the fashion of the times. Like GoT fans did till that moment, we are free to speculate.
This article attempts to summarise the stories of all possible candidates so far. All names are taken from media. We know little about real possibilities. It can even be possible a name that does not appear below suddenly springs from nowhere to win the throne, just the same way Bran did. It happened once. Can happen again. Still speculation is entertaining. Let’s see what we have got.
First, the five indicators.
Age: Up to 60 years, the typical retirement age for state sector officers in Sri Lanka, one was taken as perfect and given full 5 marks, though author’s personal views may be different. Thereafter 0.25 marks have been reduced per each year. (All contenders are above 50 years, so there is also no question about the lower limit.) Noteworthy that age has so far never become an obstacle for anyone to fulfil the responsibilities of the land’s most important position. President Junius Jayawardene, who was considered to be one of the best to hold the position, was 76 when he was elected for the second term.
Education: In HR we continue to recognise attitude, not education, as the most important characteristic of an individual, but always look first at education in a CV. No political office in Sri Lanka requires a certain education qualification. Let’s not argue on this. One who leads us in twenty first century cannot just be anybody. So in this category post graduate education levels are awarded full 5 marks, graduate level next and so on.
Previous Experience: There cannot be any argument on this one. Experience matters. To avoid complexity a simple formula has been followed. One with previous Presidential experience gets full 5 marks; Prime Ministerial experience gets 4 marks and ministerial experience at senior level gets 3 marks. Only national level political and administrative experiences are treated seriously. Experience in business, though can be important – very important – were not counted with the same weightage for not making matters complicated. This may, prime facie, looks unfair, but that is how it works in politics. Even at international level so far Donald Trump is the only prominent individual to be directly elected for a political office. We still think politics is still best left for politicians, rather than business folks. This mind-set may change with time, but right now let’s not treat the two equal.
Percentage of votes at last election: Local Government Elections 2018 was the last election held. Percentage of votes for each party is known. This percentage was taken in a scale of 5. Please note this is not for an individual. Newcomers to the race are awarded zero marks.
Economic Policy: For some, it is clear; others not. Already expressed views by some of the contenders or political parties they may represent are taken as their official stance. In some cases it is the political party stand. Please note, this is a subjective measure. Also noteworthy the changing nature of economic policies of individuals and political parties.
No attempts were made to average the marks for two reasons. Firstly, some of the indicators are subjective and useful only as a rough reference. An evaluation too precise will be unfair. Secondly not all six factors can be given equal weightage. So the analysis was left at visual representations.
Basil Rajapaksa: Always known for his vast experience and capacity as a political leader, Basil Rajapaksa has always been the winning force that transformed general political acceptance into solid votes. He has always been maintaining a fine balance between liberal economic policies with populism. Though hardly acknowledged, even by his own party, Rajapaksa is largely responsible for the rural development that took place under UPFA government. Albeit shadowed by the equally superior performance of his two elder brothers, he holds all right qualities for the top job. What still remains a question mark is whether he himself is seriously interested or not.
A former senior minister and a former speaker respected both by friends and rivals for impeccable impartiality, Chamal Rajapaksa may join the race perhaps at last moment as a compromise candidate to avoid a division within the party. An endorsement by former President, by coincidence happens to be his younger brother, can elevate his chances of winning higher than anybody thinks. Still it is too early to comment as the same part has at least two more equally good alternatives.
Dhammika Perera: His name is being presented as a potential candidate, but till the moment of penning this Dhammika Perera’s stand has been non-committal. He, tells us in his Wikipedia page that he is the founding Chairman and Managing Director of Vallibel One Group, a holding company with investments in financial services, tile and sanitary ware manufacturing, and leisure sectors through its subsidiaries L B Finance PLC, Royal Ceramics Lanka PLC group and Greener Waters Ltd. His business empire goes far beyond these limits.
Since 2013, he is also known to be Sri Lanka’s wealthiest individual, and arguably the only Dollar billionaire in the land. So his aspiration to hold the highest office in the land is well understood. Still he is a newcomer to politics. Acceptance by the constituency and international community is yet to be seen. But again, what somebody who can be the richest in a country starting from humble beginnings, could not thought to be achieved? I guess the only choice Dhammika Perera has to make is whether he would be a Ross Perot or a Donald Trump. Both were businessmen with no serious political exposure. The former entered the race as the third candidate and left in middle even though he was leading the early polls. The second had a better strategy and was successful.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s profound roles in ending the 30-year-old civil conflict and transforming Colombo are legendary. They are recognized with respect even by his opponents.
He so far held no political office. But as a senior bureaucrat he was once more authoritative than perhaps half of the then cabinet combined. (Hence, for evaluating his previous experience, he was treated as an ex-senior minister) Calling him the second most powerful individual in the land once may be an exaggeration, but his outstanding popularity, at least in the South, is undeniable. A term that closely associated with Rajapaksa’s name is ‘Benevolent Dictatorship’.
This explains a theoretical form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute power over the state, but does so for the benefit of his population as a whole. Many strongly believe Rajapaksa will be the ‘Benevolent Dictator’ the country badly needs: who can fix its systems, bring back discipline and most importantly guarantee national security. Rajapaksa’s biggest challenges in convincing public right now are building an economic framework with a proof of success. With a right economic package Rajapaksa could be successfully sold to constituency much easier than he would be a year ago – yes, even to minorities.
Karu Jayasuriya: Speakers typically get great opportunities to build their images as elder statesmen. Karu Jayasuriya has exploited that opportunity to the best. He has also the experience as a senior minister and a former deputy leader of a key political party. Little is known about his economic policies, so we can only assume he would follow those of the political party he represents – but not
Maithripala Sirisena: President has recently declared in India he still has time to decide whether to contest or not. This, only time will tell. If he were to contest, it will not only be as the incumbent but also with the only one with prior experience in the same post. Performance of his own political party in the local polls was hardly satisfactory. It could, with some difficulty, grab less than 14% of votes. This may change in a Presidential poll.
Nagananda Kodituwakku: He seems to be the most enthusiastic among all new comers, but it still looks as if Kodituwakku has not fathomed the gravity of the topmost executive position in the land.
He protests over many things but yet to articulate an economic policy. A public interest litigation activist, who fights corruption and lawlessness since the year 2010, Kodituwakku fits more into a role of a Member of a Parliament than the President. Still others can learn many things from his campaign, no doubt.
Ranil Wickremesinghe: Prime Minister cum leader of the second largest monolithic political force of the country, Wickremesinghe is also the contender with longest and uninterrupted political experience. He has been in parliament since 1977, at a time President Maithripala Sirisena was only a youth leader in a remote electorate and many others here either at their jobs or some like Dhammika Perera, Sajith Premadasa and Rohan Pallewatte, were still at school.
He has been appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka five times – a record. He has successfully held the portfolios of Minister of Education and Minister of Industries, Science and Technology before being appointed as Prime Minister after untimely death of President Premadasa. His economic policy is perhaps the clearest of all. At least, many like to think so. Placing him among 100 most influential Asian leaders, Time Magazine in 2002 called him market-friendly. Especially as his second term as Prime Minister from 2001-4 he tried hard to implement some policies that could be termed neoliberal. Following heavy criticism on these now Wickremesinghe calls his policies ‘Social market economy’ – in reality a balance of liberal and populist policies, but more pro-market. Wickremesinghe may not be the most popular candidate from his own party, but many still believe he would be a formidable leader who can open up a new era.
Rohan Pallewatte: Perhaps it was a start too early. Once Colombo professionals had high hopes on Pattewatte, but now they seem to gradually slide. A successful businessman, he has an impressive story for us. (We may believe it more, if he makes that a bit less dramatic.) In his web site he claims to have brought into the country foreign revenue worth over USD 80 million in 2017 – that is nearly 0.1% of GDP. He is a photographer and a guitar player. He was trained in Japan, a country with which he still maintains still maintains strong links. His economic policy, though not articulated well, couldn’t be populist. Pattewatte, in short, is somebody who could make a change at least in the period leading to the elections. That itself is a contribution worthy.
Sajith Premadasa: ‘Jith’ in Sanskrit means ‘the one who have been conquered’. It has been used frequently used in Buddhist literature with reference Buddha. The prefix augments the term. Having proved he is a great number two, it is rational Premadasa now aims to be number one.
He is perhaps the most acceptable candidate to party cadre who nurture serious ambitions of a UNP government after two decades. He has experience as a senior minister multiple times. An ardent learner he is willing to take challenges. One would not have easily walked into a place like Hambanthota, historically a Rajapaksa stronghold, the way he did.
A soft spoken leader, with a non-controversial track record us largely shadowed by his prominent father. Still he may be capable of offering an attractive package at the right moment. Patience, as we all know, is his biggest virtue.
(Chanuka Wattegama is an academic and a policy researcher. He can be contacted via: email@example.com)