- Here, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former President Maithripala Sirisena is at the receiving end
- The SLPP MPs, in most cases, resist Viyath Maga members, and what lies at the bottom of it is the tough competition for preferential votes
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will constitutionally be authorised to dissolve Parliament on any date of his choice after March 1, 2020. According to the 19th Amendment to the constitution, the President can dissolve the House after it completes four and half years. The present Parliament will complete the relevant period on March 1, enabling the incumbent the President to call for snap general elections at any moment without waiting till its official term expires in another six months’ time.
According to inside sources, President Rajapaksa is planning to give his assent on March 2 to the gazette notification that declares Parliament dissolved.
The country awaits official conformation in this respect. However, it is common knowledge among the political parties that Parliament will be dissolved. So, they have now started oiling their political machinery to face the elections. Accordingly, the country is sliding into election mode gradually once again.
Unlike at the presidential elections, internal problems crop up for the political entities when facing parliamentary elections. Securing nominations from the mainstream parties is a competitive task for aspiring candidates, barring top notch politicians of the country. Signs of impending internal squabbling are already visible as far as the two main political forces- one led by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the other by the United National Party (UNP) - are concerned.
Conflicts of opinion and muscle flexing are already visible in some districts, and it is bound to be a grueling exercise for the SLPP leaders to balance out different interest groups in its fold, and finalize nomination lists once the elections are declared
A fierce tussle for nomination on the SLPP ticket is imminent among the parties and the groups that stood by President Rajapaksa at the November 16 presidential elections. Conflicts of opinion and muscle flexing are already visible in some districts, and it is bound to be a grueling exercise for the SLPP leaders to balance out different interest groups in its fold, and finalize nomination lists once the elections are declared.
The SLPP is the foremost stakeholder of the governing side. Having won the presidential elections, the party exults in joy and braces for the parliamentary elections with fresh hopes. The die-hard members of the SLPP, who intend to contest, are assertive. They make comments in public that sometimes border on calls for the exclusion of those from other parties and organizations that supported President Rajapaksa at the presidential elections.
The SLFP is no longer in a demanding position because their electoral strength has plummeted to the lowest ebb in its history. So, it will opt out for negotiations with the SLPP leadership to sort out the outstanding issues amicably
Here, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former President Maithripala Sirisena is at the receiving end. Already, the SLPP politicians including the likes of Industrial Exports, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga have started making demands unacceptable to the SLFP in the first instance. They are asking for the denial of nomination for Sirisena. They are also opposed to any move to compromise the lotus bud symbol and adopt a common symbol to contest the parliamentary polls.
The SLPP argues that it is confident of winning a specific a number of seats this time, and the SLFP, by being with them, cannot add anything more to it. Instead, the SLPP MPs say the SLFP nominees will only clinch up slots which are otherwise meant for their own colleagues.
The SLFP is no longer in a demanding position because their electoral strength has plummeted to the lowest ebb in its history. So, it will opt out for negotiations with the SLPP leadership to sort out the outstanding issues amicably. Confrontation is not a realistic option for them given their present predicament.
The SLPP can pay lip service to the SLFP. But, it won’t be that easy to act regardless of demands by ‘Viyath Maga Organization’. That is the body of academics and professionals who lobbied for candidacy to President Rajapaksa. The programme initiated by them called ‘Eliya’ served as the launching pad of Rajapaksa’s entry into politics. Today, Viyath Maga enjoys the blessings of the President, and its members hold key official posts in the government as chairmen of some statutory bodies and provincial governors. Its members are now seeking parliamentary seats. They sometimes speak with an authoritarian tone implying that they are the direct representatives of the President. They are really demanding. It is now setting the stage for a conflict with the traditional politicians of the SLPP. The two groups are trying to outsmart each other to secure slots in the nomination lists.
The SLPP argues that it is confident of winning a specific a number of seats this time, and the SLFP, by being with them, cannot add anything more to it
The SLPP MPs, in most cases, resist Viyath Maga members, and what lies at the bottom of it is the tough competition for preferential votes. The traditional and non-traditional political groups of the governing side, in certain instances, dispute the relevance of each other in today’s context.
But, what is to be borne in mind that the vote base of a political party is naturally multilayered. There are educated voters, and less educated ones. People from different walks of life vote for a party, be it the SLPP, the UNP or the SLFP. In strategizing for elections, a party has to make its policies and approaches attractive to all segments, as otherwise the outcome will be painful.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa polled 6.9 million votes at the presidential elections. It is a vote base of people from different layers of society. Viyath Maga delivered a portion of it. At the same time, there is a large chunk of voters linked to their traditional political representatives.
The SLPP has to strike a balance between the two, no matter what. Marginalization of one group to favour the other will only complicate things.
There is disillusionment in society against the traditional political culture of Sri Lanka. But, it is only a section of society having such sentiments. Viyath Maga representatives have already begun to cash in on such sentiments of people. Alongside, there are voters particularly in rural or less urbanized districts, who still count on their traditional, known political representatives from whatever party.
In a democratic set-up, every vote counts. Democracy has merits and demerits. It is not intended in this column to weigh its pluses against minuses or vice versa, rather to understand things as they are. All Sri Lankans, above 18, are eligible to exercise their franchise if their names are listed on the electoral register.
Sri Lankans were granted universal franchise in 1931. Originally, those above 21 were granted it. However, it was lowered to 18 by the Elections Amendment Act No, 11 of 1959.
What matters is franchise of people. It is a right of all people regardless of their religion, language, ethnicity, education, ownership of wealth, birth, the place of birth, gender or any other difference.
UNP Factions Pull in Different Directions
The UNP, as the other main political force of the country, is embroiled in a bitter internal crisis with the faction led by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the other led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa pulling in different directions.
Mr. Premadasa is agreeable to accept the working committee decision to form a new alliance with the likeminded parties. He nominated MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara as the secretary of the proposed alliance. The party’s parliamentary group that met with Mr.Premadasa in the chair also passed a resolution to this effect.
However, the Wickremesinghe faction argues that such a decision by the parliamentary group is not legally binding until it is endorsed by the working committee of the party.
Accordingly, this has exacerbated the tug-of-war between the two factions of the UNP. The UNP leadership, as agreed at the working committee meeting, is willing to offer the leadership of the proposed alliance to Mr. Premadasa. Likewise, he can nominate someone as its secretary, subject to approval by the working committee only.
Mr. Premadasa is to be given a bigger say in the preparation of the nomination lists. However, Mr. Wickremesinghe, as the party leader, should give assent to the nomination lists finally.
Again, the UNP led by Mr. Wickremesinghe demands absolute control of the proposed alliance. Mr. Wickremesinghe seeks to command the final authority. Also, a group of MPs insist that the elections should be contested only under the UNP’s elephant symbol. The hard and fast positions of the two factions will lead to indecisions or to a possible split ahead of the elections.