The 2019 Sri Lankan Presidential Election will be the 8th, scheduled to be held on November 16, 2019. Incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena’s term of office will end on January 9, 2020. It is also the first presidential election in the country where no incumbent President, Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition is contesting.
As November 16 draws closer, the question on everyone’s lips these days is, who will win this presidential election?
With the presidential campaigns drawing to a close today - Wednesday, November 13, the contestants from the original list of 37 candidates have narrowed down to the front-runners, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya (SLPP) and young Sajith Premadasa of the New Democratic Front (NDF). JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake appears to be in third placed, and ex-Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake a distant fourth. NDF Candidate Sajith Premadasa from the commencement of his campaign suffered a drawback, in that his nomination was ratified at the very last moment. Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the other hand, being the unanimous nominee of his party, has been in campaign mode for a longer period of time and therefore enjoys a slight advantage over his rival.
November 16 also sees the last days of President Maithripala Sirisena’s stewardship which commenced when he unexpectedly defeated the ever-popular President Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Sirisena campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, good governance, a promise of being a one-term President and retiring to his hometown in Polonnaruwa when his term ended. The President was unfortunate in that, as he has not been able to live up to two of his stated goals - ushering in a period of good governance and overseeing an end to instances of mega corruption in the country. But to his credit, he is possibly one of the few persons worldwide who trimmed his own powers and ushered in the Right to Information Act. It also stands to his credit that journalistic freedom has been restored and the culture of victimization of opponents, perceived or otherwise, was brought to an end.
The winner of this year’s presidential election, therefore, will face an enormous challenge to guarantee that justice is meted out to those involved in past corruption scandals and ensure that rights abuses will be a thing of the past.
The incoming President and his administration has also a duty to ease the pain of minority communities - the Tamils, Christians and Muslims - who have been the victims of mob violence. He will also have to ensure that no further violence is unleashed on vulnerable sections of our country and promote reconciliation and accountability in the country. Whether we be Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, all of us at one time or the other have been victims of government-backed violence against our people. For this purpose, governments have prevailed on the armed services and the police to attack sections of the community. We cannot forget the innocent victims who died during the JVP insurgencies, the LTTE insurrection or those attacked by government sponsored hooliganism at Aluthgama, Darga Town etc.
One of the main jobs of the new incoming President needs to be the restoration of national harmony. A country divided, especially along the lines of race, creed and caste can never develop. And one of the first steps to reconciliation is admitting guilt and meting out restorative justice - a system of justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
Poverty is a major problem facing the people of this country now. Around 23% of our people are recipients of Samurdhi benefits. Plantation workers who bring in a major section of the country’s revenue receive a mere Rs. 750 per day for 21 days per month. The basic minimum wage for an industrial worker still remains at Rs.12,500 per month. It leaves these families malnourished and unable to avail themselves of an education and condemns them to lifelong poverty.
Leading presidential candidates’ simplistic solutions of providing these categories with all manner of handouts via a reduction of perks to MPs, ministers and the President, are not going to bring any solution to the problem. It only displays a lack of respect to the intelligence of voters. Young and first-time voters are disillusioned. Disillusioned by corruption scandals, the traumatic Easter Sunday bombings and world-wide Islamophobia. How would the incoming President tackle these problems?
Women’s participation in governance of the country and at district and local levels is still minimal. What prevents them from participating in the affairs of governance? The answer lies in our patriarchal system. Would the incoming President contemplate changing this? The unsolved issues, the insecurity following the Easter Sunday attacks have led to a call among sections of the population for a more firm form of government. But we need to ensure the few gains after the last presidential election are not lost on grounds of security concerns.