Whatever allegations they level against the current regime, are bound to boomerang on them.
It is quite unnatural for an Opposition to attempt to topple a newly elected Government soon after Parliamentary elections, since any new government would gain further strength, at least for a year after its coming to office.
The failure of the first insurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1971, which was mainly attributed for it being waged within months after the United Front Government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected to office is a case in point.
The loyalists of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also have been attempting to topple the government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena from the first few weeks after it was elected in January last year. In fact, the Mahinda loyalists had more grounds to do so, mainly because it was the only Opposition in history that had the majority power in the Parliament.
Also within weeks after it was voted into office the new Government started to give ammunitions to the Opposition by way of a Central Bank bond transaction. Besides, it failed to keep many of its dated promises in its 100-Day Programme, a first of its kind that had been put forward during the Presidential election campaign.
On the other hand, six small political parties which had no future without the support of one of the two main parties wanted to find a future ally and the only group they could repose hopes on was the one that was led by former President Rajapaksa. Thus they started a campaign called “Let’s rise with Mahinda” with a much hyped public meeting in Nugegoda which they claimed one fortieth of total Sri Lankan population had attended.
After four such meetings, the Opposition was deprived of its majority power in the Parliament at the general elections held in August last year, losing one million votes, as well compared to the Presidential election held on January 8 in the same year.
Also Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha, the then General Secretaries of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) along with many others switched allegiance from Rajapaksa to Sirisena after the General Elections.
The latest move by the Rajapaksa loyalists to destabilise the Maithri-Ranil government was the “Paada Yathra” or the protest march from Kandy to Colombo, that commenced yesterday.
The slogans for the Paada Yatra ranged from economic issues to political and ethnic issues, which all political parties in the Mahinda group or the “Joint Opposition” as it was called by the group itself, did not seem to agree upon.
A section of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka led by its General Secretary D.E.W. Gunasekara had already expressed reservations about some of the slogans, which they had described as racist and decided against the participation in the march.
The Communist Party leader was specifically critical of the slogan “Defeat the Constitutional death trap” put forward by the National Freedom Front (NFF) of former Minister Wimal Weerawansa, on the grounds that no new Constitution had been drafted yet to protest against and the slogan might give a wrong message to the Tamil people.
Pulling crowds for such a walk cannot be difficult given the popularity of the former President among the grass roots level members and supporters of the SLFP and the miniature parties in the group. However, their attempt to get political mileage from the court order that prevented the march from entering Kandy and Mawanella towns, claiming that the government had been shaken by the move for the march, seemed to have flopped with a similar court order preventing the ruling United National Party (UNP) as well from carrying out its membership drive in the Kandy town before 2.00 p.m. yesterday.
Citing the second order even the former President had praised the freedom of the Judiciary.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is well known for his campaigns and agitations against the incumbent governments. During the UNP regime between 1977 and 1994, when the Opposition had been reduced to mere eight members in Parliament and thugs were set upon almost all dissenting groups, the agitations, such as the famous “Paada Yathra” from Colombo to Kataragama and “Jana Ghosha” (Making various noises collectively at a particular time all over the country) organized by Rajapaksa in 1992, were able to keep the Opposition alive.
Those campaigns were one of many factors that brought down the UNP rule ultimately in 1994.
However, there is a major difference between that Paada Yathra and this Paada Yathra. It was a time when the UNP regime had lost popularity mainly because of its brutal crackdown on the JVP’s second insurrection during which it was claimed that more than 60,000 people were killed by the armed forces as well as the vigilante groups. On the other hand, the previous SLFP led United Front rule during which a famine had engulfed the country due to the closed economic policy pursued by the government had been totally forgotten by the people.
But this time, the Yahapalanaya government as it is commonly known, is not so unpopular among the masses, despite allegations of corruption involving issues such as the Central Bank bond transaction, threats to media and nepotism being levelled against the bigwigs of the government.
At the same time, to the detriment of the Mahinda group, the highhanded rule, nepotism, corruption, crackdown on the media and mind boggling wastage, such as the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota harbour by the former regime are still fresh in the minds of the people.
Hence, whatever the allegations they level against the current regime, are bound to boomerang on them.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who used to launch guerilla attacks against the Mahinda group at critical points, has this time too pre-empted the possible morale boost that might be gained by the group through the march.
He had further dashed hopes of the supporters of the group to come to power in the near future by extending the SLFP’s coalition pact with the UNP, from two years to five years.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution has prevented the President from dissolving Parliament before four and a half years from the last General Elections, unless Parliament decided to request the President to do so, which is impossible, under the present power sharing set up among the parties in the parliament. Even if public agitations compel the UNP led government to resign in the meantime, Rajapaksa group has no required number in the House to form a government, unless the former President “purchases” MPs from the UNP, as he did several times during his tenure, apart from the Maithri group of the SLFP rejoining him.
That would be a remote upshot of the Paada Yathra, apart from the temporary morale boost among the disgruntled supporters of the former President.