From early this year, the diverse political factions which formed the governing and opposition political parties in parliament have been girding themselves to face the impending presidential polls.
The governing United National Party-led government, was in cricketing parlance, batting on a sticky wicket.
Having been elected to power in 2015, on the promise of good governance, a corruption-free administration, and lowering the cost of living, its promise of ridding the country of corruption lay in tatters when it was revealed that senior Cabinet Ministers were embroiled in a massive bond scam racket soon after coming into power.
The cost of living which was brought down in the immediate aftermath of the election victory, had climbed to astronomical heights by end 2018. Whereas a family needed over Rs.18,000 to have two basic meals a day, the basic wage of a worker stands at Rs.12,500 a month. Coupled with this is the fact that over 20% of the country’s families are dependent on ‘Samurdhi’ benefits given to families receiving an income below Rs.750 a month, while estate workers are paid Rs.750 a day.
Politically-motivated student demonstrations closed universities and brought students to the streets causing massive traffic disruptions. Agitation led by medical doctors who held patients hostage to their demands brought the health sector to its knees and the government into contempt for its inability to
Relations between the leaders of the legislative and executive arms of the government -- the PM and president -- deteriorated so far, that at the local government elections in February 2018, the coalition partners, who were victorious at the 2015 presidential election, turned on each other and contested separately.
The people’s disgust with corruption and feuding ruling parties was clearly displayed in the drubbing these parties received at the local government elections at the hands of a new political formation -- the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna or SLPP -- led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLPP defeated the United National Party and its partners in Govt. winning 231 local authorities to the UNP’s 34 and SLFP’s 9!
The disastrous electoral defeat,did not lead to government leadership into reviewing its three-year performance or take remedial action. It led to a leadership struggle within the UNP and a fallout between the main constituent parties in government -- the UNP and the president’s SLFP. This in turn led to an alignment between the SLFP and the SLPP.
The unexpected and deadly Easter Sunday bombings, which killed over 250 innocent civilians showed up a lax security situation. The admission by a minister of state that he had prior knowledge of the danger but did not warn the public killed support for the regime. In October 2018 in the light of growing corruption scandals, lax security and a plethora of other faults, the president fired his PM and appointed SLPP leader Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.
A Supreme Court ruling and the sacked PM’s ability to show a majority in parliament, led to the president having to rescind his decision and re-appoint the sacked prime minister to the post. This constant in-fighting in government brought governance to a near standstill. Meanwhile, infighting within the UNP for nomination as presidential candidate further divided and weakened that party. Among the public many wondered why UNP presidential aspirant Premadasa, was vying for nomination at a time the party was extremely weak and unpopular, especially among the majority community who make up around 70% of the population and was dependent on the votes of
The question that begs an answer is why Premadasa was in such a hurry to be nominated at a time it was becoming clear, the UNP was on the brink of defeat. After all candidate Premadasa is still comparatively young and could afford to wait another four years. Again, why, did a particular minister ‘backing Premadasa’ rouse the ire of the powerful Buddhist clergy against young Premadasa’s candidacy by hurling unnecessary and uncalled for insults against them on the eve of an election?
What made another minister who had backed the UNP leader faithfully for decades suddenly switch alliance and back young Premadasa at such a ‘critical juncture’, as TNA leader Sampanthan is wont to say and what made the TNA force young Premadasa to accept their (TNA) demands in toto, knowing fully well it would alienate large sections of the majority, and raise suspicions of a secret deal with the Tamil political parties?
The grouping made the demand, despite warnings from within the TNA that the strategy could backfire against their candidate ‘of choice’. Or was it a plan to break up the Grand Old Party... there is already talk of the Premadasa faction breaking away to form a new party if Premadasa is not given the post of Opposition Leader in the new Parliament.