Only two political parties in the country seem to be certain as to what they are going to do in respect of the forthcoming Presidential Election and as to what the outcome of the election would be. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Opposition Leader and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already announced former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its Presidential candidate and his party is certain that they have the highest winning chance.
Also, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has announced its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake as its choice for the Presidency while knowing very well that he would not win the election. However, the Marxist party that has twice rebelled against the current political system aims at a leap forward this time in terms of votes it would gain at the election as well as the impact it can make on the electorate. They seem to hope that their performance would be a springboard for the victory at the next election.
Those who vote for the JVP which had formed a coalition called Nation People’s Power (NPP) with some civil society organisations too do not expect Anura Kumara Dissanayake to be the next President of the country. Theirs is in a way a policy-driven vote, as the JVP is the strongest voice in the country against corruption, mismanagement and despotism.
Yet, those voters do not seem to be concerned about how the JVP is going to solve hundreds of economic and social issues in the country if the party captured power someday. Nevertheless, it is the only party which has a vote base that is not running behind winners.
Other parties are in disarray. The ruling United National Party (UNP) is in a bitter leadership tussle which has resulted in the party’s inability to decide on its candidate for the upcoming Presidential Election which is only about two and a half months away.
And the possibility of the party bifurcating right in the middle due to this power struggle cannot be ruled out, given the adamancy of the two factions led by the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena is almost breathing its last. It is only through a miracle that it would be resuscitated, going by the present happenings around the party. Its expectations to field a Presidential candidate, specifically, the incumbent President himself has vanished into the thin air, with the announcement of the SLPP candidate. The discussions between the SLFP and the SLPP which is said to be aimed at a coalition between the two are now only a face-saving exercise, before the former agreeing to the terms dictated by the latter.
Minority parties are also in a pathetic situation. Their vote base has tied them to the UNP not because the latter has done any exceptional service to the Tamils and Muslims in the country but mainly owing to the mishandling of minority issues by the leaders of the former regime who are currently at the helm of the SLPP.
Nonetheless, the credit must go to the UNP leadership for not rousing racism directly or indirectly against the minorities since 2000 which on the other hand has earned them the ill repute of not being patriotic.
Yet, the UNP’s winning chances being minimal after the last year’s local government elections. The situation has been aggravated by the row within the UNP over the Presidential candidacy. The leaders of Muslim parties- who have always had a temptation to be in the government irrespective of the party that holds the power -might be willing to join the SLPP. However, they know that it might be disastrous for them at the next Parliamentary election, given the Muslims’ antipathy towards the leaders of the SLPP.
It has to be noted that despite Muslims having voted almost en-masse against Mahinda Rajapaksa and his loyalists at the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2015, there seemed a change in their approach towards the former President and his group after the SLPP swept the electorate at the last year’s local government elections.
However, the trend was reversed again, as the politicians and media aligned to the SLPP were in the forefront in demonizing Muslims and their faith, Islam, in the aftermath of the April 21 attacks on Christians by a group of Muslim terrorists.
- "SLPP is certain that they have the highest winning chance
- JVP does not expect Anura Kumara Dissanayake to be the next President
- Small Tamil parties… seem to be gradually dissociating themselves from secessionist politics"
Similarly, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is at a loss in the light of UNP’s poor winning chances and the majority of Tamils’ aversion towards Rajapaksas. Besides, with the two main Tamil groups, TNA led by R. Sampanthan and the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) formed by former Chief Minister of Northern Province C.V.Wigneswaran vying to capitalize the anti-Rajapaksa mindset among the majority of Tamil people, the former has no other option other than supporting the UNP.
However, several small Tamil groups have opted to swim against the tide. Accordingly the former President met on August 5 the leaders of those groups, prominent among whom was Varatharaja Perumal, the first and the only Chief Minister of the once merged Northern and Eastern Provincial council. Perumal is well known in the South as he in March 1990 had conditionally declared that his council would serve as the Constitutional Assembly for the Tamil Eelam that would be declared in March 1991.
Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) leader Douglas Devananda who sided with Rajapaksas during the 51 Day Government last year, Democratic People’s Congress leader Prabha Ganesan, leader of the Pathmanabha Faction of the EPRLF, Sritharan, People’s Progressive Organisation leader Arun Thambimuttu and Sri-TELO leader Uthayarasa were the others attended the meeting along with leaders of several Leftist parties.
During the meeting which was not covered by Sinhala and English media except for one English newspaper, Rajapaksa had reportedly pledged to give police powers to the northern and Eastern Provincial Councils and to implement 13+, his old prescription for the resolution of the National Question. He has said that he could not implement them as his tenure ended abruptly, which was not the case.
Perumal and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman, the former special commander of the LTTE in Ampara and Batticaloa Districts were seen at the meeting where Gotabaya Rajapaksa was anointed as the Presidential candidate of the SLPP.
Later Perumal had told the Tamil media at his office in Jaffna on August 19 that Tamils must forgive and forget the war crimes allegations against the former Defence Secretary, as the LTTE had also committed war crimes. He had attributed his support to the SLPP to his view that President of the country should not be elected only by the Sinhalese.
Meanwhile, Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) leader Professor Tissa Vitharana was quoted by Tamil media as saying that he had been assigned by the former President to coordinate with the Tamil parties ahead of the Presidential Election and he accordingly met Wigneswaran in Jaffna recently.
Pledging on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Professor Vitharana had also stated that the recommendations of the APRC report which was handed over to President Rajapaksa by him in 2010 would be implemented.
He too attributed the inability of the Rajapaksa government to implement the recommendations to the regime change, which too was not the case.
In another interesting turn of events, Ananthi Sasitharan, the vociferous former member of the Northern Provincial Council has agreed to join hands with the SLFP headed by President Maithripala Sirisena. Eelath Thamil Suyatchik Kazhaham (Eelam Tamils’ Autonomy Organisation), led by Sasitharan, the wife of former Trincomalee District political wing leader of the LTTE ‘Major’ Elilan, agreed in Jaffna on August 22 to work with Up-Country Peoples Progressive Organisation which is already in coalition with the Tamil wing of the SLFP, the Sri Lanka Freedom Tamil Union.
Despite all these efforts by these small Tamil parties being desperate efforts to politically survive, the commendable side of their seeming mind change is that they seem to be gradually dissociating themselves from the secessionist politics.
Perumal during his interaction with the media had told in no uncertain terms that the notions on Tamil Nationalism and separate country were no longer valid.