The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Maithripala Sirisena is the third major political party that has communicated to the National Elections Commission (NEC) that it would field its candidate at the forthcoming presidential poll.
Have the leaders of the SLFP taken this decision with confidence that their candidate would win the election?
In light of the changes that have taken place in the political arena since 2015, when President Sirisena assumed office and also changes in the voting pattern of the people, which had been evident at last year’s local government elections, nobody would foresee a victory for the SLFP at a national level election in the near future.
This cannot be difficult for leaders of the SLFP to comprehend. President Sirisena, the SLFP Chairman, is not so naïve to fail to realise this situation. Yet, the party has decided to contest.
Three political parties and a coalition of parties have already announced their candidates for the presidential election that would probably be held in mid or end November.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) headed by opposition leader and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has chosen former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the fray while a new coalition – the National People’s Power (NPP) led by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – would field JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake as its candidate.
Two small Leftist parties – the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) – have also announced Duminda Nagamuwa and Siritunga Jayasuriya as their candidates respectively.
"Major portions of constituency likely to be divided among three main contenders while there is a possibility of JVP bagging a considerable number of votes this time"
The ruling United National Party (UNP) is in a tight corner in deciding its candidate due to a tussle between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the party leader and its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa over the issue.
Mr. Premadasa has already announced his candidature without the consent of the party leader or the decision-making body of the party, the Working Committee. On the other hand, Mr. Wickremesinghe is said to be firm in his position that Premadasa would not contest on behalf of the UNP.
The ‘Grand Old Party’ seems to be heading towards a split.
On a request by NEC, some 20 parties and groups are said to have conveyed to it their intention to contest.
Nonetheless, major portions of the constituency are likely to be divided only among three main contenders – SLPP, UNP and SLFP – while there is a possibility of the JVP mustering a considerable number of votes this time.
Yet, the possibility of the SLFP winning the presidential race is very remote. The SLFP and the UPFA under President Sirisena were able to garner only 1.5 million out of more than 10 million valid votes at the local government elections held in February last year, while the SLPP’s share was around 5 million votes. No development that could have turned the trend occurred since.
It is against this backdrop that the SLFP is going to spend millions of rupees on the presidential election. This is nothing but an attempt by the party to ensure mere political survival, especially that of President Sirisena.
On the other hand, this is a warning to the SLPP which is signalling the SLFP that it would go solo in the race thus letting the SLFP down. The message is clear – if you let us down, we too would reciprocate accordingly.
Although the SLPP swept the electorate at LG polls obtaining 4.9 million votes, any party will have to bag 6.5 million votes to win the forthcoming presidential election, according to the Constitution.
"The risk in depending on second and third preferences is that the candidate who had come second might ultimately get more votes than the one who had originally come first and could be declared the winner"
The calculation has been made on the basis that with the natural increase of voters, the valid votes at the presidential election would be around 13 million and it is stipulated that a candidate should obtain 50 per cent of it to win, at the first count, according to the Presidential Election Act.
However, this is in a way not a mandatory requirement, because, in case no candidate manages to get 50 per cent of valid votes, second and third preferences marked on ballot papers cast in favour of the candidates who had come third and below will be shared between the candidates who had come first and second, before deciding the final result.
If the winner is decided after counting second and third preferences, obtaining 50 per cent votes is not mandatory for a candidate to be declared elected as President.
Yet, the risk in depending on second and third preferences is that the candidate who had come second might ultimately get more votes than the one who had originally come first and could be declared the winner.
The SLFP seems to be attempting to use this fear in SLPP leaders to bargain at discussions between the two parties to form an
"Whatever the motive of the SLFP and the President is, this is a survival game, totally ignoring the interests of the people"
That could be one reason behind the SLFP’s intimation to the Elections Commission that it would field its candidate.
If the SLFP were serious in contesting, who would be its candidate? Soon after the collapse of last year’s October Counter-Revolution by President Sirisena where he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the party had decided that the President would be its candidate at the next presidential election. However, SLFP leaders are aware that the party cannot win, irrespective of who the candidate would be.
Two reasons could be inferred to the SLFP’s decision to enter the presidential fray. They are attempting, as stated above, to pressurise the SLPP to win over certain concessions such as a respected place for President Sirisena under a future SLPP administration after the end of his tenure and assurances of appropriate places to other leaders of the SLFP as well under such administration.
On the other hand, they could also be inferred to be attempting to ensure the victory of Sajith Premadasa with whom the President seems to be in some understanding lately.
Last week, Mr. Premadasa said he was offered the Prime Ministerial post ten times before Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed premiership on October 26 last year and 61 times after the end of the 51-day government headed by Rajapaksa.
The President never denied his claim. That points to the degree of understanding between the two. In fact, given the SLPP’s current shabby treatment of the SLFP, President Sirisena must be expecting a more respected place and stronger assurance on his security under a Sajith Administration than what he could expect under an SLPP regime.
Whatever the motive of the SLFP and the President is, this is a survival game, totally ignoring the interests of the people.