The Presidential Election has to be declared only in October, this year, but the main parties have already swung into action to prepare for it. Interestingly, President Maithripala Sirisena enhanced his efforts to secure the consent of the SLPP/UPFA alliance to be its presidential candidate.
UPFA MP Duminda Dissanayake, who is also the national organizer of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), moved a resolution on February 1 at the Anuradhapura district electoral organization’s meeting calling for the nomination of President Sirisena as the candidate. The resolution was adopted. That sole intention of the UPFA which is virtually the SLFP-led political front prefers the President to be the candidate is now obvious. But, the move did not appear to be rosy.
The President’s increased lobbying for candidature evoked a political uproar within the SLPP which operates under the de facto leadership of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. After Mr. Dissanayake’s resolution was adopted in Anuradhapura, the SLPP MPs bombarded former Minister Basil Rajapaksa who formed their party with a torrent of telephone calls, and said they were not ready at all to work for President Sirisena as the presidential candidate.
All in all, confusion and contradiction lie within the SLPP/UPFA political combine at the moment since President Sirisena is exerting himself in full measure seeking nomination for the next time. Come what may, it is highly unlikely that the President will secure nomination because the SLPP, as the more decisive political force of this combine, is averse to it.
The President’s increased lobbying for candidature evoked a political uproar within the SLPP which operates under the de facto leadership of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa
President Sirisena’s political party was relegated to a distant third position at the local authorities’ election that was conducted on February 10, last year. But, the SLPP won that election. Therefore, according to political sources, its members are not ready at all to compromise its lotus symbol and political interests to accommodate the SLFP on board in a broad electoral alliance.
As long as the SLPP does not cooperate, it is hardly possible for the President to become the candidate. By last week, the President had not relented in his pursuit of candidature. He was trying various measures that would build pressure on the SLPP/UPFA combine to handpick him.
Many wondered why he showered praise on Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa.
On several occasions in the recent past, he hailed Mr. Premadasa as a genuine character committed to work for the people day and night. Mr. Premadasa is one among those seen as possible candidates for the next election representing the political force led by the United National Party (UNP).
Acrimony between the President and the UNP is growing by the day. As such, the President’s open glorification of Mr. Premadasa surprised many in political circles. The plausible conclusion was that President Sirisena, by doing so, intended to send a warning signal to the SLPP. He tried to imply that he would tie up with Mr. Premadasa if the SLPP did not agree to nominate him as the presidential candidate. Then, it appeared to be a strategic move by the President to bring pressure for the SLPP to consider him for the presidential election.
On this issue, the President will be left with no option other than to accede to what the SLPP wants finally. It is impossible for him to support Mr. Premadasa as the UNP candidate. Alongside, it is not yet certain whether Mr. Premadasa will be the chosen candidate of the UNP. Also, it is unrealistic to expect Mr. Premadasa to support President Sirisena to become the candidate. It will spell political doom for Mr. Premadasa to support President Sirisena as the latter is unpopular among the rank and file of the UNP after he brought about a regime change on October 26, 2018.
Eventually, the President will be forced to fall in line with the SLPP which is now working on the nomination of its own candidate for the presidential elections.
UNP hell-bent on forming national government
The UNP has also initiated preparatory work in view of the presidential elections. Primarily, there are three figures- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mr. Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya- being floated as the prospective candidates. Mr. Jayasuriya is the latest addition to the list of possible candidates.
Before the presidential elections, the UNP is keener to ensure the government’s stability other than anything else. Currently, the UNP is leading a minority government. It runs short of even a simple majority in the House, and therefore the enactment of legislations depends on how much cooperation it commands from the parties in the opposition as and when it requires. Besides, the party finds it difficult to keep its fold together because some MPs relentlessly ask for Cabinet ministerial posts.
The formation of a national government is the only option available for the UNP to strengthen the government while pacifying the MPs with unrest. In the event of a national government, the Cabinet size can be increased to 48, and the number of deputy, state and non-Cabinet ministers to 45.
Around ten MPs of the UPFA including the likes of Duminda Dissanayake are ready to take up posts in the government lest the President permits them to do so. The UNP can muster the simple majority for stable governance by accommodating them with ministerial posts in the increased Cabinet of the national government. Also, the UNP can offer such posts to its disillusioned members.
President Sirisena’s political party was relegated to a distant third position at the local authorities’ election that was conducted on February 10, last year
The formation of a national government is not a popular move at this hour. However, the UNP is left with no choice but to work for a national government to ensure stable governance. To make matters worse for the UNP, the President, as spelled out in his National Independence Day speech, was not in favour of a national government this hour.
The President also has his own reasons to oppose the national government. In the event of such a government, some of his MPs will defy him and throw their support behind the UNP. Then, it will weaken the position of President Sirisena. It is politically disadvantageous for the President to allow for a national government to be formed. If the UNP is unable to form a national government, it will have a hard time in Parliament.
The President does not like the UNP having a clear-cut majority in Parliament. If the UNP has a majority, it can always initiate action, even for the impeachment of the President.
Soon after President Sirisena made his speech on the Independence Day criticizing the move to constitute the national government, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa rushed to him and remarked, “Today, you slandered everyone in all directions.” The President responded with a laugh.
MR, CBK have a few wordsafter years
For the first time after so many years, Mr. Rajapaksa happened to talk to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Both fell out with each other in 2005. They have been arch rivals since then. Ms. Kumaratunga even played a pivotal role in unseating Mr. Rajapaksa from presidency at the 2015 elections.
The two were invited to light the coconut oil lamp at the cultural event featuring legendary Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan along with sons Aman Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash at the BMICH on January 25 to mark the 70th Independence Day of India.
After lighting the lamp, Mr. Rajapaksa asked, “How are you madam?”
As long as the SLPP does not cooperate, it is hardly possible for the President to become the candidate
Ms. Kumaratunga responded to him accordingly and congratulated him. Then again, she remarked, “Actually, I should have congratulated your son who got married. It is not you who got married.”