“Human brain is built to compare; it’s Darwinian to consider an alternative when one presents itself.”
- Helen Fisher
There is a lot of controversy about the so-called common candidate to contest the forthcoming Presidential Elections against the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa. The unsaid theory is that Ranil Wickremesinghe, by virtue of being the Leader of the United National Party (UNP), is the automatic choice. Ranil Wickremesinghe does not seem to have any friends or acquaintances in a traditional sense. He has either loyalists or enemies. No moderate person who thinks rationally and calmly seems to like him. Such moderates basically want a winner; they want a trustworthy leader; a leader who shows poise and political acumen of the highest calibre to lead them away from the approaching abyss. And Ranil has not helped himself either. Each time when things seem to go right, he makes the most ill-advised public utterances or the most ill-timed trips abroad.
Whatever Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pluses or minuses are, what people doubt most about is his political stances that he has adopted over the last twenty years as the leader of the United National Party (UNP). Presidential Elections are essentially fought on two basic premises: 1. Personality of the candidate 2. The programme of work that he or she intends to implement once elected to power.
In a real sense, the forthcoming Presidential Elections will be more of a referendum on the incumbent rather than an election of an alternative candidate. After completing two terms (technically Mahinda Rajapaksa has not completed two full terms although the Constitution provides for Presidential Elections ahead of time but within the constraints prescribed in the Constitution), Mahinda Rajapaksa simply cannot disregard the reality of ‘incumbency fatigue’ that sets in after being in power for so long a time. That very ‘incumbency fatigue’ causes the election to be a referendum on the incumbent and if the Opposition is crafty enough- although Ranil Wickremesinghe, more often than not, has shown that he is not- all the negatives could be played out in the open, making the Rajapaksas defensive from the outset of the campaign. Instead of allowing the Rajapaksas to define themselves and their policies, the initiative must be wrested away and the opposition must engage in defining the rival’s agenda and personality. Such a sophisticated and strategic move may not be forthcoming from Wickremesinghe and Company as they have shown time and time again that they are either unwilling or disabled to engineer such an urbane campaign. When leaders cling on to parochial thinking and un-nuanced parodies, it is not only their party supporters who suffer, the country at large too needs to endure the hardships and cumbersome governance of the present rulers.
The most unfortunate dynamic would be if the forthcoming Presidential Elections, instead becoming a referendum on the incumbent President, turns into one on Ranil Wickremesinghe, if Ranil is the candidate. That’s something that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP hierarchy should realise before it’s too late. In a clash of Mahinda vs Ranil, Mahinda will run away with the elections, whether Sajith Premadasa supports Ranil or not.
The only scenario in which Ranil would stand even a fighting chance is him becoming a ‘common candidate’ instead of being the UNP-candidate, with all other opposition parties supporting his candidature on a common issue, perhaps with a positive nod from the Jathika Hela Urumaya which seems to be at loggerheads with their coalition leader.
In other words, in the absence of these factors, i.e. common platform and JHU support, there is no chance that Ranil Wickremesinghe as a UNP candidate would be elected. Contesting as the UNP-candidate is a recipe for certain defeat. And if anyone says Ranil should do so, he or she would be obviously advancing some other agenda.In such a negative scenario, why is Ranil Wickremesinghe insisting that he be the candidate? One could give multiple reasons and explanations, yet when one studies the character and political behaviour of Ranil over the last couple of decades, one cannot help but come to some very unpleasant conclusions. The lack of serious-thinking leaders in the United National Party cannot be overlooked.
This writer does not believe that leaders are ‘born’. If history is any yardstick, it has shown us time after time that most of the great leaders were made by circumstances, upbringing, learning and application of skills, indefatigable ambition to excel at issues. Since the demise of the Gamini/Lalith/Premadasa trio, the UNP has not been blessed with any leaders who could boast of possessing the sum total of the aforementioned traits.
But political realities continue to throw challenge after challenge. One simply cannot wait for the right leader to emerge. Political parties need to make timely adjustments to their strategies; their tactical behaviour has to be tuned to the newly-emerging modern trends; they need to be adept at embracing the Facebook popularity and smartphone gadgetry.
It is in this scramble of chaos that the Opposition is trying to find the most suitable alternative candidate to contest Mahinda Rajapaksa. If not Ranil who? Let’s compare and contrast the alternatives.
Please peruse the following table of comparisons:
All candidates are scored out of ten per each element/category, making 50 the maximum possible score. (Please refer to the chart ‘Candidate assessment’)
1. Trustworthiness: Trustworthiness on abolition of the Executive Presidency
2. Personality: Poise, oratory skill, personal habits, likeability etc.
3. To what extent the minorities would back the candidacy. This is not a % of votes and should not be mistaken for the potential % of the minority votes expected to be received. It is essentially how many marks out of 100 each candidate would secure in that specific category
4. To what extent the majority of Sinhalese Buddhists would back the candidacy. Here again, this is not a % of votes and should not be mistaken for the potential % of the Sinhalese Buddhist votes expected to be received. It is essentially how many marks out of 100 each candidate would secure in that specific category.
5. To what extent the bulk of the UNP would go to back the candidacy. This however, would depend on to which extent Ranil Wickremesinghe decides to back the candidate his own Party has agreed to back.
*Minority Backing – Non-Sinhalese (Tamils and Muslims) votes
It is assumed that all categories have an equal share of significance. That is why the sum total is paramount.
Karu Jayasuriya is the best among less-than-perfect/ideal candidates. But the winner at the end of it, whoever wins the Presidential mantle, is Sajith Premadasa, for he has the advantage of years- he is young and consequently can afford to wait, if one chooses to think in parochial terms. However, it must also be mentioned that in the event of a UNP loss with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the candidate, there might not be a UNP left worthy of leading.
Whoever the candidate is, he or she is not going to contest in a political vacuum. The field is muddy, unstable and battle-weary. The opponent, Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the most astute politicians (not statesmen) this country has produced. His campaign funds are going to be enormous and for every Rs. 10,000/- the Opposition spends, Mahinda is equipped and ready to spend Rs. 1,000,000/- in a ratio of 1 : 100. It may appear impossible at the beginning, but given that the right candidate is chosen and a campaign of vigour and urgency is run with almost flawless precision, it is doable- Mahinda Rajapaksa can be dislodged.
While dictators like Gadhafi of Libya and Mubarak of Egypt were removed by popular uprisings, Marcos of the Philippines was removed by the ballot. If all elements that are essential for the ultimate result to be attained are present, the execution is what really matters. But that is precise execution where the United National Party and its current leadership have failed multiple times.
The more delayed the process of a resolution on the common platform and common candidate gets, the less and less chances the Opposition will have at a crack at the polls. For the last twenty years, the United National Party and the rest of the Opposition have been playing a defensive game. The writer’s candid advice, if they take it seriously at all, to the Opposition is two-fold.
1.Don’t allow the Government/UPFA to make this Presidential Elections a referendum on the Opposition. Make it a referendum on the Rajapaksas and the Government.
2.Don’t do a half-hearted job of it. Go all out and even in the event of a loss, show the country that you fought a good fight and that you had something called a spine
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org