It was long foretold, not in the stars but in the minds of all righteous and just citizens of this country that the 2015 Presidential Election would be a historic and decisive contest.
Presidential contests have traditionally been battles between the two main parties, each of which fields its own candidate in the race. After nine years of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule, it was incumbent that the battle lines were redefined in order to effectively challenge the current morass of political leadership in Sri Lanka. The election before us therefore is not merely about choosing the next president. There is a much greater choice that faces the voter in January 2015. This presidential race is a battle between democracy and autocracy: between corruption and good governance: between the rule of law and impunity. It will decide whether Sri Lankans will enjoy peace with dignity and equality or peace of the conquered and oppressed.
The regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decreed that this electoral battle will be fought between the forces that stand for democracy and freedom and those that seek to push Sri Lanka into the black hole of dictatorship and oppression. So vile, so destructive has been his nine year tenure in office.
Sri Lanka’s political opposition, led by the United National Party is seeking systemic change at this election. Nine years of the Rajapaksa family and its nepotism and corruption has taught us all deep lessons about the way this nation is governed. It has taught us that systems can ruin individuals and individuals can bring an entire country to the brink of ruination. The Opposition in this election will therefore, include all of the forces that stand against the Rajapaksa rule.
We count among our number worker unions and academics, civil society and journalists, political parties on the left, right and centre of the ideological divide. It also includes members of President Rajapaksa’s ruling party, members of his Cabinet that have watched his administration up close and realised that a third term of Rajapaksa governance will spell doom for the motherland. The common opposition led by the UNP and now joined by SLFP stalwarts realise that before we can operate once more as free and vibrant proponents of our political causes, we must ensure the existence of a democratic space. In nine years of Rajapaksa rule, this space has shrunk.
The recent blackmail threat by no less than this country’s head of state Mahinda Rajapaksa, indicates the darkness of his rule, his dismissive attitude towards corruption and his twisted notions of loyalty. Angered by news of his ministers’ defection, the President claimed he had “files” on all those who quit his government, but insisted he would not use them. The claim raises big questions. Why are these files being hidden from the public and law enforcement? How many more files does the President have on his own party members? Why do these files surface only when these members oppose his dictatorial rule? President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s claim about the ‘files’ prove that in his administration bribery and corruption is not only tolerated but it is also actively encouraged.
This regime has stolen elections, not by stuffing ballot boxes but by thwarting and abusing the electoral process. It has rendered the judiciary a powerless puppet, existing to serve only the ruling family and its whims. Dissent has been brutally crushed. Political parties have been decimated by the government’s twin tactics of intimidation and coercion.
Democracy first, with all its imperfections; then all else shall follow. This is why the UNP has made the momentous and historic decision to endorse the legitimate Secretary General of the SLFP as the common opposition candidate. It was an unprecedented move of solidarity with our historic political rival. It is also an indication of the dire situation our country is facing and the realisation, across the party that this is no time for partisan, expedient politics. Victory in this election will bring a divided, fractured and wounded country together again. The victory of the common opposition candidate and the abolition of the Executive Presidency will herald a return to vibrant and diverse political expression. The reaction of the public to the news of the common candidacy has proven beyond all doubt that the people have grown greatly weary of the Rajapaksa rule.
We urge all those who still keep faith with this corrupt, nepotistic regime. Hear the voices of the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim people who want to live in this country without violence. Hear the call of Buddhists, Christians and Hindus who wish not to be mired in religious tension and hatred. Listen to the corporate sector, public servants and those who are self employed who only wish for a small share of the economic prosperity enjoyed by the ruling cabal.
We call on all of you to hear the voices of our people. Do not let them down at this hour. History shall judge us on where we stand at this juncture.