Campaign in full swing for January 8th election
"It looks all the more vital for both the main candidates to bank their fortunes on the vote bases in the rural areas, as the village people constitute the bulk of nearly 15 million voters"
"It means that the votes from the minority communities can be the deciding factor if the majority Sinhalese vote base is divided down the middle in the south, as happened at the presidential election in 2005"
" It was rumoured that UNP strongman Harin Fernando was contemplating to switch allegiance to the government. Once such rumours spread throughout his electorate in Badulla, people laid siege to his residence and asked whether there was any element of truth in this respect. Mr. Fernando vehemently denied it, and, instead, accused his erstwhile colleague Chaminda Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi of setting off such speculation for political ends.
his residence and asked whether there was any element of truth in this respect. Mr. Fernando vehemently denied it, and, instead, accused his erstwhile colleague Chaminda Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi of setting off such speculation for political ends."
With the political situation hotting up each day at national level, the grassroots level campaign of common opposition candidate Maitripala Sirisena remains somewhat lackadaisical. Therefore, the campaign managers of the opposition decided to swing into action this week itself in the hope of reviving the propaganda engine with two weeks to spare for the January 8th election.
One million rupees was released to each organizer of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) early this week to cover up expenses related to the political propaganda work of the common candidate. It is learnt from the UNP sources that the campaign was set to be in full swing in rural areas during the last couple of weeks.
It looks all the more vital for both the main candidates to bank their fortunes on the vote bases in the rural areas, as the village people constitute the bulk of nearly 15 million voters.
Already, the minority communities have clearly indicated their political leaning towards the opposition. The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) suffered a setback last Monday, when its ally All Ceylon Makkal(People’s) Congress switched allegiance to the opposition candidate.
In what appeared to be a mass defection, party leader former Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, along with his MP Ameer Ali, defected from the government and arrived in the opposition leader’s office for a press conference. Mr. Bathiudeen politically holds sway in the Muslim pockets of the Northern Province, such as Mannar. Therefore, his defection can impact the UPFA in wooing the support of the northern Muslims.
But, there was rebellion within Mr. Bathiudeen’s party about his decision to break ranks with the ruling side. The Party’s National Organizer M.L.A.M.Hizbullah, backed by two provincial council members and 11 local authorities’ members, decided to continue to stay with the government and to support the candidacy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mr. Hizbullah is a politician with a personal vote bank in Kattankudi, the main Muslim pocket in the Batticaloa district. In fact, he was the only politician elected on the UPFA ticket at the 2010 parliamentary election. With his personal political clout, he may be able to ensure a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes to the UPFA candidate despite his party taking a decision otherwise.
Besides, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the key Muslim party, remained under intense pressure from its rank and file as of now to quit the government.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which controls the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) has not taken up its official stand yet. But, there are indications that it would campaign for the opposition candidate at the end. Already, the TNA, an amalgam of four Tamil parties, has asked its members to make house to house visits, and ask voters to exercise their franchise at this election rather than staying away from it. Later, they will be asked as to whom to vote this time.
When analyzing the current political trend in the light of these developments in the minority communities, it is apparent that the Tamil and Muslim votes are tilting, in large numbers, towards the opposition.
It means that the votes from the minority communities can be the deciding factor if the majority Sinhalese vote base is divided down the middle in the south, as happened at the presidential election in 2005. At that time, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) engineered a boycott of the election by Tamil people in the North and the East, and it affected the final results. If not for such a boycott, the end result would have been different. The LTTE is no longer a factor this time, and the mass scale boycott of the election is not a reality at this election as a result.
Against this backdrop, the division of the majority Sinhalese vote base down the middle will be detrimental to the final election outcome.
However, the UPFA leaders, rigorously engaged in campaign work, sound confident that their candidate could secure a mandate from the south, sizeable enough to offset any setback from the North and the East.
Come what may, the two sides have to work hard in the southern electorate this time. For the UPFA candidate it is important to win by a large majority in the south, and for the opposition, it is a game to reduce the victory margin at least to a thin line. It is clear that both sides, in their manifestoes, have outlined specific policies, with an eye on the majority Sinhalese votes.
Politicians now a tradable commodity
The tradability of parliamentary seats is higher than ever this time. Not even a single day passes these days without a crossover of a politician representing any layer of governance at the moment. Politicians are lured through the offer of cash inducements which, according to unconfirmed sources, run into millions of rupees. Switching sides is a lucrative business for politicians to make quick money without any hard work involved.
Alongside, speculation has been set off about plans by some leading politicians from both sides to change their political course in the run up to the presidential election. It was rumoured that UNP strongman Harin Fernando was contemplating to switch allegiance to the government. Once such rumours spread throughout his electorate in Badulla, people laid siege to his residence and asked whether there was any element of truth in this respect. Mr. Fernando vehemently denied it, and, instead, accused his erstwhile colleague Chaminda Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi of setting off such speculation for political ends.
Mr. Fernando even called for a press conference to convey his message that he would never ever join hands with the government.
“I instilled fresh hopes to the UNP by contesting the Uva Provincial Council. I resigned from Parliament to do this. I increased the vote base of the party. I hold a key position now at the age of 35. Therefore, I never will intend to leave the party,” he said. However, he added that he had been invited to join the government during this election, and he was offered a sum of money so large that voters would be stunned to know the amount if revealed.
That is how politicians have become so tradable under the present electoral system. Earlier, former Minister Navin Dissanayake also disclosed that he was offered Rs.100 million to stay with the government.
Rajitha spills the beans
Former Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne revealed how closed door political negotiations were conducted with the UNP leadership on the fielding of former Health Minister Maitripala Sirisena as the common candidate.
Dr. Senaratne said he initiated the dialogue with UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on behalf of Mr. Sirisena first.
“I, along with my friend met with Mr. Wickremesinghe and his close confidante at night without any security officers around us. We did it in the thick of the night in the upper floor of the residence of one of our friends running a company,” he said.
He said he, along with Mr. Sirisena, left the government on November 21, and until then, Mr. Sirisena had never met Mr. Wickremesinghe in this regard.
Rajith’s wife breaks down in tears
Dr.Senaratne said he even kept his political move a secret from his wife Dr.Sujatha Senaratne. “I intimated it to her only at the last minute. Then, she started crying. She asked why I concealed my political plans from her. But, I consoled her with some flattery words,” he said.
Maitri’s remarks create rumblings within UPFA
Common opposition candidate Maitripala Sirisena, at an election rally, remarked certain ministers, supportive of him, remained with the government without crossing over for clandestine political operations in favour of the opposition.
According to a minister who spoke on condition of anonymity, the government members have started suspecting each other after such remarks. In fact, some government members have tried to undercut their colleagues over petty issue by relaying cooked up stories to the top brass, about their alleged links with the opposition. It is learnt that even the top brass is confused to take such stories seriously as there can be plans for undercutting each other on personal jealousies within the government.
Manifesto launching day altered twice
Initially, the government planned to launch its manifesto on December 23. But, it wanted to postpone it till December 26 for the alteration of the initial draft after seeing the opposition candidate’s manifesto. Yet, it later realized that the tenth anniversary of tsunami fell on December 26, and it was inauspicious for a manifesto on such a day. So, the government advanced it to December 23 finally, and launched the manifesto titled ‘Mahinda Chintana Lowa Dinana Maga’.
MEP disassociated itself with former General Secretary
Almost all the alliance parties of the government were split over their stand on the presidential election. However, MEP remains firm without any such split. In the meantime, the party was taken by storm when its former General Secretary Piyasena Dissanayake had a press conference along with a group identified as the MEP alternative group pledging support to the opposition. However, MEP says Mr. Dissanayake was expelled from the party a long time back. In fact, he serves as the General Secretary of yet another political party .