LG elections with national importance Alliances without policy basis

2017-12-08 00:51:45

With the preparations by the political parties for the local government elections that are to be held in February being underway, a sense of insecurity can be seen in almost all parties, big or small, representing northern, southern, eastern or central parts of the country.   

It is only the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that seems to be firm in their stand that it would face the elections on their own. Many other parties are running helter-skelter seeking coalition partners to run just for the local councils, and not for the Parliament. 

When the local government elections were delayed by technical reasons and manipulations of the political parties, especially the ruling parties of the former and current governments, politicians of the opposition of the day were waxing eloquent on the importance of those bodies. But, in a way, the local government bodies are institutions that have the least impact on the lives of the people.   

People go to them only to pay the annual assessment tax and sometimes to pay the stamp duty if they had purchased a plot of land. It is a well known fact that even the very few tasks entrusted to the LG bodies-maintaining the rural road network, street lights and disposal of garbage - are not carried out with a sense of responsibility.  

However, the reason for the unprecedented concern over the forthcoming LG elections is a direct upshot of the sense of insecurity felt by the political parties this time, apart from the weight given to them by the same political parties,in the light of media hype created by the repeated postponement of elections which was sometimes seemed ridiculous.The weight the LG elections have gained is such that the leaders of many parties deem these elections as a moment that would decide their future and want to show the maximum strength of their respective parties.  

When the LG elections were delayed by technical reasons, politicians of the opposition of the day were waxing eloquent on the importance of those bodies

This is so with President Maithripala Sirisena, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is leading the election campaign of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). This is so with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem and with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan or many other party leaders.  

Usually the ruling parties of the day would capture power at the elections for the local councils - provincial councils and LG bodies. However, it is difficult to say that the same formula would work this time. And leader of almost all parties seem to think that the outcome of these elections would be a forerunner to that of the Parliamentary elections in 2020.  

The political balance of power in the country, in the North as well as South today is incomprehensible. Which party commands the confidence of majority of people is a matter that cannot be imagined. No political waves are seen. This situation seems to have instilled fear among leaders of many political parties.  

Usually the ruling parties of the day would capture power at the elections for the local councils - provincial councils and LG bodies

Therefore, the elections, though conducted at village level are a battle between Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa, between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, and between Sampanthan and Premachandran in the North. They are also a battle between Arumugan Thondaman and Palani Digambaram in the central hills and between Rauff  Hakeem and Rishad Bathiudeen in the East. The results of the elections would indicate the future fortunes of these leaders.  

The situation would have changed by 180 degrees had the talks between the factions of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Sirisena and former President Rajapaksa been successful. But the discussions had been doomed to fail from the inception as the effort was against the political reality. Though the intended patch up was overtly meant for the strengthening the hands of both leaders, both feared each other’s possibly strengthened hands.  

Of the three main contenders of the foray, SLFP led by President Sirisena is going to have the least number of coalition partners 

The UNP has garnered support of many minority parties with considerable vote base in their respective strongholds

In the North there is a difference in alignment this time after the EPRLF left the main Tamil coalition

Hence, the horse trading has started. All are running behind others in search of partners in the race. The SLPP claims that it has mustered the support of 20 parties. But the country knows that except for about ten parties in the country others do not have at least 20 permanent members. Among the parties in coalition with the SLPP, only Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front (NFF) which is currently amidst a leadership tussle, Pivthuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) led by Udaya Gammanpila, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) led by Dinesh Gunawardea, Tissa Vitharana’s Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s New left Front are the parties at least known to the country by name. But these are Rajapaksa’s old friends.  

The UNP has garnered support of many minor and minority parties with considerable vote base in their respective strongholds. Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) led by Minister Champika Ranawaka, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) led by Minister Mano Ganesanare are some of them. They also had been in the coalition led by the UNP at the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections and are not new friends. The SLMC says that it would go solo in the East while contesting under the UNP symbol in other areas in the country. TPA which pursues the same strategy is to contest on its own in the plantation areas.  

Of the three main contenders of the foray, SLFP led by President Sirisena is going to have the least number of coalition partners. Currently talks are underway with Arumugan Thondaman’s Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the main party in the plantation areas and Douglas Devananda’s Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP). Tough bargaining cannot be expected in these discussions, as these two parties have always preferred to be with the ruling party in their history.  

In the North there is a difference in alignment this time after the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Suresh Premachndran left the main Tamil coalition, the TNA last month. Premachandran and Tamil National People’s Front leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam announced, after the former’s split from the TNA that they would form another coalition in the North to challenge the TNA.When Premachandran approached V. Anandasangari’s Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the party that introduced the Tamil Eelam concept, to form the new alliance, Ponnambalam parted with Premachandran refusing to contest under the rising sun symbol of the TULF.  

Following differences with the TNA leadership over allocation of candidacies in Batticaloa and Mullaitive Districts Selvam Adaikkalanathan’s Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) too has initiated discussions with the TULF while still having contacts with Sampanthan.  

Now the parties of the original TNA formed in 2001 at the instance of the LTTE had divided into two, with People’s Liberation organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) led by D. Siddharthan remaining with the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) in the TNA. Reports say that Sampanthan had lured the Democratic Militants’ Party (DMP) which was formed by the former LTTE cadres on the eve of the last General election.   

EPRLF and TULF are going to form a new coalition. Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s Tamil People’s Council (TPC) was earlier expected to be the main challenge to the TNA, but Wigneswaran unexpectedly said last month that his organization was not a political party, but a Tamil National Movement and rejected Premachandran’s move to break the TNA.  

In the East, the recent dissidents of the SLMC such as Hassan Ali and Basheer Segu Dawood are preparing for another alliance mainly in the Ampara District.   

Thus ,almost all parties, except for the namesake miniature parties are in coalition with others. However, no coalition, between any two parties, whether they are major, minor or minority parties, has any clear cut policy basis. Thondaman is having talks with Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as Maithripala Sirisena while TELO is running between the TNA and TULF. Some alignments may change in the coming days. Some of the alliances are based on the need of the parties to survive while some others manifest the need of the parties to show their strength or hide their weaknesses, ignoring the nature of the election or the needs of the people.  

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