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Next Presidential Election: Who will win in a three-cornered fight?

13 February 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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“Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun.” ~Pete Cashmore, Mashable CEO 

The social media is quite busy. One of its main political thrusts has been towards promoting one single individual of the United National Party (UNP). And that is Sajith Premadasa, the incumbent Housing and Cultural Affairs Minister, the son of the late Ranasinghe Premadasa. Ranasinghe Premadasa was a totally different kettle of fish. His modus operandi consisted of real hard work and he was never ever considered a ‘softie’. His contribution towards the déclassé still remains unmatched and his masterful skills in oratory were never surpassed other than by another mob-orator, Rohana Wijeweera. However, R. Premadasa lived in a different time; an era that was devoid of the social media. The social media dawned on humanity much later. 

According to Drew Hendricks, who has contributed to many major publications such as Forbes and Entrepreneur, as a tech, social media and environmental addict: “the first recognisable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular, creating a social media sensation that’s still popular today.


  • It is indispensable that, in order to claim a majority, one simply cannot focus only on the majority Sinhalese Buddhist voter base
  • Three-cornered fight among MS, Pohottuwa candidate (possibly a Rajapaksa) and the UNP nominee
  • Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake irrelevant for today’s voter

After the invention of blogging, social media began to explode in popularity. Sites like MySpace and LinkedIn gained prominence in the early 2000s, and sites like Photobucket and Flickr facilitated online photo sharing. YouTube came out in 2005, creating an entirely new way for people to communicate and share with each other across great distances.

By 2006, Facebook and Twitter both became available to users throughout the world. These sites remain some of the most popular social networks on the Internet… today, there is a tremendous variety of social networking sites, and many of them can be linked to allow cross-posting. This creates an environment where users can reach the maximum number of people without sacrificing the intimacy of person-to-person communication. We can only speculate about what the future of social networking may look in the next decade or even 100 years from now, but it seems clear that it will exist in some form for as long as humans are alive.’

Political opponents of R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake would have dreaded had all these three magicians of mass appeal lived today. But to engage in such idle speculation is unproductive, except as to learn lessons from the success of those who chose to play the game of politics to such a consummate end. Of these three gentlemen, Gamini Dissanayake had the most electric kind of personal appeal. That uniqueness owed its character to the great empathy that Gamini displayed when he mingled with his fellowmen and women. Both R. Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali were greatly skilled craftsmen of mass-politics, yet I dare say, both were not authentic in their presumed feelings for the masses. Gamini Dissanayake, on the other hand, had his authenticity glowing from his total being. Being ruthless in the pursuit of their ends, all three were exceptionally capable politicians. 

Allow me to digress here to illustrate the far-thinking ability of these three men. When J. R. Jayewardene formed his Cabinet in 1977 – just 18 in all – every minister appointed as his or her private secretary from within his or her own family. Even J.R. Jayewardene’s private secretary was Nihal Weeratunga who happened to be his step-nephew. Yet, three ministers had their private secretaries appointed from outside their respective families. They were Premadasa, Lalith and Gamini. Their goal was far too high to be spoiled by an unemployed relative of theirs. 

This practice has continued up to date; both Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake have appointed their private secretaries from outside the realm of their relatives. Not only the mere absence of nepotism, its appearance too needed to be taken care of. Brought up and nursed in such a challenging background, both Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake are being portrayed as two possible candidates for the prime job of presidency. In the social media, Sajith Premadasa is being promoted as a ‘natural and automatic’ successor to Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

But Sajith’s completely egocentric campaign in the social media, especially during the difficult days of the 50-day government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, may have earned him temporary advantage, exclusively among the UNP supporters, by virtue of its constant and consistent repetition of images and prose, the authenticity that was totally absent from that campaign would ultimately in the long-run capture its prisoners. 

Authenticity is not one would cultivate as a character that is developed in a finishing school. Authenticity is a character one needs to exhibit as an integral part of one’s very soul. Whether it’s totally positive or ‘irregularly’ negative, yet if it appears to be really authentic that authenticity goes a long way in politics. Authenticity as the main feature of their persona, any above-average candidate would fair quite greatly against such inauthentic opponent in the class of Maithripala Sirisena or any Rajapaksa. 
But our central issue is whether Maithripala Sirisena who happens to be the current president – who became the ‘King’ of Sri Lanka thanks mainly to the unstinted support of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP – would offer himself as a third candidate. Given the current discord between President Sirisena and the UNP, it is highly unimaginative on the part of any political analyst/pundit to assume that Maithripala would represent the same coalition that elected him president in the first place in 2015.

The three-cornered fight will be among Maithripala Sirisena, Pohottuwa candidate (possibly a Rajapaksa) and the UNP nominee. In the context of a presidential election, it is indispensable that, in order to claim a majority, one simply cannot focus only on the majority Sinhalese Buddhist voter base. Given the overwhelming majority of Sinhalese Buddhists, the Pohottuwa candidate or Maithripala Sirisena is purported to enjoy, if either of them does not receive at least 35% of the Tamil and Muslim votes, even if they receive 65% of the Sinhalese Buddhist base, he or she cannot win. It was statistically proven beyond any shadow of doubt at the last presidential election in 2015. So in the event Maithripala Sirisena contests, provided he gets the entire bloc of votes that were cast for him at the 2015 elections, and some sizeable portion from the SLFP base which would have ordinarily gone for the Pohottuwa candidate, the UNP candidate stands to win a hard-fought three-cornered fight. 

But the sad part of this analysis is, the onetime Rajapaksa-hater and president of the country ends up as the third or last among the three. Lack of cleverness or statecraft has to suffer; its effects are not marginal; the deep abyss it led the whole country to is still staring at each and every politician of today. The disgust and disaffection today’s youth feels for the current rotten system is unmistakable. Conventional politicking will not work. Providing another Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the solution; merely trying to outdo Mahinda Rajapaksa is a sterile effort; had the choice been producing a more acceptable servant of conventions, Mahinda Rajapaksa or his surrogate would be far more attractive to the average voter. 

For today’s voter, R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali or Gamini Dissanayake are irrelevant. The tools and modus operandi they operated on is dead and anachronistic now. A brand new generation whose access to the Smartphone-technology and YouTube proximity, is thinking anew; their dreams are being measured in terms of minutes and seconds, not months or years. The changing world is being presented to them in a matter of seconds; live debates are being watched on their Smartphones; the responses are being broadcast and telecast in minutes and that living-in-the-minute syndrome has taken a hold of their 24-hour behaviour. Couples that roam the Viharamahadevi Park are no more communicating with each other in real live terms. Each one is engaged in reading and writing on the screens of his or her Smartphones. Yet, their loving partnership seems to survive; the ups and downs of romance would outlast the very relationships and might eventually be more productive in shaping the respective characters of the partnerships. 

Such is the brutality of modern-day life. Is our average politician equipped to tackle this bouncing ride? Is he or she prepared to adjust to the fast-changing character of modern society? In other words, is the UNP ready for such a bumpy journey that might ultimately claim the time and energy of our young politicians? Is Sajith capable of embracing this fresh face of politics? Is Navin ready to take on the changing phase of politics? Yet, one cannot ignore nor could be left unclear when selecting the next candidate from the UNP. He has to be a proven winner. If winning is the critical element of that selection process, then you, the reader, would know there is only one winner in the UNP today. Look at the results of the last few elections. And you surely know who it is! 

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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