he people have spoken, as they say. Local Government Elections, like any election, are a test of the regime’s popularity. Well, the people have delivered their verdict: Not up to mark by a big margin!
A close look at the overall results and comparison with previous Local Government election as well as with the last Parliamentary and Presidential elections will no doubt lend towards a more nuanced reading of trends.
As of now what is clear is that people have expressed a massive vote of no-confidence on the UNP-SLFP Coalition Government. It should be a sobering outcome even though it wasn’t possible to think that the coalition arrangement would be rosy, given the history of antagonism.
Indeed, the result and especially the distant third place of the President’s party, the SLFP, force both Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to return to the drawing table to do a hard-think of the future of the relationship. Moreover, each has to re-think strategy in terms of lifting political fortunes now that there is clear evidence that the regime has lost the political backing of the general public. The crisis first and foremost is about credibility which naturally bleeds into governability.
There are reports that former President and the de-facto leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have demanded the post of Opposition Leader in view of the now undeniable truth that this party polled the vast majority of the Anti-Government vote. He has stopped short of demanding the Premiership which, following the same logic, is a plausible demand.
Rajapaksa has rightfully stated that it was not a Parliamentary election. There is talk however of him seeking Chairmanship of the SLFP. Such things are for tomorrow. Today is for interpreting results.
The regime is clearly out of sync with the sentiments of the people. Parties in power usually sweep local government elections. This election was framed as a national election and the importance was not lost on the electorate.
If, as subsequent election results showed, Maithripala Sirisena benefited from a general dissatisfaction with Mahinda Rajapaksa, then this result indicates the degree of disappointment in the Yahapalana dispensation, perhaps even more than an endorsement of the ‘Pohottuwa’.
‘What did we do wrong?’ is a question that the SLFP and UNP can ask themselves. It may be too late, however, to look for answers to ‘what should we do to correct ourselves?’ The momentum is with Mahinda Rajapaksa. If cards are played right then an equal or better result in the next Parliamentary Elections is not possible, it is probable.
There will be various theories of why there was such a sway towards the ‘Pohottuwa’ but we need not dwell on such things. What would be more productive is a word of caution to Rajapaksa and his followers. Undoubtedly Mahinda Rajapaksa is THE dominant political personality in the country and has been so for more than a decade now. This result should prompt people, who believed he was no longer relevant to shed their illusions. He knows his political star is on an ascent.
All the more reason, that he should reflect soberly on what produced the January 2015 result. Cronyism, political patronage, focusing on the near and dear, taking the people’s affection and even sense of gratitude for ending a war during his watch, were all contributing factors.
Most importantly, he should understand that loyalty is never cast in stone. The Yahapalanists it can be argued tripped themselves on two major counts: there was no ‘good’ in their governance, and secondly, their governance itself was apparent only in its breach. In short, they were incapable and their rank incompetence was punished. Victory often goes into people’s heads. Power dulls certain perceptions.
Aides mislead. Victors end up living in bubbles and when they burst they are dumbfounded. There’s been a power-shift. It was the people who delivered that shift. They can shift again. And again. That’s a lesson that can be learned through the hard way or by watching how others are forced to deal with certain unpleasant developments. Rajapaksa learned it the hard way. President Sirisena could have learned it in a softer way. He did not. Now he has fallen and fallen hard.
The country is governed by a regime that has lost its mandate. Those who can claim to have the support of the people are not holding the reins of power. It points to political instability. Only political maturity on the part of everyone, winners and losers, can restore some sanity at this point. We can only hope.