As the presidential candidates came out of the Election Secretariat after handing in nominations for the elections, they spelled out what they intended to do if elected to office at the polls to be conducted on November 16, 2019. Of course, unrealised aspirations of people turn out to be electoral slogans every time. It is quite a number, but their relative significance varies from election to election. Some such public expectations remain common to this presidential election and the last presidential election. Their contextual relevance is different, though.
- On Sunday, Premadasa arrived in Colombo from Mihintale by helicopter
- By 2015, the country witnessed a kind of an economic growth momentum
- The SLPP candidate is bound to promise that he will abandon the constitution making process
By 2015, the country witnessed a kind of an economic growth momentum. Let alone, there was anti-incumbency against the ten –year rule of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government with a clamour within a considerable segment of society, particularly the middleclass, for democratic space. The political alliance that was cobbled together under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena as the presidential candidate worked out its campaign themes accordingly. Rajapaksa was accused of being an authoritarian ruler. So, for example, a slogan was evolved to scrap executive presidency, to establish independent commissions, and so on. A new government was installed, and executive powers were pruned. But, the system was not scrapped totally despite promises otherwise. Abolition of executive presidency was topical in electoral terms at that time. It is no longer the case now.
Its contextual relevance has diminished today since people yearn for strong leadership to bring about order in society and the smooth functioning of the state machinery. The manner in which the country was governed during the last five years made way for such demand to be capitalized by the parties in the fray.
No matter what, Premadasa has correctly identified these topics as the most appealing electoral slogans this time. So, he is at pain to disown himself from the incumbent government as far as these policies are concerned
Public protests, trade union actions, indecision and the policy contrasts of the leaders turned out to be the norm of the day under the present rule. So, it led people to believe that strong leadership would be the solution.
In 2015, the economy was growing steadily, albeit some issues such as heavy debt burden. The Government that came to power in 2015 pledged to propel the economy to the next level with high export growth, Foreign Direct Investment, and job and wealth creation. But, the growth rate slowed further and further. It is true that some natural and man-made disasters contributed to the economic slowdown. But, the government cannot absolve its responsibility pinning blame solely on such aspects beyond its control. Thus becomes economic development an electoral slogan this time. Rising living costs will have an electoral effect.
By 2015, Sri Lankans were enjoying peace, and there was a sense of complacency in this regard. So, the campaigners talked about democratic reforms to be to be implemented in a post war context where there was no more threat from terrorism. In fact, the need to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act was discussed, and action initiated. However, national security has become topic featuring the top of the list electoral slogans , after Easter Sunday terrorist attack that killed over 250 people and caused immeasurable damage to the otherwise thriving tourism industry. Nationalist sentiments also engage the minds of people this time in a big way.
The two main candidates- Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Sajith Premadasa of United National Party (UNP) - are appealing to voters on these lines. It became obvious when they addressed people.
On board the same helicopter
The SLPP candidate can address people directly on these topics since his party has been advocating them for a long time. For the UNP candidate, it is a challenging task since he is also part of the very same government that failed to deliver in this respect.
No matter what, Premadasa has correctly identified these topics as the most appealing electoral slogans this time. So, he is at pain to disown himself from the incumbent government as far as these policies are concerned. In his public speeches on policy matters, he cast aspersions on the policies of not only his rival candidate but also of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. That is a subtle attempt by him to disassociate him from the policies of the very government that he represented for the last five years as a Cabinet minister.
“I reject both family rule and cronyism,” he said during one meeting.
Making reference to the family rule is an indirect swipe at the Rajapaksa camp. But, cronyism is the allegation against the UNP leadership. Indirectly, he is taking on both sides. He knows for sure that the policies of the present Government are no longer sellable points at this election. He said he would not alienate national assets under his Government. Again, it is yet another indirect slander against his own Government.
When he said this, he should be having in his mind the lease out of the Hambantota port to a Chinese company.
Both the candidates cash in on these catchy topics. Yet, they face a contrasting situation when it comes to constitutional reforms. The SLPP candidate is bound to promise that he will abandon the constitution making process undertaken by the present government. But, Mr. Premadasa is at a loss to pronounce it publicly. No matter what his own policy is, the UNP passed a resolution at its recent convention to proceed with the constitution-making process. Premadasa cannot articulate anything against it. Premadasa has to bank his fortunes on the Tamil votes. Any promise to abandon the constitution making process will not be helpful for him to win over such voters at this crucial presidential election.
Premadasa tries to distance himself not only from the policies of the government but also from the party leadership. When he turned up for handing over of the nomination paper on Monday, the Prime Minister was a notable absentee. Also absent was General Secretary Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawawasam.
After dillydallying for days, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) finally decided to extend support to Gotabaya Rajapaksa at this election
On Sunday, Premadasa arrived in Colombo from Mihintale by helicopter with the Prime Minister on his right and Power, Energy and Business Development Minister Ravi Karunanayake on his left. They exchanged pleasantries on board, and landed at the parliamentary ground. Afterwards, they all proceeded to the house of Karunanayake, which is nearby, for tea.
But, both Wickremesinghe and Karunanayake were not present at the Election Secretariat on the day of nomination. It is learnt that Premadasa does not like to be identified too much with the UNP leadership during his campaign trail. He even operates his campaign trail and propaganda work from the office in Vauxhall Street, Colombo.
SLFP stops dillydallying
On the day of nomination, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka was at the Election Secretariat. Tea, along with snacks, had been arranged for all in a separate room. So, he came out for a cup of tea. A harsh critic of the Rajapaksas he is, Minister Ranawaka suddenly bumped into Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in this room. The two political rivals talked to each other.
“We should have met before nomination. We are only meeting on the day of nomination,” Rajapaksa said.
After dillydallying for days, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) finally decided to extend support to Gotabaya Rajapaksa at this election. There were differences of opinion on whom to support at this election, but the party managed to reconcile all the differences. A faction led by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was opposed to the idea of supporting Rajapaksa, but most others thought otherwise.
The SLFP support was a shot in the arm for the SLPP when it kicked off its election campaign.