A momentum has built up in view of the next presidential election though it is not yet around the corner. The recent ‘Viyath Maga’ programme, a confab of intellectuals, business leaders and politicians with a nationalist bent, served as the virtual launching pad of a presidential election campaign.
- A premature poll campaign is now in the making in that sense, though the elections are scheduled to be conducted at the end of next year, as per the Constitution
- The experiment of a common candidate was successful in 2015
- Many believe former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who chaired the Viyath Maga programmme would be the chosen presidential candidate
A premature poll campaign is now in the making in that sense, though the elections are scheduled to be conducted at the end of next year, as per the Constitution. But, a premature enthusiasm, created in this manner, has resulted in the two opposing political camps volleying charges against each other, targeting the individual personalities of likely candidates.
For the anti-government political force, many believe former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who chaired the Viyath Maga programmme would be the chosen presidential candidate. As such, he is subjected to early political assaults by those in the government, averse to his possible candidacy.
The candidate from the UNP-led political force is not yet identified though a couple of Ministers insisted that it should be none other than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Whoever it may be, the UNP candidate is still aloof from political vilification because he is not yet identified in the broader sense.
After the Viyath Maga programme, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was the first to make a detailed response to the event, in fact, calling it ‘Vipath Maga’ (path of destruction). Now the stage is set for political debate on the presidential election in this manner. And, some people, eagerly awaiting a presidential poll, keep posting on the social media sites, expressing themselves.
Be that as it may, either political camp is saddled with issues in deciding on the candidate. As far, the political forces led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa are concerned, some leaders have publicly uttered that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa should be the candidate while the others such as MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara proposed former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to candidacy. It is rumoured that former Minister Basil Rajapaksa also harbours presidential ambition in this regard. Nevertheless, no one has made any public announcement to that effect.
So, for that matter, the forces aligned with the Joint Opposition have to reconcile differences before deciding on the next candidate. According to political sources from the Joint Opposition, certain MPs such as Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Bandula Gunawardane remain adamant that it should be Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who should seek presidency.
For the UNP, it is a challenging situation this time. Last time, the UNP forged ties with the political parties, groups and individuals with diverse opinions to field President Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate. It was done for a purpose. The experiment of a common candidate was successful in 2015 in this manner. Those who stood together, had a set of targets to be achieved. In retrospect, these targets could not be realized. As such, it is now a challenging task to unite all those parties, groups and individuals again for the concept of common candidate, which was tested and failed in the opinion of those who stood for it. It is, therefore, a herculean task for the UNP-led political camp to unify all the forces for a common candidate. If it is difficult, the party will be compelled to field its own candidate. Against the backdrop, both the sides have issues to be resolved in deciding on their best bets for the presidential election. Alongside, there are those with presidential ambitions serving in the UNP at the moment.
SLPP skeptical about SLFP move
There is a new dimension to opposition politics hitherto led by the Joint Opposition, after 16 MPs of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) left the government and decided to sit in the opposition. The group, functioning as a separate group in the opposition, launches frontal attacks on the UNP-led government. As such, opposition politics, so far dominated by the Joint Opposition as the main force opposed to the UNP, is sought to be shared by the SLFP group.
This has irked some members of the Joint Opposition, particularly those having links with Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). They perceive this as a ruse by the SLFP to carve out its niche in the collective public opinion building up against the government. Actually, President Maithripala Sirisena gave his blessings to this group to sit in the opposition though his party has not officially decided to quit the unity government with the UNP. The President, it seems, has understood that his party was relegated to a poor third at the local government elections on February 10 because of its alignment with the UNP in the unity government for the last couple of years. The SLFP is now planning to decide as a party to leave the government. Yet, it is questionable how far the SLFP will succeed in efforts to emerge as a formidable force to reckon with, in the opposition.
The SLPP, which won the local polls, is skeptical about the move by the SLFP group. The SLPP also faces pressure from its rank and file not to accommodate these SLFPers. As such, its chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris announced at a press conference that it would contest all future elections under its lotus bud symbol and the leadership of the former President. He tried to drive home the message that the SLFP, if it wanted, could become a party to a broad alliance led by the SLPP under the lotus bud symbol in the future. In other words, the SLFP can only become an appendage to the SLPP at future elections.
Those who stood together, had a set of targets to be achieved. In retrospect, these targets could not be realized. As such, it is now a challenging task to unite all those parties, groups and individuals again for the concept of common candidate
Talks are actually underway for such a broad electoral front in the future. In a step towards this, the group was to meet with former President Rajapaksa last evening.
In the meantime, the leaders of the political parties in the Joint Opposition met with Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss, among others, steps for a series of protest rallies against the government. The Joint Opposition will mount such a campaign to protest against the government over the rising cost of living, the fuel price revision, the postponement of the Provincial Council Elections etc.
Amidst talks about the possible candidates for the next presidential elections, the public attention is being drawn to another move - the exercise to abolish the executive presidency.
The JVP, a party commanding the support of six MPs, is working it out to be presented to Parliament as a private member’s bill.
It is learnt that the bill is drafted in collusion with some in the government. The end target of this exercise is to avoid the next presidential election, enabling the election of the President through Parliament only.
The country is experiencing a unique political development in that sense. On one hand, there is enthusiasm for the presidential election in some quarters. On the other hand, efforts are underway to abolish the executive presidency.