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Why Mahinda’s presence counts in Kurunegala

9 July 2020 07:50 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Mahinda Rajapaksa is staying out of ‘mini battles’ and seeing whether he can obtain outside support to gain a two-thirds majority for the SLPP in parliament (Pix AFP)

  • He is the person who can make lawmakers like Johnston and Prasanna work towards the common cause
  • It is no secret that Prasanna wanted Mahinda to contest from the Gampaha District
  • Kurunegala also has enough geographical reasons which favour a elections candidate like Mahinda

Former President and present Premier of the Caretaker Government Mahinda Rajapaksa’s focus on Kurunegala at the upcoming Parliamentary Elections will auger well for the future of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). 

The talk doing the rounds that Mahinda is throwing his weight behind the Pohottuwa Party’s campaign in Kurunegala and not Hambantota, his hometown, is because the seasoned lawmaker feels he has played his role in developing the coastal town. 
Mahinda lost the race for the presidency in 2015, but couldn’t be ousted from politics. He remains that individual who gels together forces that can generate votes for the newly formed SLPP. He is the person who can make lawmakers like Johnston Fernando (Kurunegala) and Prasanna Ranatunga (Gampaha) work towards the common cause of generating votes for the SLPP in their 
respective electorates. 
It is no secret that Prasanna wanted Mahinda to contest from the Gampaha District. Prasanna has also challenged Johnston to better the number of votes he would generate for the SLPP from the Gampaha District this time around. Prasanna has been quoted in newspaper interviews that he wants to see 10 lakhs votes from Gampaha district and also ensure that Gampaha produces 13 parliamentarians who wouldn’t desert Mahinda. Meanwhile Johnston plans to send 12 from 
Kurunegala to parliament. 

"For the record at the last LG Polls in 2018, the SLPP prevailed over the UNP with a voting percentage of 38.95 as against 38.36 in the Kurunegala Municipal Council"

But with the days closing on the August 5 elections the focus is on Kurunegala. Just a few days ago Mahinda’s son Namal was sent to Kurunegala to attend some rallies. It was also reported that in return Mahinda had stepped on the election platforms at Hambantota to enhance the chances of young Namal making it to parliament. 
Mahinda’s presence in Kurunegala is vital for other reasons as well. This is a time when the Maha sanga is up in arms against politicians who degraded Buddhism. Much of this damage to Buddhism was done during the Yahapalana regime; when one of the ministers of the Wickremesinghe regime, Mangala Samaraweera, went on to maintain that Sri Lanka wasn’t a Buddhist country. In contrast Mahinda has a healthy rapport with the Buddhist clergy. The present premier, when doing his political rounds, has the habit of making a courtesy call on a chief incumbent of any temple if he is a frequent visitor to that Buddhist place of worship. 
People have begun to analyse or see whether President Gotabaya’s rise in politics has overshadowed Mahinda’s presence. President Gotabaya accused Central Bank officials of not sharing the same enthusiasm he has to pull the country out of the unhealthy economic situation it is in. We have never witnessed in the past occasions when Mahinda’s orders were disregarded by state sector employees. 


Kurunegala also has enough geographical reasons which favour a elections candidate like Mahinda. For the record Kurunegala has a large number of temples and also a large number of individuals serving the armed forces and the police. There are also many disabled security personnel and a huge number of war widows. This lays the ideal ground for someone like Mahinda to set foot and receive the votes to his party. 
We also remember the tensions caused as a result of the conduct of Kurunegala medic Dr. Shafi Siyabdeen whose professional career came under a cloud of gloom due to the allegations levelled against him regarding illegal sterilization surgeries. 


There have also been occasions where even the Christian clergy in Kurunegala have accused politicians of creating fear in the community. Hence Kurunegala is a hot spot in terms of election campaigning and a person like Mahinda would be the ideal person to set foot and defuse tensions; if there are any. 
The election laws state that candidates can’t display their number or use their picture in campaigns. So the people will go by the good work that the politicians have done. This situation would affect someone like Mahinda the least because he is considered by the Sinhala majority as a person who had a plan and worked his plan to raise the profile of the country. He could be one of those present politicians doesn’t need to sweat to prove his worth in politics. 


In this backdrop of restrictions being imposed on elections candidates the releasing of the film ‘The newspaper’ is significant. The film revolves around some incidents that took place during the civil war that concluded 11 years ago. Officials of the present regime see the film as the ideal tool to silence the efforts of the foreign media whom they accuse of tarnishing the country’s name. The regime is also capitalising on the fact that the European Union didn’t name Sri Lanka among the countries which it named as safe to travel to, post COVID-19. The Rajapaksas are quick to use world opinion that goes against them and term it ‘conspiracy’: bashing those who speak against Sri Lanka fuels nationalism which in turn ensures the survival of the lawmaker. 

"Officials of the present regime see the film as the ideal tool to silence the efforts of the foreign media whom they accuse of tarnishing the country’s name"

Mahinda gives out two valuable lessons in politics. One is that team work is needed to keep the party flag flying. This way he has managed to keep an aggressive politician like Prasanna towing his line. The other is the balancing game he plays when someone blunders and threatens to topple the party’s applecart. Just consider how he has done the damage control work after Vinayangamoorthy Muralitharan uttered that he had killed as many as 2000-3000 soldiers and the statement made by former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage that the 2011 World Cup cricket final which featured Sri Lanka and India was fixed. He has said that he denounces the statement made by Muralitharan, AKA Karuna Amman. With regard to the announcement made by Aluthgamage, a furious premier has warned that elections candidates must be more responsible when making statements during election campaigning. His experience shows that these statements are immature and can 
rock an election campaign. 


He is also handling the Maithripala Sirisena episode quite well. At a time when Prasanna is gunning for the former President Sirisena, Mahinda stays out of this ‘mini battle’ and is seeing whether he can obtain the SLFP support to gain a two-thirds majority for the SLPP in parliament. He knows that an outside party generating even as little as 1% of the votes is important for his party which wishes to win at this election. For the record at the last LG Polls in 2018, the SLPP prevailed over the UNP with a voting percentage of 38.95 as against 38.36 in the Kurunegala Municipal Council. There has always been a close contest between the left wing parties and the UNP during elections in Kurunegala. 
It’s a tactical move for Mahinda to move out of the Hambantota election platform because ‘home’ now is a bit crowded with other family members like Chamal and Namal also awaiting to enter parliament. And if Mahinda comes on top of the preferential votes at the upcoming elections, Kurunegala can take credit for producing the country’s next prime minister. 

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