"I stand for the abolition of the executive presidency as a step for the strengthening of democracy. I stand for electoral reforms. Especially, we need to scrap the proportional representation system. But, I, along with my father, decided to stay with the government. We want to support the President who wiped out terrorism"
"“If I say it, it will be interpreted that I am planning to cross over. I do not utter this sentence even to my wife these days. Otherwise, it will be rumoured that I am trying to cross over."
"There is belief in the opposition that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who played a role in engineering the defection from the government, could not secure the number of MPs, large enough to impact the vote base of the incumbent as things stand today."
"All the ruling party members are supposed to make a solemn pledge today that they will remain loyal to the UPFA. Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga is making this arrangement."
Well in advance of the declaration of the presidential election on November 20, the United People’s Freedom Alliance(UPFA), the government party, worked out campaign strategies and laid the necessary infrastructure to execute them. It did so in anticipation that someone from the main opposition United National Party (UNP) would come forward as the candidate to oppose the ruling party’s unanimous nominee President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, it was in for a rude shock when it suddenly witnessed its strongman Maithiripala Sirisena emerging as the common opposition candidate to stand against President Rajapaksa in the fray this time.
It was compelled to redo its campaign work in some aspects as a result. Besides, the sudden defection of Mr. Sirisena, along with four others, created rumblings within the government which feared that many others would follow suit and join the opposition at this critical political juncture. The government leaders decided to approach those Ministers and MPs rumoured to be planning to switch their allegiance to the opposition, and pleaded them not to do so. These efforts brought about positive results as those who were on the verge of crossing over made public statements. They scotched speculations that they would stay with the government despite having dissent against the incumbent on some of the policy matters.
Among them, Supplementary Crops Development Minister Reginald Cooray said though he still dreamed of a day when the executive presidency would be scrapped, he decided to stay with the government. He said the opposition seemed to be in disarray.
Senior Minister Piyasena Gamage said he suffered the gravest political injustices under the present regime, yet he had no intention to leave it. Similar views were expressed by MP Vidura Wickramanayake along with his father Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, one time Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
“I stand for the abolition of the executive presidency as a step for the strengthening of democracy. I stand for electoral reforms. Especially, we need to scrap the proportional representation system. But, I, along with my father, decided to stay with the government. We want to support the President who wiped out terrorism,” he said.
With such expressions being made in the public domain by them, there is disappointment within the opposition. There is belief in the opposition that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who played a role in engineering the defection from the government, could not secure the number of MPs, large enough to impact the vote base of the incumbent as things stand today.
The general belief is that, at least 15-20 members should defect from the government at this juncture so that the opposition should pose a formidable challenge to the President.
All in all, it is too early to conclude on anything, as everything seems to be dependent on the style to a great extent this time. The anti-incumbency sentiments remain within a section of the voter population as the President has ruled the country for nine years at a stretch, yet with remarkable achievements on the ground. Also, there is a section of voters, particularly within the middle class layer of society, harbouring anti-government sentiments over allegations of corruption, nepotism, graft and problems in maintaining the law and order. Another section is expecting a change. All these three sections, combined together, from a sizeable chunk that can tilt the balance of power.
Yet, their support to any candidate will be determined during the process of election. It appears, as a result, that the aptness of the campaign style of each candidate will be more crucial this time than any other election conducted in the recent past. There is no doubt that the government party will bank its fortunes on the war victory, as done in the past. The President, as the candidate, will stake a bigger claim for it as the commandering chief. It is true that the war victory is a factor, but it is a bigger factor than it was a few years back. It is important to know how the two sides can gain upper hand in staking a claim for the war victory. Democratic Party Leader Sarath Fonseka who commanded the military to the crushing defeat of the LTTE and Jathika Hela Urumaya(JHU) which played a role in rallying the support for the war effort, can act in ensuring the support for the common opposition candidate on the fame of war victory. Nonetheless, it is premature to conclude which candidate will succeed in this endeavour.
Govt invincibility compromised
The government remained formidable ever since the 2009 war victory without much political opposition. It won successive elections barring the Uva Provincial Council Election in which its victory was narrowed. Actually, it remained an invincible political force. However, this invincibility is now at stake after this defection. In the post war context, it faced its first ever political setback after one of its leading Ministers Maithripala Sirisena broke ranks with it, and its ally JHU parting ways. Already, four Cabinet Ministers have left the government.
With this defection, the UPFA control in several provincial councils has been threatened with the opposition planning to change the current rule by securing the support of members from the governing side.
The UPFA hold in the Uva Provincial Council is fragile today as the mere defection of three members can tilt the balance of power in favour of the opposition led by the UNP. Efforts are now underway in this direction by the UNP. With the support of a section of the UPFA members, the UNP is planning to hand over affidavits to the provincial governor saying that it has the necessary majority to form the council.
In the backdrop of rumours that a similar predicament will be there in the Western Provincial Council, all the ruling party members are supposed to make a solemn pledge today that they will remain loyal to the UPFA. Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga is making this arrangement.
Vijithamuni minds his words
Wildlife Conservation Minister Gamini Vijith Wijayamuni Zoisa said at a public meeting recently that he was even scared to say ‘I am going’ even to his spouse these days.
“If I say it, it will be interpreted that I am planning to cross over. I do not utter this sentence even to my wife these days. Otherwise, it will be rumoured that I am trying to cross over,” he said.
This has happened after so many members were rumoured to be planning to join hands with the opposition these days.
Sudarshani surrounded by people
Government MP Sudarshani Fernandopulle, the widow of late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, was surrounded by around 100 odd people in the Ethgala area of Gamhapa district. They, quintessentially, asked whether she was planning to keep away from the government.
“Madam, there is speculation that you are trying to join the opposition along with Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. Is it true?” they asked. She denied