Back to the drawing boards | Daily News

Back to the drawing boards

President Maithripala Sirisena has accepted Saturday’s local government election results with equanimity, and vowed to effect the necessary changes that caused the SLFP to suffer an embarrassing setback. For it’s part, the UNP, too, appears to be chastised by the verdict of the people and are clearly seeing the red light. Party General Secretary Kabir Hashim said the services rendered by the government to the people, especially in the spheres of health and education has not gone to the public domain. He however said the people will, before long, be in a position to enjoy the dividends of the government’s programmes.

In the meantime, the President has also sounded a warning that he would be taking some tough decisions very soon. It is not yet clear as to what these decisions will be. Whatever it is, both partners in the unity government will certainly have to look at things afresh and ring the changes, in cohesion, if it is to win over the estranged public. There is no doubt that Saturday’s verdict was a clear backlash at the current state of affairs in government. Name calling by ministers and MPs from either side is not the best way to project stability in the government and may have impacted negatively on the electorate. The bickering must stop.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has already stated that the unity government will run its course until 2020. Hence, there is ample time to put the house back in order, and, look carefully at where things went wrong. Some are of the view that the personal popularity of Mahinda Rajapaksa was the sole factor that won the election for the pohottuwa. If that were the case he would have prevailed even on January 8 and repeated the feat on August 15. Nay, it was the cost of living factor that hit the government in the solar plexus. The government lost control of the phenomenon of soaring prices of essential items. True, like minister Hashim said, the floods, drought, and, natural disasters devastated the lives of people in unprecedented proportions, and, the huge debts, a legacy of the Rajapaksa regime, that burdened the economy had affected the lives of people negatively. It is equally true that these calamities were beyond the government’s control. But even here the government was slow in reacting to the natural disasters and relief was late in coming. The Meethotamulla catastrophe was a good example of the government’s tardiness in responding to the disaster, like, say, a Premadasa would have done. There can be little doubt that the gory scenes shown on TV for weeks on end evoked public resentment towards the government to a great degree. In addition, there were some own goals scored by the government too. Especially, the Kataragama Police shooting of a youth that led to the local police station being attacked by villagers could not have come at a worse time for the government.

The government’s pitch to the voters, especially the rural voters, too, was flawed to a great extent. The humble villagers care a whit about corruption at Air Lanka, or, White Van abductions. Despite this, government ministers continued to harp on these themes instead of spelling out urgent solutions to solve the hardships of the farmers and peasants.

Be that as it may, the rude awakening to the government, by Saturday’s verdict, it is hoped, will infuse fresh thinking into it’s leaders, to deal effectively with the burning problems of the masses. However, the President should also guard against precipitate action. There are, today, loud calls from sections of the SLFP, for a rethink on the feasibility of continuing with the UNP, in government. These are the segments whose cacophonous sounds failed to get their party anywhere at the just concluded elections. Even the Samurdhi portfolio held by a SLFP minister failed to deliver the goods. Besides, the SLFP will have only 93 MPs in parliament, even if it joins forces with the Joint Opposition, and, cannot hope to form a government. This sober reality, it is hoped, would dawn on the garrulous SLFP MPs who are demanding a change of composition in the government.

Premature celebrations?

For all the brouhaha of the Joint Opposition on Saturday’s LG polls victory of the pohottuwa, read Mahinda Rajapaksa, it fell well short of the magical 50% mark. The pohottuwa, or, Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 44.65% of the total votes cast, including from the North and East, while the combined votes of the Opposition (UNP, SLFP, TNA, JVP and the rest) shot well over the 50% mark. Whoever aspires to be President from the pohottuwa (MR is barred from contesting) will have to obtain 50% +1 vote to be President, at the 2020 election. It is moot whether there could be anyone within the pohottuwa ranks who can equal MR in popularity. This includes Gota, though, it is left to be seen, if he throws his hat into the ring, will he be willing to forgo his American citizenship. It is also significant that the next presidential election will have to precede a parliamentary election, and, if MR aspires to be Prime Minister, a lot will depend on the outcome of the Presidential poll. 


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