Presidential question | Daily News


Presidential question

It was President J R Jayewardene, who having introduced the neo-liberal economy and changed the Constitution used to take pride in saying that during his tenure there was five star democracy in Sri Lanka.

Though the economy picked up momentum and increased the GDP, as far as the masses were concerned what they experienced was far from five star democracy. Actually they began to see stars (daval tharu) in broad daylight with the abolition of subsidies on essential goods and services, devaluation of the Rupee and across the board increase of prices as well as the dismissal of thousands of workers who struck work demanding a paltry Rs. 10 per day. Even World Bank researchers later said that the reforms were implemented with extraordinary haste that it shocked the poor.

Though the masses were not capable of fully realizing that their economic woes stemmed from the neo-liberal economic reforms they understood the adverse effects of political reform better. Hence, the new Constitution was opposed by a large section of the public.

Almost all Opposition political parties except those representing non-Sinhala national communities opposed it. The latter supported it under a delusion that it is favourable to them in seeking a solution to the National Question. Three executive presidents, including the present incumbent came to power promising its abolition but reneged on the promise or were prevented from honouring it.

Presidential election 2020

Now three years after coming into office of the Yahapalana government the tables have been turned. The UNP which introduced the executive presidency opposes it. Non-Sinhala national communities that supported it want it abolished now. The SLFP and its allies support it, taking 180 degree turn on the ground that it favours the minorities in seeking a solution to the National Question.

All political parties are gearing themselves for the Presidential election 2020. There is hardly any effort by the Government to proceed with the drafting of a new Constitution. The matter was laid to rest the moment the two ruling parties decided to try their luck at the local government elections with acrimonious politics as rivals. It opened old wounds, formed alliances detrimental to government unity and favoured the former regime whose slogans were picked up by the official SLFP too.

Now we are in this quicksand immersed and sinking. The attention of the leaders of the Government as well as the Opposition is focused on 2020 that there is hardly any governance. People’s problems get over-looked and neglected.

Though official campaigning has not started the presidential commodities are in the market, at least in the gossip market till they eventually enter the real one. Names are traded, waters are being tested and media are being used or made use of to promote various candidates albeit unofficially.

As during the 2015 elections, the Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters are already predicting victory, even though they shy away from naming the candidate. Three commodities in the persons of Gotabhaya, Basil and Chamal are mentioned in the gossip market. Ironically all three are from the Rajapaksa family alluding to a continuation of dynastic rule. In the disillusion of the present moment battle lines are re-drawn with some favouring a strong man and others not. Charlatans are on the scene under various incarnations as erudite scholars or all-knowing pundits in local verbiage, as astute statesmen with doctoral assistance in quoting the Devil’s scriptures or moneybags hiring academic sycophants in service.

There are still others whose names are to be found by innuendo at after dinner speeches or press conferences. Some affable Ministers have also bragged about their eligibility.

National Question

The incumbent President, who on assuming office pledged to go home after his maiden term, seems to have changed his mind, openly declaring that he has no intention of retiring from politics at the end of his term. Whether that means he will contest again or “do a Mahinda Rajapaksa” by getting elected as an ordinary MP is yet to be ascertained.

Given his animosity to the UNP, his vacillation in seeking a solution to the National Question, the lack of resoluteness in dealing with racist anti-Muslim assaults that occurred recently and the growing disillusion of the masses his prospects at a future presidential election do not look rosy at the present moment.

Former President is legally barred from contesting and he could regain power constitutionally only through a Constitutional amendment with the help of a “friendly” Parliament or becoming the Premier after a general election. Anyway he has not expressed any personal interest so far. Perhaps he may be relying on one of his siblings.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has already announced his candidature though dissenting voices are also heard from certain UNP quarters. However, he seems to be the most suitable candidate for the UNP.

While there may be other candidates and proxies contesting the presidential election the choice is between three personalities - the incumbent President, Prime Minister and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. All three have unofficially started their campaigns. Of them the novice Gotabhaya seems to have a better and dedicated organisation while the other two are plagued by internal dissention among their followers.

One could discount the dissention between a section of the JO and the Gammanpila – Weerawansa clique for the JO is a foreign entity with respect to Gotabhaya’s presidential bid followers. Gotabhaya’s past conduct could be his Achilles’ heel or his forte. What it will depend on can be decided not in advance but in the context of the elections when final battle lines are drawn.

Politics, however, is full of surprises. For example, nobody was aware of the surprise candidate Maithripala Sirisena until the eve of nominations in 2015. Who could predict that history may not repeat in 2020?

There are few more factors to be considered. What would be the effect of multiple candidates? Will a third force emerge prior to the elections? What external influence could and would affect the election? And lastly the ubiquitous question: Will the elections be held?

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