Battle for General Election begins | Daily News


 

Battle for General Election begins

As the two new political alliances ‘Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya’ and ‘Samagi Jana Balavegaya’ (SJB) try to simmer down the tensions of their intra-party power struggles and clashes, the period to hand over nominations begins tomorrow setting the stage for ‘General Elections 2020’.

Given the preferential voting system, the intra-party competition could be expected to reach a fever pitch when the race begins after the nominations.

Accustomed so long to a two-party system, the political dynamics in the country have shifted in an unpredicted way this time. While the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have come together to play happy families, the United National Party (UNP) might decide to go solo, taking the wind out of SJB’s sail.

UNP’s tug of war

Over the weekend, the UNP, making an unexpected turn, wrote to the Election Commission announcing its decision to contest the General Elections under its traditional symbol of the ‘elephant’ in all 22 electoral districts. This not only was a blow to the fledgling SJB led by former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, but also forced it to rethink of its political strategies.

Convening a press conference soon after this announcement, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara explained that the new alliance, which was formed with the approval of the UNP Working Committee, was meant to have the UNP in it. Observing that many UNP members have already joined with the SJB, he requested the UNP top rung to reverse the decision without disuniting the party.

The stand-off between the two warring factions of the UNP continue, as back to back talks over the past few weeks have failed to make peace.

On Monday, the SJB’s Head Office was opened in E. W. Perera Mawatha in Ethul Kotte, a few yards away from ‘Sirikotha’, the UNP’s traditional Headquarters in Pita Kotte.

Taking a 180-degree turn, former MP Lakshman Kiriella, who was a Wickremesinghe loyalist until very recently, has extended his support to Premadasa, while requesting the party leadership not to block the SJB’s path.

Wickremesinghe, with his close-knit circle, plays his cards close to his chest, while the SJB camp charged that Wickremesinghe and his group were playing into the Government’s hands. Determined not to back down from the fight, the SJB members told the media that they would contest separately under the symbol of ‘telephone’ in a likely scenario where they could not patch up the differences with the UNP in the coming days.

Both factions have now turned towards former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, a well-regarded senior-most member in the UNP, to play the role of mediator. He met the political representatives of the two sides on Sunday and the lawyers of the two sides on Monday at his Bambalapitiya house. Even though there had been no settlement, Jayasuriya said that he was willing to continue the talks if both factions have a genuine desire to reconcile.

SLPP and SLFP

The ‘Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya’, led by the SLPP, faces the Parliamentary Elections on the heels of the landslide victory of its Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Election, thus placing itself in an advantageous position.

President Rajapaksa, during a luncheon meeting with the heads of the media last week, made it certain that he would throw his weight behind the election campaign of the new alliance. He said that he wishes for a strong government with a two-thirds majority in Parliament to deliver what the people expected from him.

The SLFP, which was more or less politically stranded with the emergence of the SLPP, decided to throw in its lot with the SLPP in an attempt to secure the Parliamentary seats of its members. However, being an uneasy political cohabitation, the verbal attacks between the two groups frequently came to the fore last week.

Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, speaking at a pocket meeting in his Gampaha electorate, and former State Minister Kanaka Herath, addressing a media briefing, said in no uncertain terms that they were determined to do everything in their capacity to defeat the SLFP members electorally. Both of them argued that the SLFP members could not be trusted.

Their anger stemmed from a recent ‘hawk’ remark by former President Maithripala Sirisena, where he compared himself to a hawk waiting to snatch the prey of a Kingfisher. The seemingly irate Ranatunga went on record urging voters not to vote for anybody who has any link to former President Sirisena. Herath, buttressing this position, said that political manoeuvring would be required to see the back of SLFP members.

The reply came from SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara. While speaking at a gathering in Kurunegala, he questioned as to why the SLPP members did not express the same disapproval when the two parties closed ranks at the Presidential Election to ensure the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He complained that the SLPP members, forgetting the political opponents in the Opposition, were hell bent on criticizing the SLFP members who are on the same side. Observing that SLFP Leader Sirisena is the Chairman of the ‘Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya’, SLFP frontrunners were seen trying to fend off the criticisms against them in the alliance.

Deshapriya sticks to his guns

The JVP led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake has decided to contest the General Elections from the National People’s Power, the same alliance it contested from at the last Presidential Election. However, as at now its political campaign lacks vigour and grass roots level support to put up a good fight. Though the JVP receives people’s admiration for its role in Parliament as an active Opposition, the JVP has repeatedly failed to translate this into votes at the elections. For the JVP, retaining at least its present number in the next Parliament has turned out to be a challenge as at now.

In the meantime, National Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, gearing up to the snap Parliamentary polls, flexed his muscles last week taking a firm stand that the training of newly recruited graduates must be suspended till one week after the elections.

This decision did not go down well with the Government which has taken great pains to make the programme a success, and deliver on its pledge to give jobs to all unemployed graduates. The President himself was not happy with the decision and wanted the matter to be reconsidered by the Election Commission. He questioned the rationale of suspending the training of graduates to whom the appointments have already been given.

However, even as at yesterday Deshapriya stuck to his guns that the training could wait till the end of elections.

Deshapriya also called on the Chief Prelates last week to urge their support to prevent temples from being used for political propaganda. At the last Election, political activities in temples, even during the cooling off period, resulted in headaches for the Commission. The Chairman’s move to visit the Ven Mahanayake Theras soon after the elections were called was to seek their support to avoid a repetition of the same.


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