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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2590

A fierce campaign after contentious nominations battle

By Philip Fernando

The August election campaign would rage as none seen before with Ranil Wickremesinghe defending his turf against the challenger, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the deposed Executive president. Would a damaging SLPF split be avoided as the campaign progresses?

The campaign is similar in some ways to the 2005 Ranil-Mahinda clash when the Northerners refrained from voting in large numbers giving Mahinda a slim 180,000 vote win. The Northern vote, however, tilted against Mahinda in January this year making Sirisena the president by 6.2 million to 5.8 million votes. Ranil is facing Mahinda for the first time in August since that vote. Battlelines are drawn and no quarter asked and none given.

The issues quite distinct

There is a marked nationalist and anti-West orientation that the challenger would use to garner votes. At one of the Abhayaramaya press briefings where many expressed the view that dislodging the UPFA and installing a UNP government in January was similar to developments elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. There were forces at work to change governments, democratically if possible but otherwise through other means. The UNP was accused of endangering the independence and sovereignty of the country by aligning itself with the US according to many observers. This would be a main plank of the Rajapaksa platform.

President Sirisena had been the moderator that tried to bridge the divide within the SLFP that came into being after making some SLFPers ministers in the Ranil Cabinet.

The nominations battle was in fact an attempt by some to disallow Mahinda to contest again. That would have caused irreparable division if the SLFP. A Parallel is easily discernible: JR deprived Mrs. B of her rights and then had a referendum. Had Rajapaksa being denied nominations that would have meant a one-horse race.

Threats to national security

It is a foregone conclusion that threats to national security would figure widely in the Rajapaksa campaign strategy. President Sirisena has an unenviable task not to be an active participant in that fight. He understood that there was a strategic attempt to divide the SLFP and UPFA, and allowing Rajapaksa to contest was unavoidable. Many SLFPers had openly stated that just as Rajapaksa’s remarkable qualities made it possible to eradicate terrorism, those same qualities were needed now to deal with new threats to national security and the economy: another plank in Rajapaksa campaign platform.

DLF leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara went further, stating that there was foreign influence brought to bear on Sri Lankan affairs, There was pressure from the US, Europe, UK and Canada to block Rajapaksa’s candidacy, according to his information ‘on the grapevine.’ He rejected the idea that India was involved. He warned that there might be further nasty repercussions from abroad.

The UNP-led government’s pro-Western foreign policy has come in for criticism in Parliament as well. During an adjournment motion debate on 25th June, Liberal Party leader Rajiva Wijesinha lambasted what he called the ‘blind emulation’ of J R Jayewardena’s foreign policy, which he warned would lead to ‘similar disastrous results as in the 1980s.’ Wijesinha also referred to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s remarks reported in Japanese media, on ‘reviewing Sri Lanka’s China-dependent foreign policy,’ and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s attacks on Australia.

Commenting on the Foreign Ministry’s treatment of former UN Permanent Representative in Geneva Tamara Kunanayakam he said “the real tragedy we find is that personal vendettas are destroying the interests of the country.”

Yahapalana report card

On the short-lived UNP-led minority government’s ‘Yahapalanaya’ record, on which it will be judged at this election, the report-card does not read too well. The new government spoke of creating an ‘independent police force’ and it set up the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) that is accused of selectively targeting political opponents. It spoke of ‘good governance,’ only to end up whitewashing one of the biggest financial scams in Central Bank history.

It positioned itself as a ‘national unity government’ and yet encouraged serial defections from the Opposition, enticing some MPs with ministerial portfolios while others complained of harassment. It spoke of a foreign policy of ‘non-alignment’ and ‘friendship with all,’ but proceeded to alienate China, one of Sri Lanka’s oldest, most valued and now most powerful allies in the international arena. And it has aligned itself with the world’s only superpower, compromising sovereignty. These were some of the comments heard since January.

The most important achievement of the ‘yahapalana’ government, was the passage of the 19th amendment which trimmed the powers of the executive presidency and set up a Constitutional Council to appoint independent commissions on Elections, the Police, the Judiciary, Public Service etc.

Those who critiqued the former president, insisted that he shed his former corrupt friends and ubiquitous relatives if he expects to project the image of having ‘cleaned up his act.’ In his speech at Medamulana where he announced his readiness to contest the election, he did pledge to ‘correct any mistakes’ and form a more people-friendly dispensation. But this message would have to come out in a stronger tone for him to succeed in wining more votes than what he garnered in January. We are in for a landmark election.

- Asian Tribune -

A fierce campaign after contentious nominations battle
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