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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2397

Will “2005” be another “1956”?

[b]Will “2005” be another “1956”?[/b]

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

This is a tentative analysis and not a prediction of the outcome of the coming presidential elections. At this early stage, without even an opinion poll indicating the probable trends, it is not realistic to venture into the realm of prediction which, in any case, is a hazardous exercise. As pollsters say, the only vote that count is the last vote cast into the ballot box. Until then it is will have to be a conceptual configuration based on a broad analysis of the available data.

One way of approaching this psychological analysis is to consider the political forces aligned behind the two major contenders – Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe. But before that, a thumb-nail sketch of the two contenders can be helpful in gauging some aspects of their personalities that are bound to impact on their policies.

Mahinda Rajapakse is a new comer to the national arena. His record has been that of a local lad with local credentials confined to the south. His maroon shawl is worn with aplomb as a clear symbol of his southern roots. The original shawl worn by his father, D. M. Rajapakse, (also known as the “Lion of the South” for reportedly slapping a colonial GA with a slipper) was brown, representing the colour of kurakkan, the staple diet of the villagers in the jungle of the Hambantota-Tangalle regions -- the jungle that was the backdrop to Leonard Woolf’s novel, Village in the Jungle. His son has added a dash of colour to this kurakkan shawl.

The marriage of the Rajapakse tradition with that of the Bandaranaike tradition has all the trappings of being a formidable political alliance. He has also aligned himself, from a long time, with the Buddhist sangha. His signature trade mark of the national costume with a colourful shawl identifies himself with the average Sinhala voters in urban and rural areas. He is affable, approachable and his inter-personal relations are warm and appreciated. These are bankable assets which have the potential to accrue appreciable interests at the polling booths in the coming election.

Of course, he is totally inexperienced in handling national or international issues and he has not left a memorable or durable record of achievement in his portfolios. He was a competent agitator in the opposition leading “sabdha gosawas” but those tactics are not going to pay him dividends in office. This is not say that he can’t grow once installed in the presidential chair. But he is an unknown quantity when it comes to holding the highest office in the land. He has never been in the role of a national leader before. His brief stint as the Prime Minister has helped him to grab the national limelight to some extent. He passed out from the Vidyodaya University with a degree in librarianship and worked for a stint as an assistant librarian in that University. After entering parliament as the youngest MP in 1970 he joined Law College. In the main he has had only a provincial practice in Tangalle.

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