Clowns of Colombo’s political circus have been, of late, providing entertainment as good in other capitals such as in Washington D.C. by Donald Trump. In Colombo, we have vital issues flashing away with the rapidity of press camera flashes causing much sound and fury but generating little sense, only to be forgotten soon with another [...]

Sunday Times 2

Mahinda’s poll strategy: ‘Mal pooja’ and ‘gal pooja’


Clowns of Colombo’s political circus have been, of late, providing entertainment as good in other capitals such as in Washington D.C. by Donald Trump.

In Colombo, we have vital issues flashing away with the rapidity of press camera flashes causing much sound and fury but generating little sense, only to be forgotten soon with another new issue caused by a clown.  The unique act of the President sacking the Prime Minister and it being declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court are forgotten, but now we have amendments to the Constitution and also a move to enact a new constitution before the year is out.

After the matter of the constitutional coup was over, we had our agriculture devastated, with an ‘army worm’ wiping out a great part of the maize crop, making our politicians wriggle, which, some said, was ‘caused by worms’. Then, we had the allegation that our legislators, including some unnamed ministers, were snorting cocaine. The matter is now before Parliament, which is at the same time holding the Budget debate with opposition MPs demanding ‘economic benefits for the masses’, with the estimated revenue and grants being Rs. 2,464 billion, far less than the estimated expenditure of Rs. 3,149 billion. All these political frolics have to be held in the next nine months or so, for the presidential election to be held in December.

With an election round the corner, southern opposition political parties have come together to form a coalition, Pohottuwa, but are not talking of their action plan or election manifesto. Only the leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is in the fray, but he cannot run for the presidency having served the maximum of two terms as stipulated by the Constitution. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been authorised by the Pohottuwa to name the presidential candidate, is not doing so; neither does he speak of an election manifesto of his party.

Going by his moves so far, his political strategy seems to be limited to two poojas — ‘Mal Pooja’ and ‘Gal Pooja’ — which can be summarised as follows:

He visits temples, well known and little known, with an entourage and a TV crew, and is televised in his pure white ‘national’ offering white Jasmine flowers to the Buddha. After this ‘mal pooja’ he holds  discussions with the head priest — part of which is televised — and informs the monk of the grave crises facing Sri Lanka, about which the monk is usually non-committal. Rajapaksa does not speak about his plans to remedy the calamity. Having gone through this ritual and the TV channel announcing that he had received blessings from the monk, he steps out into the open where a smiling media crew is waiting to ask him dolly questions. A crowd which appears to be worshippers at the temple gathers around him, but it is, in fact, his entourage — his cheering squad.

In cricketing parlance, this is like bowling full tosses to a batsman in form, with no fielders on the leg boundary. Mahinda hooks all the full tosses bowled at him delightfully over the ropes. Most of these hard hit shots are at Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP.  This can aptly be described as a ‘Gal Pooja’, which his cheering squad appreciates with broad smiles and is duly recorded by TV cameras. Then he departs with an air of grave solemnity in his limousine, having done his duty. But it is obvious that all this is for himself. And at prime time on TV, at least three of his favourite channels devoutly record this religio-political exercise — ‘Mal Pooja’ and ‘Gal Pooja’ — to thousands of his convinced supporters and other gullible viewers.

Certainly, it is incumbent on an opposition political party to oppose and criticise members of the ruling party and its leaders, but it is also its responsibility to inform voters of what its future political programmes are, particularly when it is not even declaring its intended presidential candidate who will be its leader if he or she wins the election. The Pohottuwa has many potential candidates, but to those who are not Rajapaksa supporters they are all time-tested losers.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the favourite among those in the running, but he has been closely associated with charges made against the Rajapaksa administration during his tenure of office as its defence secretary. He is before the courts of law answering many charges. But he has declared his candidacy, although his brother, who has been given the power of nominating the presidential candidate, has not done so. In these columns earlier, we have speculated about reasons behind Mahinda Rajapaksa not naming his brother as the candidate. It could be for the many reasons we cited or because he is awaiting an auspicious time for the announcement — not a laughable reason, but a valid one considering the belief of the Rajapaksas in the configuration of stars.

President Maithripala Sirisena, too, is said to be running for the presidency on the Pohottuwa ticket and cannot be ignored because, as an SLFPer, he also has a certain degree of electoral clout. His recent moves against heroin smugglers and the successful seizures of record amounts of narcotics appear to have put him into a messianic mood in the fight against all forms of drugs. He wants to execute drug dealers operating from prisons in this country that does not want to destroy stray dogs. His latest pronouncement is that illicitly manufactured liquor will be brought to a halt before the coming Vesak. We wish him well. It will indeed be a miracle if he brings to a halt the manufacture of illicit liquor, which accounts for a greater proportion of the alcohol consumed in the country, alcohol consumption being prevalent even in the days of the Buddha.  President Sirisena certainly requires miracles to keep him going.

Meanwhile, the JVP has moved for the abolition of the Executive Presidency and is holding talks with Mahinda Rajapaksa in this regard; and the UNP, too, is expected to be favourable towards the move. If this move — the 20th Amendment — goes through, will it be curtains for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential ambitions? But for the 20th Amendment to go through, it requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval at a referendum, which is a far cry. Thus Mahinda Rajapaksa is, once again, being coy by agreeing to discuss the amendment with the JVP.


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