The apt aphorism of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga — ‘Katay Pus’, ( soil in the mouth) — we thought was the best description to describe the stunned, forlorn faces that were moving in a daze on Hulftsdorp Hill at twilight after the unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court. For more than fifty days some learned constitutional [...]

Sunday Times 2

Getting ready for the presidential stakes


The apt aphorism of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga — ‘Katay Pus’, ( soil in the mouth) — we thought was the best description to describe the stunned, forlorn faces that were moving in a daze on Hulftsdorp Hill at twilight after the unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court. For more than fifty days some learned constitutional lawyers, half-baked Hulftsdorp hacks, pettifogging young ‘Ehei Swamini’ young black coats and, of course, Pohottuwa pundits on everything were screaming and bellowing from roof tops that their new found leader Maithripala Sirisena was legally and politically correct in dissolving parliament. However, a full bench Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

The UNP rally at Galle Face on Monday drew large crowds

In their stupefied moment on that memorable evening, all the self-proclaimed legal oracles could stutter was that while they accepted the decision of the Supreme Court, they were of the opinion that it went against holding of a general election which would wrest away the supreme power of the people from the people. This attempt was reminiscent of the proverbial two deaf mutes, one carrying a bag, passing each other on a village footpath. One asks: Kohede Yanne (Whither bound?) — and the reply was: Malle Pol (Coconuts in the bag).

It was quite apparent that the Supreme Court’s ruling was not on an election but that the order of President Sirisena dissolving parliament was unconstitutional. To Pohottuwa politicians, who had taken cover under the shadow of President Sirisena to stage a coup against the UNP-led regime, the unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court was a knockout blow. Grabbing power was so near at hand but on that fateful evening they and their leader were knocked out flat on the canvas.

The UNP, which was considered to be in its terminal stages after this February’s local council elections, has been resurrected by the new Sirisena-Rajapaksa alliance. The Galle Face rally staged by the UNP with its new allies on Monday was one of the biggest political rallies seen in recent times. But the resurrected UNP has severe problems with leadership within its ranks that demands resolution soon, lest it erupts between now and a parliamentary election. A power struggle within the UNP is what the Rajapaksas will be praying for in their devales. Is Sajith Premadasa biding his time to make a run for it?

What of the immediate future? The Pohottuwa wants a return bout soon. And initial moves indicate that the usual below-the-belt strategies are being contemplated. Already alarms are being sounded about the UNP-TNA affiliations, although the TNA has said that it will support the Wickremesinghe-led alliance but not join the government. History shows that any political nexus between the UNP and a Tamil party has been exploited by the hardcore racist Sinhala factions of the SLFP as an attempt to barter away Sinhala rights and create a separate Tamil state or a federal state. This is a historic kneejerk reaction dating back to the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement when SLFP and Marxist leaders had demonstrators on the streets chanting: ‘Dudley-ge bade masala wade’. The UNP is also guilty of this misdemeanor, though less often.’

The Marxists have always been in a happy position with their intellectual noses in the air, decrying all forms of communalism and racism but contesting elections under the SLFP flag whose cutting edge was Sinhala racism. This was their policy ever since their leader N.M. Perera played a tennis ball cricket match led by Anura Bandaranaike the crown prince of the SLFP and forged Samasamajist-SLFP unity. Communists (Moscow Wing) followed. It has been a successful policy for the comrades because it has kept the Marxists in parliament and in mainstream politics (even today) though on their own it is very much doubtful that a single seat could have been won by themselves. The regression of the Marxists’ principled politics is evident from the much hailed Colvin R De Silva opposing the Sinhala Only bill (in 1956) with the prediction: ‘Two languages one state; one language two states’ while years later (1972) being the architect of the 1972 Constitution that was drafted by a Constitutional Assembly with the main Tamil Party, the Federal Party, boycotting it. The commitment of the Marxists to the SLFP was on the claim that the latter promoted socialism. The Rajapaksas have dropped ‘socialism’ (Samajawadaya) from their lexicon many years ago but now the comrades claim that their attraction is that Rajapaksas et al being anti-UNP, is good enough a cause.

No doubt the Pohottuwa-led by Rajapaksas will begin sending the silent beats on their racist drums to hardcore Sinhala groups, while openly declaring amity with all minorities as they did in the 2015 elections. It failed last time but on the next election it seems to be the only trump left.

The UNP, too, appears to be walking on egg shells on this issue lest it destroys its main foundation, the Sinhala vote.

Tamil parties, too, are in a quandary, having backed Prabhakaran and the LTTE, some of them doing so with a gun at their heads. Quite obviously they don’t like or trust the Rajapaksas. Will the UNP be Tamil voters Hobson’s choice?

Meanwhile the billion dollar question is who will be the presidential candidate of the new SLFP-Pohottuwa combine?

Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot be the next presidential candidate because of the constitutional provision barring a third presidential term. If so, who will be their choice? Maithripala Sirisena who toppled the apple cart by becoming the common candidate and turning out to be the president? Or will it be brother Gotabaya? Maithri, denied candidacy, may pull enough SLFP votes under the Pohottuwa feet to make a marginal difference and prevent any Pohottuwa candidate from winning. But some political analysts say that the temperament exhibited by Sirisena in recent times is such that he may sack Mahinda as prime minister like he did to Ranil! Another ribald speculation is that he may try to dissolve the Supreme Court!

Nomination of Gota could cause dynastic problems. If he becomes president, what happens to the heir apparent who will be of age to become president in two years and be knocking on the door impatiently? There are brothers Basil and Chamal. Will Gota give up power and walk away? Power is not easy to forsake as President Sirisena has demonstrated having vowed to give up presidency once his term expires. Observers say that septuagenarian Mahinda, too, would like to be in President’s seat once again having attempted to extend the terms of presidency indefinitely. His strategy may be to win the next parliamentary election as prime minister and with a two-third majority do away with the provision limiting presidency to two terms enabling him to go on till ad infinitum. The difficulty will be a two-third majority having failed to win a simple majority in recent times.

Meanwhile, what hopes can the people who were worshipped and bestowed with the supreme power of the state entertain? The newly formed UNP alliance promises to implement an intense plan of development between now and the elections with limited objectives. For three years they were halted in their tracks with the forces now rallying round the Pohottuwa staging road shows almost on a daily basis. Will this entertainment provided by monks, ‘best qualified doctors in the world’, unemployed undergrads and hired thugs continue till the polls?

P.T. Barnum, an American comedian of the 19th Century observed: ‘A Sucker’s born every minute’. Considering our birth rate we seem to have plenty of them awaiting to vote for our leaders soon.

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