The ship of Lanka’s state has been cast adrift.  It’s rudderless, it’s leaderless. And it’s clueless as to where it’s heading. From the captain’s high table to the lowly galley of the commonest tar aboard, it’s all at sea. Even though, even now, it raises, from its prized celebratory quarterdeck of command, the national flag [...]


Nation desperately in search of presidential candidates


The ship of Lanka’s state has been cast adrift.  It’s rudderless, it’s leaderless. And it’s clueless as to where it’s heading. From the captain’s high table to the lowly galley of the commonest tar aboard, it’s all at sea.

BROKEN PROMISES: But yet none in sight to make the fairy tale begin for Lanka in 2019

Even though, even now, it raises, from its prized celebratory quarterdeck of command, the national flag to fly its ceremonial humbug with the starboard gangway exclusively reserved for the entrance of  the corrupt and the incompetent  to climb its steps to taste the first sip of champagne before they  make its fizz of power a habit, if elected.

It has shown its security deficiency where, even after it had received intelligence of the attacks on churches and hotels, it failed to be roused to action to prevent Easter Sunday’s carnage. It was on holiday, on pilgrimage in India; and, on the day of the blast, imbibing a quickie Singapore Sling.

It has demonstrated, with the evidence of economic rubble, the bankruptcy of the Treasury’s bare coffers. On the foreign front, after the previous regime had sold the better part of her  sovereignty to China, it now faces the dire prospect of having to sell the balance to the United States. And if you thought the situation bad enough, brace yourself for even worse to follow.

To put it simply, the nation is politically bankrupt; and neither of its two main political parties can still come forward to present the nation with its chosen runner to contest the presidential election, which is not even five months away.

Take America for instance. Sitting President  Trump announced on June 18 his intention to run for a second term of office. He did it with the presidential election one and a half years away in November 2020.

The US presidential candidate of either party is chosen by a process known as the primaries, which affords the registered voter of the party to choose their presidential candidate. It is the card carrying members of the individual party that finally decide amongst those who have come forward to run who will be the presidential candidate of the party. It’s the party members’ choice.

No sooner had Trump announced his intention to rerun, over twenty democrats followed suit ten days later to announce their intention to run for the Presidency. The Democratic presidential primaries are scheduled to begin in February next year and will end in June when the presidential candidate will be announced for the November election.

But throughout that period, the candidates will have to announce their policies. Their policies as well as their private life will be placed under the microscope and dissected by the media; they will appear on public forums and debate with the other candidates and give the American voter a fair idea of the person he or she will elect to be their party’s presidential candidate.  Then for further five months when the presidential campaign begins in earnest, the general voters of the States will have further opportunity to gauge the pros and cons of both Republican and Democratic candidates before they finally make up their minds in November 2020.

That’s a broad outline of how they do it in the United States, irrespective of whether they choose the better candidate to be their president.  But what it reveals is the systems in place to afford the American public the opportunity to gauge the choice placed before them in advance.

Take the British, for instance, how they do things even without a written constitution, solely based on tradition.

The leader of each party will be the prime minister if the party wins the general election. But how is the party leader chosen?

The following will illustrate.

After Theresa May’s failure to get a fair deal done for Britain to leave the European Union, she declared on May 24 she would resign as the Conservative Party leader on June 7.

The scramble for a new party leader started immediately. But how will that leader be chosen? There are two remaining candidates for the job: Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. The winner will be selected not by a party parliamentary caucus but by a postal ballot of around 160,000 card-carrying Conservative Party members. Registered party members will decide who their leader will be, not an oligarchy.

Tomorrow, Monday, July 22, the voting will close at 4pm GMT. The result will be announced the following day, July 23, around 10am GMT. The Conservatives will then have a new leader. and Britain will have a new prime minister.

It’s more or less the same approach adopted by the western nations in choosing the leader of political parties who will thus be the presidential candidate. They will know in advance. In Germany, party laws stipulate that party conferences must elect the party leader and the bulk of the members of the party executives.

In France, too, it is more or less the same. It’s the party members who choose their leaders.

Travel further down south and arrive at the world’s most populous democracy. Alas India does not follow the western nation’s practice of choosing its party leaders, but depends on an arbitrary system restricted to a handful to do the needful. Prime Minister Modi was chosen by BJP members as leader, while Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party became its president overnight by stepping into his mother’s bedroom slippers. Perhaps, considering that India has a population of over a billion people, the western practice of asking the party membership to choose the respective leader of either party would be too expensive and impractical. The thought of counting postal ballots of hundreds of millions of party supporters may have been too daunting and too dear a task for either party to even contemplate it.

But, at least, it announces its prime ministerial candidate well in advance. If no quirk of fate happens, the Indians know that Modi will run again at the general elections in five years time as the BJP candidate.  After the humiliating defeat of the Congress party at the May elections this year, prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, resigned as leader.

In his resignation tweet and four-page letter, he said:

“Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President.”

“Many of my colleagues suggested that I nominate the next Congress President. While it is important for someone new to lead our party, it would not be correct for me to select that person … I trust the party will make the best decision regarding who can lead us with courage, love and fidelity.”

Going by Lankan standards, perhaps he need not have resigned. He only took over the Congress mantle of leadership just one year and seven months ago in December 2017. But the 49-year-old son of India’s late Prime Minister, the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the grandson of India’s late prime minister the assassinated Indira Gandhi and the great grandson of independent India’s first prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, took the responsibility and resigned as leader of his party and has now left it to his party to ‘make the best decision regarding who can lead us with courage, love and fidelity.”

But it’s too early for history to write off his name from India’s annals, for no matter who the Congress selects, there will always be a comeback for this scion of India’s famous first family who sacrificed so much in blood, tears, toil and wealth. But the principle of resignation, after a single maiden defeat, still remains and has to be admired and applauded. And this is five  years before the next general election, giving the party enough time to find and groom a new candidate to take over as leader, even though they may well ultimately settle on the one wearing Rahul or Priyankara Gandhi’s chappals.

Now travel even further down south, 1,508 miles from New Delhi to Colombo, capital of a land like no other, a president like no other, politicians like no other and even its people like no other on earth.  How do the Sri Lankan political parties choose their respective leaders who are deemed to be their presidential candidates?

n TAKE THE UNP. The party leader is chosen by the party’s working committee of approximately ninety members, over fifty per cent of whom are nominated by the party leader. The rest are made up of UNP MPs and delegates from affiliated UNP organisations. And its decision presented as a formality at the party’s annual party convention  and endorsed without any reference to the wishes of the general card carrying members of the party, whose only duty is to applaud the decision of the handful and welcome it with a rousing roar of ‘jayawewas’.

n TAKE THE SLFP. The party leader is chosen by the party’s executive committee. And its decision presented as a formality at the party’s annual party convention  and endorsed without any reference to the wishes of the general card carrying members of the party, whose only duty is to applaud the decision of the handful and welcome it with a rousing roar of ‘jayawewas’. At the same time, the position is that if the country’s President is an SLFP member, he or she automatically becomes the President of the Party.

n TAKE THE JVP. Its politburo will meet and decide on the matter. And at the party convention, he will be named as party leader even as Anura Kumara Dissanayake was named the leader of JVP at the 7th national convention of the party, held on February 2, 2014. No reference is made to the hardcore, diehard card carrying red shirts of the party. In other words,  their politburo or what they call  their central committee decides on the leader and it is put forward for approval at the convention for it to rubber stamp the decision taken by a

n            TAKE THE SLPP. The entire working committee of the SLPP consisting of one man alone, namely, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is not even a member of the SLPP, declares himself as the party leader and there is none to dispute him. He will solely decide who the SLPP presidential candidate will be at the forthcoming poll.  If not for the fact that the 19th Amendment precludes him from declaring himself as the candidate, he is in no hurry to rush to judgment.

Whilst the developed western nations’ political  parties have to seek the blessings and the vote of its registered general membership to elect a leader who will be the party’s chosen one as presidential or prime ministerial candidate, whilst India may be forgiven even for ignoring the western method of consulting the constituency of each party’s registered supported due to the size of its registered voter base which runs into hundreds of millions, each political party in Lanka, an island  with a populace of only 22 million, less the size of many pranths of India, still keeps the choice firmly clutched in the fists of each parties’ high command.

This is the pathetic, parochial, political position pursued by all political parties in this country – leave the peasantry, the populace, even their most ardent supporters out when it comes to offering to the public their candidate for the top job. A handful decide: you vote for their choice.

But there’s worse. Even without US style primaries. Even without Britain’s system of the registered voters of the parties having their say and casting their postal ballot for the party member of their choice, even without the complications Indian political parties face to ask the advice of their registered members as to who their party leader should be, all Lanka’s political parties have still, with presidential elections round the corner, failed to come up with a single name.

We are not merely poor when it comes to money but poverty stricken when it comes to finding a proper person of presidential material to field in the December presidential stakes.

Of course, there are many who neigh in public their eagerness and fitness to run. But why do they remain in the stables and not make their appearances. Is it because the spectre of defeat daunts them all?

All the main political parties’ strategy, it seems, has been to bide their time till the last inevitable hour is come to pull their presidential bunnies out of their political hats, to make them pop like political jacks in the box; and thus deny the populace the extra time to evaluate the respective candidates on their past track records or future promised policies; to gauge their personalities and examine their principles, to decide upon their vision and be force fed by a blast of last minute propaganda to accept one out of a bad lot to lead the nation into the challenging 2020s.


MAHINDA: SLPP kingmaker

Mahinda: The nobbled horse

Mahinda Rajapaksa who, most probably, would have been swept into power, is, alas, debarred from contesting any further presidential elections.

The 19th Amendment nobbled him of his no-limit ambitions and laid him low to play second fiddle as Prime Minister.

But though he is out of the running he is the one who will choose who will be in the SLPP winning enclosure if the horse he has chosen to ride the purple should pip the post.

But, in the meantime, though he has not still given his blessings to his own brother, he has sent a strong message to the rest, to any upstart who dares to have any presidential hopes whatsoever.

Two Sundays ago, senior SLFP member from the Kalutara District, Kumar Welgama, spoke his mind fearlessly and forthrightly. He said, in no uncertain terms, that he, whilst he will support any candidate that his party will decide, will not support Gotabaya Rajapaksa because he will not support anyone who faces accusations of murder.

The following day the Rajapaksa-funded SLPP, whose front man is G L Peris, stripped Welgama of his SLPP post as the party organiser of the Badulla District.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has still not given his own blessings to his own brother contesting as the presidential candidate. But the message was sent to all the underlings who worship at the Rajapaksa temple and bow prostrate at their icon that whether or not the Brahma of the Rajapaksa triumvirate proceeds with his blessings to anoint with Medamulana oil his own sibling, one who dares criticise a member of the Rajapaksa family will do so only at his own peril.

The Lankan turf strictly belongs to the Rajapaksas and no other.


GOTA: Pretender to the throne

GOTA: Fates against

Whilst all the possible candidates still wait in the wings, only one man has come on stage and into the spotlight to announce his candidature at the December presidential poll. And that is Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Earlier this year, he came out from his shell to announce bravely that he will be the Mahinda-led SLPP candidate. And for the punters, he seemed to  be the surest safest bet.

Except for a couple of things to put a damp squib on his presidential ambitions. Although he said he will be the SLPP candidate, the party is still to announce the news. Most importantly his sibling who is the supreme patron of the SLPP is still to anoint Gotabaya with his blessings.

The SLPP has said it will declare its candidate on August 11. Even if it officially does so and Mahinda bestows on his brother the Rajapaksa royal seal of approval, still the odds are against him.

He faces many criminal cases before Lankan courts — though does have the odd knack of getting them postponed.  In US courts, he faces charges filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge the aggrieved daughter of slain Sunday Leader editor – she accuses him of her father’s murder — and by another Sri Lankan born Tamil, now a Canadian citizen, who hold him responsible for alleged torture. Compound to that on June 26, a day before his lawyers were to file a motion to dismiss Ahimsa’s case against him, ten more cases alleging human rights violations, including torture were filed in US Courts.

He is a dual citizenship, an American citizen. He has stated he has sought to renounce his US citizenship in order to contest the Lankan presidential election, as the law debars a dual citizen from contesting the election.

If that were not enough, he presently lies in a Singapore hospital recuperating from open heart surgery which he underwent last month.

Time is certainly running out on him. The fates seem not to be on his side.


MAITHRI: Blow hot, blow cold

SIRISENA: Vacillates

Technically speaking, Maithripala Sirisena used his presidential rubber to erase his name from the SLFP list of presidential runners in 2019 four and a half years ago when he vowed to the nation, upon being sworn in as president at Independence Square in the twilight hours on January 9th 2015, that he will only serve one term in office because it will be all that will be needed to keep his election promise to rid the country of corruption and bring those who have been corrupt in the past regime to book.

But ever since his solemn pledge was sworn before the nation, much water has flown beneath the pons asinorum or  the ass’s bridge; and  Sirisena has continued to blow hot and blow cold even as he has waxed and waned on every other subject; and shown his pledges to be nothing but those writ in the shifting sands.

As leader and sitting president of the SLFP, he is the legitimate candidate to contest the presidential poll. But yet he vacillates.

His latest stance on whether he will contest the forthcoming presidential poll has been a wait-watch-and-see policy on who the other runners will be. That’s the confidence he has in himself of whether he can pip the post.  On May 31st, he told the Indian media that the Presidential Election had been scheduled for December 7, but he had not made up his mind about contesting. “None of the political parties has selected candidates. I am not in a hurry to make up my mind.”

Perhaps he harbours in his most fantastic the hope that no other party will field a runner so he can romp home to victory in a one horse race.



RANIL: Facing ouster

The three musketeers

Whilst the other political parties still have no one in sight to contest the presidential polls, the UNP has three too many. And its working committee is still to decide which equis to field. The choice has boiled down to stallion Ranil, mustang Karu or colt Sajith.

Prime Minister Ranil as leader of the UNP can be considered as the favourite to make to the stalls as the UNP runner. He has all the qualifications and the experience.

He has been the longest standing leader of the party with a record 24 years in the saddle. Alas, he has also the record of not leading his party to the winning enclosure 29 times. But, quite apart from that streak of bad luck, he is undoubtedly the most savvy politician the country has today.  His international repute is beyond question. But his national image has taken a dent over the bond scam scandal which has cast a shadow over and blemished his pristine image as Mr. Clean of Lanka’s politics. And his political opponents will never cease to cast the wildest aspersions on him for appointing Singaporean national Mahendren as Central Bank Governor and his continued support for him even after the 5 billion bond scam was revealed.

Karu, who came in from the cold of the business world to politics has an impressive track record. He has served in the Ceylon Army Volunteer Force in 1965 and has been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Ceylon National Guard. Leaving the Force, he joined the private sector and rose rapidly in its ranks to become chairman of many big companies. The political bug stung him in 1995 and he was invited by Ranil Wicrkremesinghe to become the UNP party chairman. With the help and backing of Wickremesinghe, he became the Mayor of Colombo in 1996 and served as the City Father till 1999. Today he is the Speaker of the House of Parliament.

KARU: Past shelf life

SAJITH: Biding time

One thing that serves to sully his track record of party loyalty is when he turned traitor and pole vaulted in 2007 to the Rajapaksa camp, not alone but with 18 other UNP members  to give Rajapaksa the vital two third majority in the House to rule absolute and pass his draconian 18th Amendment. But unhappy with the set up in the SLFP firmament and denied his ambition to be a top player, he returned to the fold with his tail between his legs to be welcomed by an ever forgiving Ranil who appointed him as the deputy leader of the UNP.

Today he has presented himself as a possible runner. The problem for him is that he is 79 and, as the oldest ever to seek the presidency of Lanka, it will go against him. But then again ,take Malaysia’s Mahathir who at 92 has been  re-elected as the Prime Minister, not to forget Zimbabwe’s 93 year President Mugabe. Sometimes to drink at the political fount can be the elixir of youth. The younger rises when the old doeth fall, or when others conspire to oust Ranil.

Sajith Premadasa has emerged without doubt to have earned the hearts of the grassroots. He has followed in his father’s footsteps and has dedicated himself to building houses for the homeless. The only snag is whether he has still gained the political maturity to deal with national challenges and, gained enough international exposure to handle with aplomb the many threats Lanka will continue to face from both regional and world superpowers.

The sagacious advice seems to spell that, instead of going again his leader who steadfast stood loyal to his father the late President Premadasa and did not turn coat when Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali broke away from the UNP and brought an impeachment motion against him, it is wiser to stay the course patiently and await his turn in the 2024 presidential poll where, in his own papa’s words in Sinhala, he will be more ‘temparadu’. What the heck, he will still be only 57 then. Patience will be rewarded. For everything comes to he who waits.   But a divided United National Party – this internecine war, his back stabbing, this jostling for the top slot – will only serve to spell doom for the party’s chances at the polls. Not when its present motto is “None for all, All for none’.


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