This is based given the timing and implicit manifesto of the Presidential bid orchestrated by Mangala Samaraweera. As perceived by many in internal party member dialogues this has been characterized as a bid for the Prime Minister’s Post by Mangala. His supporters frame it as the last chance to beat Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s bid. This is difficult to swallow as Gotabhaya is not very charismatic and with a candidate like speaker Karu Jayasuriya it would be easier to campaign against his acts of violence with an electoral objective.
Mangala backed political insiders in partnership with Sajith supporters are drumming up considerable media focus. Anyone who opposes them is, in their words, opposed to democracy. This is a bit of tough sell given Ranasinghe Premadasa’s legacy.
Harsha De Silva has stated that this is in no way a bid to unseat Ranil as the leader of the UNP. This statement, however, has been contradicted by the presidential candidate at the 18 October event at the Taj Samudra. Premadasa apparently has some tricks up his sleeve. Sadly, for his lackeys, the capacity to shield one’s intent is not amongst them.
Why This Would Not Bode Well
This is not the first time Mangala has tried to come into power on the back of someone else’s candidacy. Given the architecture of the 19th Amendment, the Prime Minister becomes far more powerful following the Presidential Election. As felt by party supporters this bid would result in Mangala becoming the most powerful person in the country. With considerable deceptiveness and indebtedness to the media oligarchy this will not bode well for the people of Sri Lanka.
As a reporter one tends to think in terms of a transcript. Given this frame, it is very difficult to decipher any actual policy from the statements of Sajith. Like a weak student he chooses to ramble on about things that are vaguely linked together. He tries to say what the other person wants to hear and is unconcerned by the implications of any answer.
In much simpler language; choosing to respond is much easier than it is to present. A weak student would much rather be asked a question as opposed to actually put forth comments on complex issues.
This is to say that policy for the sake of discourse has to be mutually exclusive. One can either think the rate of taxation is too high or that government investment is too low. Not doing so would result in one being called a ‘big talker.’ Put simply following a conference wherein top businessmen are put through long speeches on the emphasis on agriculture they do not thereafter invest heavily in agriculture. Put in even simpler terms his words are meaningless.
Princeling Premadasa has come out in favor of the death penalty. This, however, has come out in the popular convoluted form of being a cure to the drug epidemic. Though the pretense that his family has any concern for human life is laughable it is shocking how far these foreign-funded NGO types are willing to associate with him.
Given that he hasn’t had any real power (also read as no real achievements) it is difficult to accuse him of any violence. That being said he has indicated in private meetings that he believes the public to be unconcerned with violence. To quote WikiLeaks[i];
3. (C) UNP Assistant Secretary and MP Sajith Premadasa, Son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, in a July 17 meeting with Poloff said there is a general optimism among the public following the war and that people are waiting for an election to show their gratitude to the president. Не said that 79 percent of Sri Lankans live in rural areas, are relatively poor, and are not concerned with civil liberties issues. Premadasa also noted the short memory span of Sri Lankans and said that the public would soon shift its focus from the end of the war to issues such as the cost of living, the breakdown in the education and health sectors, and unemployment.
The allegations against Ranasinghe Premadasa far outweigh the allegations against Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Premadasa was a brute whose Southern Sinhalese victims amongst others are not considered by these NGO types. To quote quite liberally from the must-read book Recolonisation by Susantha Goonatilake[ii] mentioning Mangala;
The one-sided reporting by Asia Watch naturally affected the international perception of the rights violations that were taken place in Sri Lanka. In July 1991, when Mangala Samaraweera, an MP who belonged to the opposition party, visited New York, he was Interviewed by National Public Radio (NPR), the major public radio in the US, Samaraweera featured in two programs: Behind the News’ and ‘Undercurrents A look at some verbatim extracts from the interview tapes might prove instructive. Samaraweera mentioned that the people who had rebelled in 1988 had been fighting ‘against an unjust administration. His interviewer understood him to be talking about the ‘ethnic conflict (use the interviewer’s exact words). He said: ‘As we understand the violations] emerged as a conflict between the Tamils and the rest of the country… In the West, the conflict is seen only in terms of ethnic violations.’ Samaraweera tried to correct this impression by pointing out that 60,000 people had disappeared in the South, not in the North’.
To assume Mangala had a change of heart about the Premadasa’s is difficult given the gravity of the mentioned implicit allegation. Even if you believe Ranasinghe Premadasa’s actions were warranted it would still be alarming to see someone who had made such an allegation work so closely with his son. Mangala has recently been praising Ranasinghe Premadasa in public fora.
As mentioned before the incoming president will have very limited powers. He will have even less power than Maithripala Sirisena currently has to implement proposals on a manifesto.
What Sirisena should have done is to use his power as the last real president to use the SLFP vote base as a kingmaker in subsequent parliamentary elections. Attacking the UNP and the SLPP would have been very easy.
In my opinion, a future president will only be able to tackle corruption. They might even be able to stifle some government initiatives.
Our Voting System
I really don’t want to be voting in line with the Maharaja group or even worse Dayan Jayatilleka. This filthy presidential system truly has brought out the worst in Sri Lanka. The general public is choosing between Hiru and Maharaja. The blatant sneaking in of Maharaja likeness into Sajith’s manifesto is worrying.
Our presidential electoral system is great in that it gives us preferences. Given that the two largest vote banks have candidates it is impossible for a voter to hurt their preference of either Sajith over Gotabhaya or vice versa by voting for another candidate in the initial stage.
Someone needs over 50 percent in the first round of counting to win. So if I prefer Sajith over Gotabhaya and I did not vote for him in the first round I do not really hurt Sajith’s chances over Gotabhaya. Sajith or Gotabhaya can only win by a majority at this stage and my vote is still against Gotabhaya even though Sajith is not my first preference. As my second preference I can state my preference for the main two candidates.
However, at this stage, it is unlikely to organize enough impeachment motion UNPers to do the same for it to show up electorally. As such I will probably just vote for Sajith as he has been endorsed by the party leadership.
Why I Don’t Think This Will Matter
It is my hunch that given Ranil’s experience in politics he would have expected Mangala to betray him at some stage. One must note Donald Trump’s recent victory over ISIS and withdrawal from the Middle East sans the oil pipelines. In such a global climate it is really likely that Sri Lanka can renegotiate its UN commitments avoiding anything that is electorally divisive. Even the BJP led Indian government got away with invading Kashmir.
Ranil can renegotiate Droopy’s UN commitments making him look like a traitor. He can still drum up minority support by delivering on things that are important to their future. Remember that Ranil has made himself integral to constitutional reform guaranteeing him support from minority parties. Further for Mahinda and Ranil a common enemy in the Presidency makes it a lot easier to abolish.
Anyone who is serious about holding the armed forces and police to account from a political perspective would understand that you must begin in the South.
[ii] Recolonisation Foreign Funded NGOs in Sri Lanka pg 204