Waiting For Sirisena’s Surprises

What’s up his sleeve?

Hawk’s Eye

Social media platforms are no respecters of the truth or even facts, for that matter. They are given to sensationalism. But they represent a confluence of divergent views and are full of interesting stuff including pithy sayings. There was an interesting Facebook post recently and it speaks volumes about the current political situation. It read, in Sinhala thus, ‘Rala pahara weralata gasai, werala kaadanaya wei, namuth ahasa thaama nihandai’ (roughly rendered into English it means ‘waves pound the shore; the coast is eroding away, but the sky remains calm and quiet’. What this signifies is that the SLPP is making progress; the UNP is wasting away and President Sirisena, who is known to spring surprises, is waiting.

One may recall that Sirisena has sprung several surprises during the last five years or so. First, he took the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa by surprise; he defected from the UPFA government to run for President as the common candidate of the Opposition. Having secured the presidency, he grabbed the SLFP leadership and caused the UPFA to lose the 2015 general election and, thereby, queered Rajapaksa’s pitch to make UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister. Last year, he sprang a big surprise on the PM by sacking his government and declaring a general election, albeit unsuccessfully.

Two main parties in the fray, the SLPP and JVP have already announced their candidates for the presidential polls to be held before the end of this year. The SLPP launched its presidential election campaign the day it named Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its presidential candidate. The JVP, too, is going ahead with its campaign while the UNP is in total disarray, unable to pick a candidate. The grand old party is divided into several factions much to the dismay of its rank and file.

What’s he plotting now? Ranil Wickremesinghe seems determined to contest the presidency himself!
What’s he plotting now? Ranil Wickremesinghe seems determined to contest the presidency himself!

UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and his supporters are doing their level best to pressure Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to name him as the UNP presidential candidate. But Wickremesinghe remains determined not to give in. Nobody knows what’s up his sleeve. He is also capable of springing surprises. He took President Rajapaksa by surprise by allowing Sirisena to contest the 2015 presidential election.

Intraparty rivalries of the UNP have spilt over on to the streets. Sajith has launched his presidential campaign. His next rally is scheduled to be held in Matara today. The PM was planning to have a meeting in that southern township on the same day, but changed his mind and, instead, organised a dinner at Temple Trees for the UNP MPs.

The first ‘Sajith Enawa’ rally was held in Badulla and it was well-attended because Badulla is a UNP stronghold, where estate workers can be lured into attending political events. Holding a successful rally in Matara is not an easy task because it is an SLFP bastion, but the UNP has a considerable following in the Matara town and other urban centres in the District.

The UNP is convinced that it has to tap the floating vote and secure the support of other parties if its presidential candidate is to win. Premadasa’s rallies do not seem to attract floating voters and the youth.

The splits in the UNP are likely to deepen with the passage of time as the PM will have to confront Sajith, before long, if he is not to lose party leadership, which the latter is eyeing.

UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa is showing off his ‘people power’ in a bid to be named the presidential candidate.
UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa is showing off his ‘people power’ in a bid to be named the presidential candidate.

 Cracks in the JVP

Some cracks have already appeared in the JVP-led alliance with some of its allies distancing themselves from its campaign. The National Intellectuals’ Organisation (NIO) supporting the JVP wanted a professional made the JVP’s presidential candidate. Several names were proposed. In May, while talks were on to choose a candidate, the JVP said it had an ideal candidate in the person of its Kalutara District MP Dr Nalinda Jayatissa. The NIO and its members readily accepted that proposal while some amongst them thought that Dr. Jayatissa was too young to run for President though he was past the constitutionally prescribed minimum age. But, subsequently, the JVP changed its mind and, at its Galle Face rally, on Aug 18, its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was named as its presidential candidate.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanyake(left) was named presidential candidate, though many expected Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa(right) to be picked.
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanyake(left) was named presidential candidate, though many expected Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa(right) to be picked.

Those who felt that they had been taken for a ride left the campaign and started negotiating with prospective presidential candidates such as Nagananda Kodithuwakku, Rohan Pallewatte and former Director General of Bribery Commission Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe, who has since withdrawn her resignation letter under pressure from the UNP leadership.

President Sirisena’s submission for a determination by the Supreme Court on the possibility of holding the Provincial Council elections has come to be frowned on, in some quarters, as an attempt to postpone the presidential election. The Supreme Court on 23 August will start hearing the President’s request.

A five-judge bench has been appointed by the Chief Justice to consider the reference by the President, who has requested the Supreme Court to decide whether the Provincial Council polls could be held under the old electoral system since the Delimitation committee report is not yet ready.

The five-judge bench comprises Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira De Abrew, Prasanna Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda. The court is scheduled to send its determination to the President and the Speaker of Parliament.

The next most important event to take place during the next several days is the meeting between President Sirisena and his processor and SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Supreme Court determination is expected to figure at that meeting.

Attorney-at-law Premanath Dolawatte of the”Sathya Gavesakayo” organisation has filed a motion, saying that if the Provincial Council polls were to be held before the Presidential poll, it should be held under the former electoral system. TNA Jaffna District MP M. A. Sumanthiran, too, has filed an intervention as regards President Sirisena’s request for Supreme Court determination.

Whether Sirisena will be able to spring his first surprise will be seen before long when the apex court makes a determination on his request.

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