Just when you thought matters couldn’t get any worse, it did.

It is bad enough that the local government elections scheduled for March 09 have been postponed indefinitely. Now, President Ranil Wickremesinghe tells us that there was no election anyway.

Last week, Wickremesinghe played King and Court Jester in Parliament at the same time. From his vantage point in the front row of the government benches he boldly declared that there was no election because the decision to conduct elections taken by the Elections Commission (EC) was invalid as there was no quorum when it was done.

The EC has strongly denied this claim. If that denial is accepted, it means that Wickremesinghe misled Parliament. However, even if Wickremesinghe is taken at face value, there are many questions that arise.

In anticipation of a postponement, parliamentarians Ranjith Madduma Bandara and G.L. Peiris filed fundamental rights applications in the Supreme Court. When the court took submissions, the Secretary to the Treasury informed court of the financial challenges associated with conducting an election.

Why bother with such explanations? If, as Wickremesinghe says, the declaration of elections was unlawful, that is all the government need to have told the court. It would have then consigned the petitions to the dustbin. Instead, they lamented about how the polls cannot be conducted because of a shortage of funds.

Then, the United National Party (UNP), the party which Wickremesinghe has led for almost thirty years now, submitted nominations for the elections and declared their intentions of contesting the poll. If the election was unlawful, why didn’t Wickremesinghe bother to tell his own party members not to waste their time, energy and finances on an election that wouldn’t be held?

So, Wickremesinghe’s slip is showing. He may revel in playing the Mr. Bean look-alike comedian role but that is not in keeping with the dignity of the office he holds. Worse still, it paints him in a very poor light when he is depriving the voters of the country their right to express their franchise and attempts to make a mockery of the whole exercise.

Wickremesinghe, when he was the lone opposition parliamentarian from the UNP, expressed sentiments supporting the ‘aragalaya’ at Galle Face not so long ago. After he was ensconced in office as ‘Acting President’ by sheer good fortune when Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, he insisted on the Constitution being followed to the letter and for Parliament to choose Rajapaksa’s successor.

Wickremesinghe has all but forgotten that religious and dutiful allegiance to the Constitution now. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be preaching the postponement of elections which violates laws governing local institutions and also disenfranchises the electorate, a right enshrined in the Constitution.

What is even more dangerous are the consequences of Wickremesinghe’s actions. The two main opposition parties, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) organised protests against the postponement of elections. Wickremesinghe’s response was as predictable as it was undemocratic: orders went out to crush the protests using all possible measures including court orders and brute force from the Police.

That did happen with the JJB protest ending in tragic consequences. One protestor, a 61-year-old JJB candidate from Nivithigala died from medical complications after the protest was tear-gassed. That was the first life lost in pursuit of the cause of local government elections. Sadly, if Wickremesinghe carries on in this vein, there could be many more.

Given that Wickremesinghe is an astute political animal with decades of experience in election skulduggery, this is exactly the response Wickremesinghe wishes for. What he would want next is for the JJB cadres and the general public to stage protests against this gentleman’s death. If unrest ensues, that would give him the justification he needs to outlaw the JJB. That is also what his uncle J.R. Jayewardene did forty years ago when he banned the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the aftermath of the disturbances that erupted following the riots of July ’83.

That forced the JVP to go into hiding, only to resurface in an insurrection six years later that cost some 60,000 lives. Is this what Wickremesinghe is hoping for? Current indications, if the events of the past few weeks are anything to go by, is that Wickremesinghe is not afraid to tread down that perilous path.

There is one factor that Wickremesinghe feeds from. That is the disunity among the main opposition parties. These days, the SJB and the JJB are busy trading allegations against each other, not even bothering to attack the UNP or their partner in crime, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Wickremesinghe surmises that the next national election will be the presidential election, called at a time of his choosing as it is his prerogative as the sitting President. He knows that his support base is weak- he couldn’t poll enough preferences from Colombo to get elected to Parliament-but he is counting on the opposition vote to be almost equally split between the SJB and the JJB and also for the SLPP votes to accrue to him in the likely absence of a candidate of their own.

That is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s road map towards what he believes will be his re-election. Therefore, the animosity between the SJB and the JJB suits him just fine.

We are not for a moment suggesting that the SJB and the JJB should pool their resources and field a common candidate. The presidential election is too distant to make such forecasts. For now however, these two major parties- and indeed all other opposition political forces- should come together to oppose the tyranny Wickremesinghe and his government is imposing on the electorate. That can take many forms: protests, strikes, campaigns, anything and everything that captures the imagination of the masses.

When there was a massive public backlash against him, Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled without firing a single bullet. We should not expect the same from Wickremesinghe; he will fire his last shot before he calls it a day. That is why, the opposition should unite. If not, Wickremesinghe will ensure that they will fail and fall.



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